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Your location: Performance > Outcome 3 > Output 3.1 > 3.3.1 Public information and media services on Australia's foreign and trade policy

OUTPUT 3.1: Public information services and public diplomacy

3.1.1 Public information and media services on Australia's foreign and trade policy

On this page: Overview :: Media services :: Internet :: Trade publications :: Trade advocacy and outreach :: Other public information activities


There was a heightened public and media focus on the department's work over the past year, due in large measure to the Bali bombings and the conflict in Iraq. The Government's active foreign and trade policy agenda and its White Paper on foreign and trade policy also received significant attention. The department's public diplomacy and media services provided accurate and timely information to domestic and international audiences about these developments.

The department delivered public programs and information through media liaison and media briefings, and through the production of public affairs materials used by posts and placed on our website. We publicly promoted the Government's foreign and trade policy agenda and, where necessary, corrected inaccurate or negative media reporting in Australia and overseas.

The Bali bombings and subsequent increased media focus on travel advisories were key factors in a near-doubling of media enquiries in this reporting period compared to the previous period. To respond to the high level of media interest on Bali, the department supplemented its permanent 24-hour media service with dedicated 24-hour media contact points in Bali. We liaised closely with other government agencies associated with the rescue and relief operation, including the Departments of Defence and Family and Community Services, and the Attorney-General's Department. We were sensitive to our responsibilities to the next-of-kin and relatives of victims, as well as privacy considerations, when providing information to the media.

The department undertook a range of initiatives to explain the Government's trade policy to the Australian community. Through a series of widely-distributed brochures, fact sheets and other publications, we clearly explained the Government's approach to its trade negotiating agenda and globalisation.

We used community speaking and media engagements to promote the Government's key messages about the importance of trade to Australia's economic wellbeing. We conducted a series of community globalisation workshops in regional and metropolitan locations throughout Australia, as well as a number of globalisation seminars in South-East Asia, including in Bangkok, Manila and Jakarta.

The department's website (www.dfat.gov.au) continued to provide timely and accurate information. The publication of ministerial speeches, media releases and transcripts, consular and travel advice, specially-prepared material on major foreign and trade policy initiatives, and general information about Australia, provided comprehensive, relevant and up-to-date material for visitors to the site. We also significantly improved the information contained on the website, making it more comprehensive and easier to navigate.

The department produced a CD-ROM multi-media presentation tool for use in domestic presentations on the role of the department. Staff have used it extensively in presentations to business, community, and university and school groups.

Our public diplomacy and information activities drew positive feedback from portfolio ministers, the media, business and the public during the year.

Media services

The department's strong record of constructive engagement with Australian and international media facilitated informed and positive coverage on portfolio issues. We targeted key commentators on major policy issues, providing them with timely, reliable information. Media proved highly receptive to efforts to engage them early in the policy development process and on key events. Our round-the-clock media duty roster guaranteed that media received the most up-to-date information available.

We responded to more than 15 250 requests for information from media outlets, including online and industry publications. This compared to about 8250 requests in the previous year. Requests for information about consular cases and services, particularly in the aftermath of the Bali bombings, accounted for around 82 per cent of all media enquiries. News coverage of our travel advisories, and revisions we made, increased after we began issuing copies to the Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Trade and foreign policy issues attracting significant media attention included: Iraq, international counter-terrorism, regional security issues with particular focus on events in Indonesia, Solomon Islands and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, WTO Doha Round negotiations, the APEC Ministers' Meeting and APEC Leaders' Meeting, free trade agreement negotiations with the United States, Singapore and Thailand, and Advancing the National Interest, Australia's foreign and trade policy White Paper.

We provided portfolio ministers, the Parliamentary Secretary and the Prime Minister's Office with strategic media advice and support for events and initiatives including the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Pacific Islands Forum, the Australia–US Ministerial Consultations, the informal meeting of WTO trade ministers in Sydney, the Second Bali Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, and the APEC Ministerial Meeting and APEC Leaders' Meeting.

We continued to refine our media monitoring processes, improving our ability to monitor trends in media coverage of portfolio-related issues. We developed media outreach strategies to increase understanding of government policies. The department held 35 media briefings on key trade and foreign policy topics and ministerial visits, compared to 13 similar briefings in the previous year.

One-on-one interviews and briefings for journalists proved a highly effective means of ensuring well-informed media coverage on portfolio issues. We arranged 1330 of these briefings, with trade issues comprising just over half the topics covered. This compares with 815 in the previous year.

We issued 390 ministerial media statements and 16 departmental media releases, with around 90 per cent of these resulting in media coverage. Continued outreach with technical and industry publications has secured more opportunities to distribute information on foreign, trade and other departmental matters to a wider audience.

Electronic versions of our media releases remain a popular and cost-effective means of disseminating information. Many journalists now access them direct from our website, and 1160 contacts registered on our media contact database receive these releases via email. Just under half of these contacts are trade-related.


The department increasingly used the Internet as its key means of disseminating information and advice quickly to mass audiences in Australia and overseas. Demand for material on the department's main website increased strongly over the year, with the site regularly registering up to 500 000 page-views per week. In the week following the Bali bombings, a record level of over 1.79 million page-views was reached. The department created a special Bali information website early on the morning after the bombings to provide timely information to the public. It included travel advice notices, information about the victims and details of emergency hotline numbers. It was updated hourly in the early days of the crisis.

