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The department provided high-quality advice to the Government … and maintained its commitment to delivering the best services possible … to the Australian community.
The International Year in Review
Australia entered the twenty-first century with its international standing remarkably high—because of the progressive internationalisation and impressive performance of the Australian economy during the previous decade, the successful staging of ‘the best Olympics ever’, and Australia’s role in East Timor. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade supported its ministers in 2000–01 to use this enhanced standing to advance and protect Australia’s national interests.
International developments in 2000–01 brought new opportunities and challenges for the department. We helped build strong links with the new US Administration. We accorded high priority to meeting the challenges of political and security developments in the region. We engaged effectively in international trade forums, and worked hard to secure enhanced trading opportunities for Australia. The department provided high-quality advice to the Government across the spectrum of foreign and trade policy issues and maintained its commitment to delivering the best services possible—particularly consular and passport services—to the Australian community. The department was responsive to the requirements of its portfolio ministers, and strongly supported their advocacy of Australia’s international interests.
Following the strains on the relationship with Indonesia caused by our involvement in East Timor, the department, including through the Embassy in Jakarta, worked steadily in 2000–01 to rebuild a constructive and realistic relationship with Indonesia based on mutual respect and wide-ranging, practical cooperation. These efforts culminated in the successful visit to Australia by then Indonesian President Wahid in June 2001. In our discussions with the Indonesian government during the year, we conveyed Australia’s strong support for democratic, constitutional processes and for human rights in Indonesia. Australian development assistance was targeted to support these objectives.
The department made a major contribution in coordinating Australian support for United Nations (UN) efforts to prepare East Timor for independence. The department’s work in Canberra and advocacy overseas, notably in the UN Security Council in New York, helped build support for continued international commitment to East Timor after independence. We led negotiations on the new Timor Sea Arrangement with the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor and East Timorese representatives in order to provide a fair and equitable basis for the development of the oil and gas resources of the Timor Sea.
2000–01 saw continuing challenges in the South Pacific. The department coordinated a review of Government policy, resulting in a stronger, more proactive Australian approach to the significant problems facing the region. With respect to Solomon Islands, we led the International Peace Monitoring Team, and supported Mr Downer’s active involvement in the peace process, culminating in the Townsville Peace Agreement in October 2000. We were at the forefront of international efforts to encourage an early return to democratic and constitutional rule in Fiji. The department played a leading role in managing and advancing Australia’s extensive interests in Papua New Guinea (PNG). We supported PNG defence force reform and encouraged the international financial institutions to work constructively with PNG to address its serious economic challenges. With respect to Bougainville, we contributed substantially to the Australian-led Peace Monitoring Group, hosted talks leading to a historic agreement on weapons disposal in May 2001, and supported Mr Downer in helping to resolve outstanding issues prior to the conclusion of a major agreement on Bougainville’s future in June 2001.
International trade and economic issues
The department, including through the Geneva Mission to the World Trade Organization (WTO), supported Mr Vaile in making a sustained effort aimed at achieving consensus on launching a new round of trade negotiations at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Qatar in November 2001—Australia’s major trade objective. As Chair of the Cairns Group, Australia worked closely with other agricultural exporting countries to develop ambitious negotiating proposals for agriculture. We also contributed to steady progress in developing an agenda for services negotiations, and garnered widespread support for the inclusion of industrial products in a new round. We played a pivotal role in securing strong Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) support for a new WTO round.
During 2000–01—vindicating our reliance on the WTO dispute settlement system—we mounted successful challenges against restrictions on Australian lamb meat exports to the United States and beef exports to Korea. The department concluded market access negotiations with China, which should deliver excellent opportunities for Australian business in the context of China’s accession to the WTO.
