The Australian National Commission (NatCom) for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) advances Australia's priorities and interests in the UNESCO space. The NatCom has three core objectives: to promote and publicise UNESCO's objectives and programs in Australia and the broader Asia-Pacific region; to provide expert analysis and policy advice to the Government on UNESCO matters; and to contribute to the development and implementation of programs in support of UNESCO priorities.
In 2011 and 2012, the NatCom contributed to the development and implementation of programs in support of UNESCO priorities in the fields of education, natural sciences, culture, social and human sciences and communication and information.
UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Science Visit to Australia
The NatCom, represented by the acting Secretary-General, attended a roundtable with the UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, Professor Gretchen Kalonji, organised by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR) on 22 July 2011. Representatives from DIISR and CSIRO also attended the meeting. The roundtable focussed on UNESCO’s priorities and main lines of action in the field of natural sciences. Australian attendees took advantage of the meeting to highlight to UNESCO Australia’s innovation system, research priorities and international science, technology and innovation engagement.
UNESCO General Conference
The Chair of the NatCom, Ms Anthea Tinney, actively participated in UNESCO’s 36th General Conference held in Paris from 25 October - 10 November 2011 as part of the Australian delegation. Throughout she worked closely with colleagues from Pacific National Commissions, and sought to highlight their issues and concerns more broadly. This included ensuring Pacific nations benefit from the Participation Program and considering how reform initiatives affect small island states. Ms Tinney also attended the Interregional Meeting of National Commissions for UNESCO, held on 24 October 2011. This meeting presented the main findings of the Review of UNESCO’s Cooperation where it was agreed that the role of National Commissions needed to be renewed and revitalised to further the mission and work of UNESCO. Considerable scope was identified to improve consultation and communication between the UNESCO Secretariat, member states, field offices, National Commissions and other stakeholders.
Memory of the World
The NatCom pursued its collaboration with the Australian Committee for Memory of the World (AMW), whose mandate is to preserve and provide access to valuable archive holdings and library collections (www.amw.org.au). The NatCom’s Deputy Chair and Communication and Information specialist, Mr Martin Hadlow, participated in a two-day AMW workshop held at the National Library of Australia, Canberra, on 29 February and 1 March 2012. The event, entitled “Sustaining the AMW”, reviewed the current and future programmes of the AMW program.
UNESCO Grants Program
The NatCom drew on $80,000 to support Australian community initiatives promoting UNESCO goals. In early 2012, the NatCom awarded four small grants, furthering UNESCO objectives in Australia and beyond:
The NatCom awarded $22,000 (incl. GST) to the Royal Institution of Australia to carry out the Aboriginal Summer School for Excellence in Technology and Science (ASSETS). The nine day program engaged 26 year 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in an active science, culture and leadership program designed to help close the gap in educational and employment outcomes.
The NatCom also awarded $27,500 (incl. GST) to the Australian National University to arrange a “UNESCO World Heritage Status Realised: Plain of Jars” meeting to bring together key national and international stakeholders to further the bid for UNESCO World Heritage Status for Laos’ Plain of Jars located in Xieng Khouang Province.
$20,000 (excl. GST) was provided to the Fitzgerald Biosphere Group Inc to develop an action plan to stimulate community ownership of the Fitzgerald Biosphere Reserve and help preserve its status as a UNESCO listed biosphere.
The NatCom awarded $15,000 (excl. GST) to Charles Darwin University to carry out a two-day education workshop in Timor-Leste. The workshop attracted nearly 100 participants from Timor-Leste’s education sector helping to build the capacity of the country’s teacher education, curriculum and information and communication technology sectors.
The NatCom has sought to further Australian training and research activities within UNESCO’s fields of competence with its support for UNESCO’s University Education Twinning and Networking Scheme (UNITWIN). In April 2012, the NatCom endorsed two Australian proposals to establish new UNESCO Chairs under the UNITWIN scheme. The first proposal, put forward by Deakin University, relates to the establishment of a UNESCO Chair in ‘Migration and Intercultural Relations’ to be known as a Chair in ‘Comparative Research on Cultural diversity and Social Justice’. The second proposal, put forward by the University of Queensland, is to establish a UNESCO Chair in Journalism, Freedom of Information and the Right to Know. Both proposals have been approved by UNESCO and expect to be operational in 2013.
The Asia-Pacific National Regional Consultations on the Preparation of UNESCO’s Medium-Term Strategy for 2014-21 (37 C/4) and its Programme and Budget for 2014-17 (37 C/5) were held in Thanh Hoa, Vietnam, on 16 to 18 June 2012. The Secretary-General of the NatCom, Mr Toshi Kawaguchi, represented Australia at the Consultations which attracted delegations from 29 other Asia-Pacific Member States as well as senior UNESCO representatives, including Mr Eric Falt, the Assistant Director-General for External Relations and Public Information.
The Consultations offered Member States an opportunity to share their views with UNESCO about the priorities and objectives the Organization should pursue over the next four to eight years. The NatCom joined other participants in highlighting the need for UNESCO to identify cost-savings and to improve its efficiency in light of budgetary constraints. The NatCom also called on UNESCO to focus on several priority areas, including education, youth, anti-doping in sport, World Heritage and Memory of the World.
The NatCom was proud to help further the participation of Australian women in science through its support for the L’Oréal-UNESCO Women in Science program. In 2012, Professor Ingrid Scheffer was awarded the 2012 L’Oréal-UNESCO Awards in Life Sciences for the Asia-Pacific. The awards honour five exceptional women scientists from around the world for their work to advance science. Professor Scheffer, Chair of Paediatric Neurology Research at the University of Melbourne, won the award for her outstanding work on identifying genes involved in epilepsy. This unique tribute to women who are advancing science includes Prof. Scheffer in an elite group of just five Australian women of the 72 International Laureates who have won this international award.