I was privileged to chair Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr’s Magna Carta lecture, an annual event organised by the British High Commission here. Each year we ask a prominent figure to speak about a modern issue relevant to the values enshrined in the 1215 charter, often described as the greatest constitutional document of all time.
In front of a packed audience at the Maritime Museum in Sydney, Senator Carr talked about the role of Human Rights within Australia’s foreign policy. He talked passionately about the challenges in places like Syria and North Korea, and expressed his optimism about the way Burma is now moving forward.
Afterwards I chaired a lively Q and A session where representatives from various human rights organisations, and from many of Sydney’s diverse multicultural community organisations, quizzed the minister on subjects ranging from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka.
As I explained in my speech (about which the Minister tweeted whilst I was speaking) the Magna Carta is important because it set out some very important principles, most notably that no-one – not even a king – is above the law.
Many subsequent texts, including the American Declaration of Independence, acknowledged their debt to it. But the struggle for human rights has taken many centuries, and it remains incomplete in many countries, as the FCO documents in its annual report to the UK Parliament.
That is why human rights is an important part of the values underlying British and Australian foreign policy, on which we are proud to speak out.
Our own Foreign Secretary William Hague has made clear the importance he attaches to values in our foreign policy. Last year he launched an important initiative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. At the AUKMIN ministerial meeting in Perth last month, the Australian government expressed support for this initiative and offered to identify practical assistance.