The department supported its ministers in pursuing pragmatic bilateral and regional strategies to improve access to international markets for Australian exports. During 2000–01, we made good progress on negotiation of a cutting-edge, comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Singapore, and began discussions on the possibility of FTAs with the United States and Thailand. We embarked on studies to identify new areas of economic cooperation with Japan and South Korea, and strengthened economic links with New Zealand. Although lack of consensus within the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) prevented agreement to proceed with an FTA, the department played a key role in securing agreement between Australia, New Zealand and ASEAN to work towards a Closer Economic Partnership.
The department helped Australian exporters take advantage of openings in regional markets, as East Asia continued to recover from the economic crisis. We assisted Australian companies to position themselves to take advantage of changes in the international economy. In support of Australian commercial interests, we seized a range opportunities, including the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games, to promote Australian products and expertise. Our efforts contributed to a strongly improved national trade performance: Australian exports increased by 23 per cent in 2000–01, halving the trade deficit.
The ‘Exporting for the Future’ strategy, launched by Mr Vaile in February 2001, and related departmental initiatives, aimed to increase public awareness of the benefits of trade. We launched the Tradewatch on-line market information service, published a report on APEC’s achievements over the past decade, prepared a report on the contribution of trade to rural and regional Australia, and produced a study kit on globalisation for Australian schools. We also helped to make APEC more responsive to business information needs by developing BizAPEC.com, a web site on regulatory and tariff regimes in APEC economies, and by putting on line APEC economies’ Individual Action Plans to free up trade and investment.
The department, including through the Embassy in Washington, established good relations with the Bush and Gore campaign teams in the lead-up to the US Presidential election, and moved quickly to build strong links with the new Bush administration. Throughout the year, we used intensive policy dialogue and consultations to advance a wide range of Australian interests with the United States. In particular, we defended Australian exporters’ interests vigorously with respect to US farm subsidies, market access and the provision of food aid. We developed a substantial base of support in the United States, both with business and with Congress, for the concept of a Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the United States. This concept is expected to be developed further in the coming year.
We took advantage of the 50th anniversary of the ANZUS alliance in 2001 to focus attention on the contemporary strategic relationship with the United States. Anniversary celebrations provided an opportunity for ministers and the department to promote Australia’s interest in US engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly the importance we place on the United States having strong relationships with Japan, China, the Republic of Korea, and Indonesia. We also encouraged continuing US support for East Timor.
The department took new steps to enhance Australia’s cooperation with Japan in 2000–01. We organised a successful Australia–Japan Conference for the 21st Century in April, bringing together government and private-sector leaders from both countries to develop strategies for carrying forward the relationship in the security, economic, cultural, educational, and scientific fields. We are now examining with Japan a key recommendation of the conference, to explore a bilateral Trade and Investment Facilitation Agreement. The department made a crucial contribution to resolving the long-standing southern bluefin tuna dispute. We maintained close dialogue with Japan on regional developments and the broader regional security environment, and helped advance shared interests in multilateral forums.
Bilateral trade with China increased significantly in 2000–01, with total exports in 2000 rising 37 per cent over 1999 figures to almost $7 billion. The department worked hard to position Australian liquefied natural gas suppliers to pursue contracts in China, and reached in-principle agreement with China to convene a series of sectoral conferences to showcase Australian business after China’s WTO accession. The department strongly supported successful ministerial visits to China, including by Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson and Defence Minister Peter Reith—although we would like to see more high-level Chinese visits to Australia than was the case this year. Through our bilateral human rights dialogue we continued to urge China to improve its human rights performance. We used ministerial and senior officials’ meetings to ensure Australia’s views on regional security issues were clearly understood by Chinese counterparts.
Security, legal and environmental issues
The department achieved some notable multilateral objectives during the year, including on UN reform, the launch of a diplomatic initiative to review the international human rights treaty body system, and the election of Australian candidates to multilateral bodies. Our mission in New York helped shape a new scale of assessments that should place the United Nations on a sounder financial footing in the long term. We provided strong support for Mr Downer’s engagement in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), a group that deals with serious violations of agreed democratic principles by Commonwealth members.
