WHO Pandemic Treaty Will Not Take Away Australia’s Sovereignty, Government Says

‘Australia has its own sovereignty in regards to making policy decisions around health for Australians,’ said Assistant Minister Malarndirri McCarthy.
WHO Pandemic Treaty Will Not Take Away Australia’s Sovereignty, Government Says
A sign of the World Health Organization (WHO) at the entrance of their headquarters in Geneva, on May 8, 2021. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
Henry Jom

The claim that Australia will lose its sovereignty under the pandemic treaty has been allayed for now after the government confirmed it will retain agency over its own policy decisions.

Under questioning from One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts during a Senate hearing, members from the Department of Health and Aged Care said the World Health Organisation had no legal authority to force member states to adopt any of its recommendations.

“Australia has its own sovereignty in regards to making policy decisions around health for Australians and our borders. I don’t think I can be any clearer,” Malarndirri McCarthy of the Australian Labor Party, representing the Department, told the Senate Estimates on Feb. 15.

However, Sen. Roberts argued that the latest published version of the International Health Regulations (IHR) amendments will diminish Australian sovereignty.

Sen. Roberts was referring to the wording of the UN’s Pandemic Preparedness Treaty draft, which would make the treaty binding on all signatories.

The draft calls for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be the central coordination authority for future international health responses, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m concerned about how much the international influence, particularly to the World Health Organisation, drove out our response to COVID,” he said.

“Will the Albanese government support the international health regulation amendments if it continues as written to include compulsion on Australia to follow World Health Organisation directives?”

In response, Blair Exell, deputy secretary for health strategy, said the draft documents mention the protection of sovereignty.

“There’s an active process of consideration at both levels, the World Health Organisation by Australia and other countries, and then when it reaches domestic ledge, that’s also considered very carefully,” Mr. Exell said.

“The process is actually a member state process. So in that sense, there is no WHO, the working groups are led by member states, the participation is by member states … There is no sense; there is no notion of Australia giving up sovereignty.”

This comes less than two months after the Health Department published a document (pdf) stating that changes to the International Health Regulations may create new international legal obligations for Australia.

“Any proposed changes to Australian law to implement amendments to the International Health Regulations would have to be considered and passed by Australia’s Parliament in order to become legally binding in Australia,” the document states.

“Any changes to the IHR must be in line with the instrument’s core obligations to control the international spread of disease, and strengthen countries abilities to coordinate and cooperate in response to a health emergency.

Ms. McCarthy added that the Australian government would always observe how the international community responds to issues affecting public health.

“But of course, our priority is Australians and the sovereignty of our decisions in regards to health for Australians,” she said.

NZ Challenges Pandemic Treaty

Meanwhile, New Zealand’s tri-party coalition government is planning to implement a “national interest test” that will be applied to any prospective agreements with the United Nations (UN), and related bodies.

The NZ government’s stance comes as the May 2024 deadline looms for UN member states—of which Australia and New Zealand are members—to adopt the UN’s Pandemic Preparedness Treaty, touted to “protect and promote people’s health.”

The “national interest test,” conceived by coalition partner NZ First, will be applied before accepting any “agreements from the UN and its agencies that limit national decision-making and reconfirm that New Zealand’s domestic law holds primacy over any international agreements.”

Currently, a “national interest assessment” is applied to overseas investments and is vetted by the finance minister as to whether they align with New Zealand’s interests.

WHO Urges Countries to Sign Pandemic Treaty to Prepare for ‘Disease X’

On Jan. 17, World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus called on countries to sign the pandemic treaty in preparation for “Disease X.”

“Disease X” was referred to by the WHO in 2018 as a list of priority diseases that could lead to a “serious international epidemic” caused by a pathogen “currently unknown to cause human disease.”

However, Reuters points out that “Disease X” served as a scenario to better prepare communities for future major disease outbreaks, “not a real disease the World Economic Forum (WEF) is planning to release.”

Mr. Ghebreyesus said that COVID-19 was the first disease X and that countries need to prepare for another pandemic.

“We lost many people [during COVID] because we couldn’t manage them,” Mr. Ghebreyesus said.

“They could have been saved, but there was no space. There was not enough oxygen. So how can you have a system that can expand when the need comes?”

Mr. Ghebreyesus touted the benefits of the pandemic treaty, saying that it could bring all the experiences, challenges, and solutions countries have faced during the pandemic “into one,” adding that it is a “common global interest.”

However, some U.S. Republicans aren’t convinced, saying that the treaty would cede sovereignty to the WHO.

“The World Health Organisation pandemic treaty is very vague, it affects our sovereignty, and it could be exploited to tell Americans what kind of health care they need in the event of a global pandemic,” Tim Burchett (R-Tenn) said in May 2023.

The deadline for the treaty to be signed will be May.

Henry Jom is a reporter for The Epoch Times, Australia, covering a range of topics, including medicolegal, health, political, and business-related issues. He has a background in the rehabilitation sciences and is currently completing a postgraduate degree in law. Henry can be contacted at [email protected]
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