Gillard makes maiden UN speech

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has used her maiden speech to the United Nations General Assembly to outline Australia's credentials for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

In a speech lasting 15 minutes Ms Gillard said Australia had a "decades-long" tradition of working closely with the UN and now stood ready to return to the Security Council after a 25-year absence.

"Australia's ideals in the world are those of the UN - and Australians know the practical value of the UN's work," Ms Gillard said.

"This is why Australia seeks to serve - in all the work of the UN - and on the Security Council."

Ms Gillard spoke of the important role Australia played in the Asia Pacific region, saying it gave us a "perspective of north and south".

She also catalogued Australia's numerous peacekeeping missions to countries like Timor-Leste, Solomon Islands and Afghanistan.

"We contributed to the first UN peacekeeping force in 1947 - and we lead contemporary peace building in our own region," she said.

"Australia will bring this record of service to the international community to our service on the UN Security Council should we have the privilege to be elected by the UN membership in October."

Ms Gillard also used the opportunity to speak about the worsening crisis in war-torn Syria, urging countries to take decisive action to "end the suffering of the Syrian people".

"The UN has done important work already. Australia is playing our part to help through our humanitarian aid," she said.

"And to rebuild Syrian society, those who are committing crimes against humanity must be held accountable.

"We urge the members of the Security Council to do so and to act decisively."

She also touched on the issue of nuclear proliferation, singling out Iran for criticism.

She said a nuclear-armed Iran would pose "a major threat to regional and global security", urging the UN to "press" it to change course.

"It is now six years since the Security Council first expressed concern about Iran's nuclear program," she said.

"Iran still refuses to take the urgent steps necessary to build confidence that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.

"In contravention of successive IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions, Iran moves closer to having the capacity to produce weapons-grade material.

"So we stand with the world, united in sending a strong signal - through Security Council sanctions - that Iran must change its behaviour now."

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