The department took a lead role as whole-of-government negotiator in pursuing Australia’s interest in a global regime to address climate change. We were disappointed that the sixth Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP-6) at The Hague failed to reach agreement, but are engaged fully in preparations for the resumption of negotiations.
There were also setbacks on arms control and disarmament. Our intensive efforts to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention were not successful and our efforts to secure new accessions to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty made only limited progress.
Through bilateral security dialogue and regional meetings, the department built support for key Australian security interests, including continued US engagement in the Asia-Pacific. While regional security cooperation in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) progressed slowly, we helped secure participation by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). We facilitated the development of a common approach among Pacific Island Countries to controlling the illicit trade in small arms. We coordinated the development of Australian policies towards missile defence, encouraging the United States to consult closely on this issue with allies and other key countries.
Consular and passport services
As the number of Australians travelling overseas continued to rise during the year, the department delivered high-quality consular and passport services to the Australian public.
The department issued more than one million passports in 2000–01. International benchmarking showed that the Australian passport service met best practice. An independent customer satisfaction survey confirmed that nearly 90 per cent of clients were generally very pleased with the service, but identified some areas for improvement. We are taking steps to address those issues.
In 2000–01, over 64,000 of the 3.6 million Australians travelling outside Australia required consular assistance. The department’s staff responded with dedication, professionalism and compassion to a range of consular situations—from large-scale political or security crises and natural disasters to 21,000 individual cases of Australians in difficulty. Australia increased its points of consular service overseas to 160 (including DFAT consular posts, Austrade posts and Canadian posts) and issued 406 consular travel advices. We introduced new technology to support the 24-hour Consular Operations Centre and improved systems to disseminate consular information, including through the departmental web-site and e-mail subscriptions. An Australian National Audit Office performance audit of the department’s consular services confirmed that substantial improvements had been made to the delivery of consular services in recent years.
Building on the extraordinary exposure from the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, the department continued during the year its strong efforts to project a positive image of Australia internationally. The Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Centenary of Federation celebrations, the World Economic Forum Asia-Pacific Economic Summit in Melbourne and our participation in the Hanover World Expo 2000 provided opportunities for the department to showcase Australia’s strengths. We highlighted Australia’s strong globalisation credentials, its record of innovation, its knowledge-based economy, and its artistic and cultural assets.
We also continued our efforts to increase public awareness and understanding of Australia’s foreign and trade policies. The department’s public diplomacy activities gave priority to providing timely and helpful information to the Australian public and the media on issues such as East Timor, crises in the South Pacific and trade negotiations, as well as on consular matters. A particular focus in 2000–01 was to promote greater understanding in Australia of the benefits of trade and the opportunities afforded by globalisation. We issued publications on economic and trade issues; consular matters; international security, non-proliferation and disarmament issues; and human rights; as well as historical documents on foreign and trade policy. We improved on-line services and services to the media and to schools through more efficient dissemination of information and the creation of customised information packages. In producing publications and placing material on our web-site, the department aimed to provide the public with relevant, up-to-date and accessible information.
Corporate management and accountability
2000–01 saw the implementation of the department’s second Certified Agreement, covering employee terms and conditions from 2000 to 2003. A central feature of the Agreement is the link between performance and remuneration. Following negotiations conducted in a wholly constructive atmosphere, 71 per cent of staff voted for the new agreement in April 2000, demonstrating a high degree of satisfaction with the improved conditions offered. As Secretary, I have been encouraged by the strong productivity gains that the new approach is delivering.
The department continued an energetic program of internal review and reform. This included the Best Practice Review, which benchmarked the department’s performance against seven broadly comparable foreign and trade ministries. The Review concluded that the department was using its resources efficiently: its running costs per head of staff and the proportions of departmental staff and financial resources devoted to corporate support compared very well to those of other ministries. The department is actively following up those areas in which the potential for some improvement was identified. This has led to strengthened information technology governance structures, an improved policy planning capacity, and the development of a more targeted and efficient approach to language training.
