United Nations Association of Australia (WA)

Background Information

United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA)

How UNAA Began

Between the two World Wars, the League of Nations was set up. To help promote the aims of the League, and to inform people of its activities, a League of Nations Union was formed in many countries, including Australia. The Union membership was made up of individuals interested in international affairs and anxious to further international co-operation and understanding. However, with the outbreak of World War II, the League of Nations itself appeared to be defunct, and ceased to operate.

Many of its members, however, were keenly aware of the need for an international organisation to replace the League after the war; and in December 1942, in Hobart, a meeting of fifty prominent people was called by the Tasmanian State Government Treasurer, Mr Dwyer Gray, and Mr J R Piggott, a young barrister. At this meeting, it was decided to set up a group to study various aspects of international organisation and co-operation in the post-war period, and policy committees for education, law, refugees, health, economic and social welfare, and other matters were formed. Findings of these committees were carried to the Federal Government at annual meetings in Canberra. As recognition of the value of this work, the Tasmanian State Government gave the Association a grant to help pay running expenses. To allow the public to participate, weekly forums on international affairs were organised, and material on international understanding was distributed to schools. In 1944, the first International Week was conducted, and has continued to be held yearly since, the name being changed to United Nations Week in 1945.

In mainland Australia, the rather quiescent League of Nations Union was revived in 1945, and, following the lead of the British body, changed its name to the United Nations Association. Because of the interest aroused in Australia by the important role being played by the Australian Minister of External Affairs, Dr H V Evatt, in the formation of the United Nations, and his election as President of the General Assembly in 1948, the Association attracted a large and influential membership. The Department of External Affairs gave the utmost encouragement and assistance, and financed the Association in setting up a secretariat in Canberra. A special section dealing with UN affairs was formed within the Department, and it maintained close liaison with the UNAA.

It was obvious, when the war ended in 1945, that the devastation had left many serious problems in its wake, and the United Nations had to undertake a massive relief programme. To help, the UN launched both UNRRA and the United Nations Appeal for Children, and the response in Australia was very good. However, helping to organise these appeals was quite a strain on the resources of the infant organisation of the UNAA, and the Federal Government decided to set up the Australian National Committee for the United Nations. This body did not have individuals as members, but acted as a co-ordinating body for voluntary organisations with an interest in the UN and its aims. Like the UNAA, it was constituted on both a state and federal basis.

The new body, of which the UNAA was a leading member, was also given financial assistance by the Federal Government, and was requested to organise the United Nations Appeal for Children in 1947-48. This appeal, for economy of operation and the amount raised, is still rated as one of the most successful ever conducted anywhere in the world by UNICEF, and demonstrated conclusively Australian support for the UN. Because of this support, and the evidence from Australia in particular, it was decided in the General Assembly meeting in Paris in 1948 to make UNICEF a continuing part of the United Nations. At the conclusion of the Appeal, the UNAA and ANCUN continued to share a Secretariat in Sydney; and in 1950, the two bodies joined together to form the Australian Association for the United Nations. The name later reverted to United Nations Association. When the world body known as the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) was formed, and recognised by the UN as a consultative category B non-governmental organisation, the Australian Association became one of its earliest members.

The present organisation of the UNAA is still on both a state, territory and federal level. There is a division in every state and territory, and a Federal Executive with a representative from each state and territory, the members of the Federal Executive being elected as individuals at the Annual Council.

What UNAA Does

The UNAA has several functions, the emphasis on them varying from time to time. The main functions are:

1. Education: Informing the public, schools and organisations of the work and aims of the United Nations. Materials obtained through the United Nations Information Centre in Australia is distributed by UNAA divisions to schools, organisations, individuals, and others requesting it. Other material is produced by the UNAA itself or purchased for distribution. Speakers are provided for organisations, and regular newsletters are sent to members. Public meetings and special celebrations are organised to bring UN activities to the notice of the public, and to put forward the UN point of view on many aspects of living in today’s world.

2. Appeals and Fund-raising: Some fund-raising for UN appeals is done directly by the UNAA or by special sub-committees of it. In other cases, the UNAA helps to prepare the climate of public opinion through its educational work and distribution of literature, and the actual fund-raising is carried out by a separate committee. Often the separate organisation is one originally begun by UNAA as a sub-committee, such as Freedom from Hunger or Austcare.

3. Acting as a liaison between the Government and public on UN concerns: There has always been close contact between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (formerly External Affairs) and the UNAA, and this continues today. Through its councils, and through day-to-day dealings, the UNAA enables the views of its members and divisions to be passed on to the Department quickly and at a fairly high level. At the same time, it provides the Department with a well-informed body of opinion that can be used for consultation, and for publicising Australian participation in the UN. Where the UNAA has considered it necessary, it has also acted as a pressure group or lobby to try to influence Government policy on UN matters, or on matters that it has considered within its field, such as human rights, pollution, foreign policy, and overseas aid.

4. Recruitment for UN work: While the UNAA cannot itself offer employment with the UN, it can point out to the interested public and to governments where opportunity or needs exist, the kinds of people and skills needed, and how work for the UN or its agencies is carried out.

5. Working towards international understanding: By continuous and increasing education of members and others, by promoting international contacts and friendships, by trying to help in overseas aid and welfare programmes, by stressing the aims of the United Nations and showing people how they can be applied, the UNAA makes a real contribution towards international understanding. It encourages others to take on interest in this work and, through its corporate members, often influences many outside its own sphere. It encourages discussion and research on international problems, and promotes teaching about the universities, teachers' colleges and other places. It takes a public stand supporting those actions that help to increase friendship and understanding, and it attacks prejudice, hatred or other things which tend to work against world peace and understanding.