Offshore Detention centres thwart Australia UN bid

Human rights advocates say Australia’s controversial use of offshore detention centres could stymie its bid to secure a seat on the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

Australia is after one of two vacant seats that will come up on the 47-member council in 2018, with France and Spain its rival contenders.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has argued while Australia’s far from perfect and expects criticism over its asylum seeker policy, it deserves a seat given its strong track record in promoting fundamental freedoms and free speech.

‘Let’s go out there and talk about the challenges we face, whether it be indigenous people’s rights, whether it be gender equality, whether it be the 18C debate.

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‘Let’s have that as part of our bid, be honest and open enough … as a nation to say this is what we are trying to do, this is the experience we can share with you.’

Ms Bishop defended the coalition government’s approach to offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island, despite a recent Amnesty International report describing conditions there as amounting to torture.

She said since the Coalition came to power in 2013, asylum seekers had stopped trying to reach Australian shores by boat with the help of people smugglers.

‘I reject outright that Australia has flouted international laws and I reject outright that we have in any way abused or breached people’s human rights in relation to conditions in regional processing centres,’ Ms Bishop said.

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‘I believe given the hand we were dealt when we came into government we have done all we can. We have removed every child from detention. We have found options for resettlement. We have closed 17 detention centres.’

Australia is up against France and Spain to claim its first seat on the council.

Lowy Institute executive director Michael Fullilove said some critics would argue it wasn’t worth Australia being a member of a council that includes Saudi Arabia and Cuba given their track records on human rights.

‘I would ask this: What other countries aside from Australia would you like to see sitting on the human rights council?’ he said.

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Ms Bishop said if elected Australia would offer practical and pragmatic advice just as it had done as a member of the UN Security Council in 2013/14.

Australia would also continue to push for the abolition of the death penalty around the world and emphasise the need to protect freedom of expression and gender equality.

‘There’s a long way to go,’ Ms Bishop said, noting Australia’s unsuccessful bid to stop Indonesia’s execution of Bali Nine drug traffickers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in 2015.