I am encouraged by the outcome of the Output Pricing Review, commissioned by the Government in March 1999 and conducted jointly with the Department of Finance and Administration. The results (announced in the context of the 2001–02 Budget) showed that the department was operating in a highly cost-efficient manner. Despite successive reductions in staffing levels, the department is continuing to produce strong outcomes for the Government and to meet its objectives very effectively.
The department continued to improve its financial and human resource management information systems—delivering efficiencies and improving our capacity to meet our reporting and accountability obligations. We continued to review resource requirements, implementing a strategic program of downsizing (mainly in corporate support areas) that ensured priority areas—particularly the important trade functions—remained well resourced. We also improved our dialogue with other agencies on overseas operations and the sharing of arrangements and facilities at posts.
The department’s Working Smarter initiative—aimed at encouraging staff to manage time and workloads effectively and thoughtfully—won a commendation in the annual APS Workplace Diversity Awards. We took further steps in 2000–01 to embed Working Smarter practices in the department’s corporate culture.
We continued to refine and improve our internal audit and evaluation processes during the year, with the objective of enhancing the performance of our overseas posts, Canberra-based divisions and State and Territory offices. Key stakeholders and clients, including other government agencies, provided generally very positive feedback on our overseas network, which advances whole-of-government Australian interests overseas.
Security and information technology
The department takes seriously its whole-of government responsibilities for managing the Government’s global communications network and for the security of our overseas missions. During 2000–01, the department initiated a wide-ranging review of its information technology (IT) needs and priorities. This led to improved governance and accountability arrangements, and will enable the department to harness synergies between different IT systems more efficiently and ensure a more cost-effective approach to IT over time. In line with the recommendations of the review, and following ministerial approval and funding, we are now starting to upgrade the global communications network and related departmental systems through the installation (over three years) of the Secure Australian Telecommunications and Information Network (SATIN).
The department has an important responsibility to protect the classified and sensitive information we handle. Since becoming Secretary, I have placed a high priority on increasing staff security awareness and practice. The department improved security training for all personnel and maintained stringent controls on access to and handling of classified documents in 2000–01.
The recent terrorist attacks in the United States have led to new challenges for Australia and for the department.
The recent terrorist attacks in the United States have led to new challenges for Australia and for the department. In an increasingly uncertain and fluid international environment, the department will continue to work closely with other agencies and other governments to advance national and shared interests, and to provide the best possible services and advice to the Australian community. Our network of 84 diplomatic posts (including a new post in Chicago) will continue to play a pivotal whole-of-government role in this respect.
Important international priorities for the department in the year ahead will include: to support the United States in the fight against terrorism; to help launch a new round of multilateral trade negotiations that includes ambitious reform of global agricultural trade; to explore further the prospects for an FTA with the United States; to contribute strongly to broader government strategies on people smuggling and unauthorised boat arrivals; to advance international agreement on climate change and other global environmental issues consistent with Australian interests; and to provide policy advice on and practical support for the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane.
The department will continue to be a strong advocate for Australian interests in the Asia-Pacific region through bilateral dialogues and regional forums, notably APEC and the ARF. Key regional priorities in the coming year include: assistance to East Timor in the transition to and after independence; continued constructive engagement with Indonesia, including on people smuggling; conclusion of a worthwhile FTA with Singapore and, possibly later, pursuing one with Thailand; pursuit of enhanced economic and trade opportunities with China (following its WTO accession), Japan and (with New Zealand) ASEAN; and support for economic reform, good governance and stability in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and other Pacific nations.
The department will remain responsive to the domestic community and will continue to provide information on issues important to Australians. We will continue to accord high priority to providing first-class passport and consular services to the Australian community.
The department’s ability to deliver high-quality foreign and trade policy outcomes for the Government and for Australians depends on the professionalism, skills and integrity of its staff. We continue to attract and retain talented and high-performing staff. I am determined to continue developing the capabilities of our staff, to continue rewarding them appropriately, and to continue building a highly professional foreign and trade service that delivers the best possible results for the Australian Government and people.