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Australia wins seat on United Nations Human Rights Council

Australia has been elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the first time.

Australia has been elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the first time. Photo: AP

Australia has been elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council unopposed, marking the first time the country has served on the group.

Gillian Bird, ambassador and permanent representative to the UN, tweeted Australia’s success after the vote in Geneva early on Tuesday.

“Thanks all for supporting #Oz4HumanRights and thanks to our great team! We look forward to serving with other successful candidates on UN_HRC,” Ms Bird tweeted.

Australia joins Spain as a Western European and other States representative for the three-year term, replacing the Netherlands and Portugal.

The race to serve on the council narrowed when France dropped out of contention.

On Monday, ahead of the vote, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop insisted Australia was a transparent, accountable nation and would bring a principled, pragmatic approach to work at the council if elected.

“Australia is open to being investigated and open to views from outside, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t rightfully take our place on the Human Rights Council,” Ms Bishop told reporters in Canberra.

Ms Bishop had been buoyed by the enormous level of support towards Australia’s bid when it was a contested campaign.

Australia’s bid to serve on the council, however, has attracted criticism, most recently from World Vision Australia’s boss, Tim Costello.

On Monday, before the vote, Mr Costello called on the government to close “its inhumane offshore detention centres” which were a “blight on Australia’s international reputation”.

“If we are to play a credible role in promoting human rights internationally, we need to look to our own behaviour,” he said in an emailed statement.

“We need to do more than talk the talk on human rights, we need to walk the walk.”

The Refugee Council of Australia was similarly critical of the country’s human rights record.

“Australia’s human rights record is on shaky ground when it comes to their ongoing treatment of refugees and people seeking asylum,” chief executive Paul Power said.

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples pointed to the federal government’s relationship with indigenous Australians that had been “sorely strained” in recent years.

The UN is set to scrutinise Australia’s human rights record on Wednesday and Thursday as part of a regular examination process.

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