Permanent Mission of Australia
to the United Nations
New York

221209 - UN General Assembly Plenary Meeting: Oceans and the law of the sea


9 December 2022

Statement by H.E. the Hon Mitch Fifield, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations

This year, we observe forty years since the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), a remarkable feat of multilateralism.

Forty years later, Australia remains committed to upholding the integrity of the Convention in the future.

We reaffirm the universal and unified character of UNCLOS. It sets out the legal framework within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out.

Since the Convention came into force, it has been the legal blueprint for

- establishing all maritime zones,

- maintaining maritime peace and security, and

- protecting our oceans.

As a maritime nation, Australia believes that a strong governance regime for our oceans is critical.

We wish to see the sovereignty of all States respected.

We are committed to protecting the rights and freedoms of all States, including the freedoms of navigation and overflight.

We recognise that the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources is critical, particularly in our Pacific region.

Australia recognises the importance of the connection of First Nations Australians to land and waters, and the unique knowledge and cultural practices they hold from being stewards of Australia’s land and waters for more than 60,000 years.

We emphasise the immense contribution Indigenous Peoples can make to addressing shared regional and global development challenges, including climate change and oceans health.

UNCLOS sets out the clear, comprehensive and exhaustive rules on baselines, maritime zones and classification of features.

Australia does not accept maritime claims that are inconsistent with UNCLOS.

It is our strong position that the rules and principles of general international law do not displace the Convention, and cannot be relied upon in such a way.

We believe that UNCLOS, the Constitution for the ocean and seas, provides the foundation for a peaceful and predictable Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific region.

The Convention is central to a rules-based order in the maritime domain where all countries can cooperate, trade and thrive.

Australia reiterates our concerns about destabilising actions and serious incidents in the South China Sea,

- which have eroded trust and confidence,

- which have increased tensions, and

- which undermine peace and security in the region.

We maintain that any maritime disputes, including those in the South China Sea, should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law, particularly the Convention.

This year Australia was pleased to take part in the fifth round of negotiations for an implementing agreement under UNCLOS for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ).

We acknowledge the substantial progress made during this negotiating round, and we look forward to its resumption in early 2023.

The conclusion of an ambitious and comprehensive BBNJ Agreement is a key part of Australia’s commitment to the protection and preservation of the marine environment.

As a member of the Pacific family, Australia recognises that climate change is an existential threat for the Pacific region.

The Pacific Islands Forum Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the face of Climate Change-related Sea-level Rise recognises that the principles of legal stability, security, certainty and predictability that underpin UNCLOS are relevant to its application in the context of sea-level rise and climate change.

We encourage other States to support the interpretation of UNCLOS set out in this Declaration.

We acknowledge the important work that occurred this year at the meetings of the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

We note the importance of ongoing elaboration and standardisation by the ISA of rules, regulations and procedures to ensure the effective protection of the marine environment.

To conclude, Australia is proud to have co-sponsored the General Assembly Resolution on Oceans and the Law of the Sea.

In this 40th year of UNCLOS, Australia reflects on how our oceans have benefited from the multilateral system underpinning the Convention and from the rules and norms it sets out.

The full and effective implementation of UNCLOS will further establish a maritime domain which is stable, peaceful, prosperous and respectful of sovereignty.