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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to Deliver Whitlam Oration


The 2019 Whitlam Oration will be delivered by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet.  The High Commissioner will speak on Australia’s Role in Human Rights in a Changing World.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was established in 1993 and Ms Bachelet is the seventh Commissioner. She took up her role in September 2018.

Ms. Bachelet was elected President of Chile on two occasions (2006 – 2010 and 2014 – 2018). She was the first female President of Chile. She served as Health Minister (2000-2002) as well as Chile’s and Latin America’s first female Defence Minister (2002 – 2004).

In 2011, she was named the first Director of UN Women, an organisation dedicated to fighting for the rights of women and girls internationally.  Economic empowerment and ending violence against women were two of her priorities during her tenure.

Ms Bachelet has a unique relationship with Australia. As a 23-year-old medical student, Ms Bachelet was imprisoned under the Pinochet regime in Chile -  her father was killed and she came to Australia as a political refugee during the term of the Whitlam Government in 1975.[1]

While President of Chile Ms Bachelet also commissioned Western Sydney University to advise her Government on its early childhood education strategy.

“It is a great privilege and honour to welcome Ms Bachelet back to Australia. In her current role as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights it is altogether fitting that she deliver this year’s Whitlam Oration on the global human rights outlook and Australia’s role in that context”, said Leanne Smith, Director of the Whitlam Institute.

“In the three years of the Whitlam Government, Australia ratified 15 human rights treaties that have since become the foundation of our domestic laws that promote and protect human rights in Australia. In effect the Whitlam Government led Australia’s engagement with International Human Rights Law.

“With Human Rights around the world and in Australia under threat, the Whitlam Institute is proud to uphold this legacy and continue to affirm, in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that Australia was so intimately involved with framing in 1947, that ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.’

“Just last month we marked the 44th anniversary of Gough Whitlam returning traditional land back to the Gurindji people. There has been progress in improving the human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia since that pivotal moment. However, as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted in a report[2] on Australia just this month, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be overrepresented in judicial proceedings and disproportionately affected by violence.

“It will be illuminating and perhaps challenging to hear Ms Bachelet’s observations on what continues to be a difficult and seemingly intractable challenge for our country, Ms Smith said.

The Whitlam Oration continues to bring senior government, diplomatic, civil society, higher education, business and community leaders together with a broad public audience. Previous Orations have been delivered by the Hon Julia Gillard, the Hon Malcolm Fraser, Noel Pearson, Graham Freudenberg, Stephen FitzGerald and Bret Walker.


The Whitlam Institute within Western Sydney University is a dynamic public policy institute that commemorates and is inspired by the life and work of one of Australia’s most respected Prime Ministers, the Hon Gough Whitlam AC QC. 


The Whitlam Oration will be delivered at 6.30pm on 9 October at the Seymour Centre Sydney. Tickets are available here: https://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/whitlam-oration-michelle-bachelet/

Media are welcome to attend and cover the event.