Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, today welcomed the adoption by Commonwealth leaders of the Charter for the Commonwealth, a key achievement for Australia during its term as Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth (October 2011 to November 2013).
In what is a significant achievement, the Charter enshrines for the first time the values and aspirations of a Commonwealth in a single document. The Commonwealth is made up of two billion people in 54 countries, spanning all continents and major religions.
The Charter reflects the Commonwealth's commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It sets out the Commonwealth's principles of tolerance, respect and understanding, freedom of expression, separation of powers and gender equality. The Charter emphasises the importance of young people and civil society, the environment and sustainable development, good governance and access to health, education, food and shelter. It recognises the special needs of small and vulnerable states within the Commonwealth.
Leaders at last year's Perth Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) called for the negotiation of the Charter following recommendations made by the Commonwealth Eminent Persons' Group (EPG) for a document that captures and institutionalises the Commonwealth 'spirit'. Following national consultations with civil society and a meeting of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers chaired by Senator Carr in September 2012, the text of the charter has now been adopted by all members.
Acting Prime Minister Swan and Senator Carr thanked the EPG, which included Australia's former High Court Justice, the Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG, for their contribution to the Commonwealth. They made special note of Mr Kirby's work in leading the first draft of the Charter presented by the EPG.
The EPG was established by Commonwealth Heads of Government at their summit in Trinidad and Tobago in November 2009. The group, made up of 11 distinguished individuals from across the Commonwealth, was tasked with advising Leaders on how to sharpen the impact, strengthen the networks, and raise the profile of the Commonwealth.