The department established a new website with Arabic-language content to coincide with the opening of the Australian Representative Office in Baghdad in May 2003. We posted a range of material on our website throughout the height of the Iraq crisis to provide accurate and timely information on the Government's position.

The department's travel advisory pages were the most visited area of the website during the year. We improved the arrangements for publicising travel advice and, as a result, subscriptions to our email service grew to over 25 000 users.

Our website was made more accessible, including to people with disabilities and those living in rural and remote communities. We strengthened website availability and integrity with the addition of new security layers. These allow improved reporting on attempts at hacking and better monitoring of systems during critical periods. Several overseas post websites were established or relocated to Canberra to improve security and content management.

Trade publications

In 2002–03, the department produced an array of short publications to promote the benefits of trade to domestic audiences. We coordinated the production of Reform pays off, a brochure launched by the Prime Minister at the APEC Leaders' Meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico, which focused on benefits to key sectors of the Australian economy from trade liberalisation and openness to competition. Distribution to an international audience enhanced Australia's standing as an internationally competitive and open economy.

Three new brochures and fact sheets outlining the benefits for Australia and developing countries of participating in the Doha Round of trade negotiations were produced in advance of the informal meeting of WTO trade ministers held in Sydney in November 2002. Two editions of a newsletter providing updates on the Australia–United States FTA negotiations were widely disseminated. The department continued to improve and expand TradeWatch, an interactive online market access service for Australians doing business overseas.

The department made a major effort to stimulate business interest through publishing Doing business in Mexico, funded by the Council on Australia Latin America Relations, and Doing business in Spain. Mr Vaile launched these publications and the department organised seminars in capital cities to promote commercial opportunities in these markets.

Economic analysis

Photo - See caption below for description
Mr Saul Eslake, Chief Economist, ANZ and Francis Perkins, Executive Director of the department’s Economic Analytical Unit, at the Melbourne launch of Globalisation: Keeping the gains in May 2003. (Photo: Michael Silver/Photonet)
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

The department launched three new economic analytical reports, all followed by a series of seminars or workshops around Australia. These reports received favourable press coverage and strong commendations from relevant business groups, regional media, analysts and governments. Connecting with Asia's tech future: ICT export opportunities assesses the export opportunities that East Asia's accelerating information and communications technologies (ICT) take-up should generate for Australian ICT producers. China embraces the world market analyses the impacts of China's WTO entry and other recent reforms on China's economy and the opportunities this presents for Australia. Globalisation: Keeping the gains examines how governments can respond to the challenges open markets bring and ensure societies keep the gains of globalisation. This report was an important part of our public advocacy for trade liberalisation (see box on page 156).

We presented seminars in South-East Asia on the benefits of globalisation for East Asia and Australia. These were addressed by our heads of mission and local dignitaries and attracted around 300 local officials, policy-makers and business people. We conducted seminars in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa based on the paper Advancing African agriculture through trade reform, showing how world agricultural trade reform would improve the productivity and profitability of the African agricultural sector, increase economic growth and reduce poverty. These seminars received positive media coverage and were well attended.

Several briefs also were released to inform the public on foreign and trade policy. The economic costs of terrorism discusses how unchecked terrorism can reduce confidence, increase risk perceptions and premiums and raise transaction costs, reducing investment and economic growth. It finds collective international action is the most efficient response to terrorism. In February 2003, the paper was presented to the APEC Senior Officials Meeting in Thailand and the Secure Trade in the APEC Region Conference in Bangkok. It was well received in both forums and was a timely contribution to APEC's work on counter-terrorism. Australia–Thai trade relations: Plastics and chemicals industry assesses the relative strengths of Australia's and Thailand's plastics and chemicals industries by analysing the level and trend of sectoral trade flows.

Shorter publications produced by the department included a brochure and student guide to accompany our report Globalisation: Keeping the gains; a brochure explaining the importance of trade for the country's economic wellbeing titled Trade and the Australian way of life; and a series of short fact sheets on the work of APEC and its contribution to advancing Australia's economic interests. A feature of our approach to shorter publications has been their wide distribution to target audiences in the Australian community.


Asialine is a free email-based service providing articles about Asia and the department's activities in the region. The service targets Australian businesses, organisations and individuals with an interest in the Asian region. Online readership grew from around 800 to 1150 over the past year.

Commercial and statistical services

The department produces a wide range of statistical publications dealing with Australia's international trade relationships. These publications contribute to policy-making, business decisions and community understanding of trade issues. In 2002–03, we distributed more than 3000 statistical publications to a wide range of users in the public and private sectors.

A large part of the statistical information we hold is available either at no charge or on a fee-for-service basis for Australian businesses and researchers interested in overseas markets. Our statistical consultancy service answered more than 8000 queries (see output 1.3 on page 107 for further detail on services provided to business).

A set of country/economy fact sheets is maintained on the department's website at www.dfat.gov.au/geo/fs/index.html. The fact sheets provide demographic and economic information for over 160 of Australia's trading partners, and summaries of trade relations with Australia. These are a valuable resource for Australians, including business people travelling overseas.

Trade advocacy and outreach

The department expanded its trade advocacy and outreach activities, strengthening our promotion of the benefits of trade to the Australian community. We implemented strategies to build community support for a number of specific trade policy programs, including Australia's active participation in the WTO Doha Round negotiations and negotiations for a free trade agreement with the United States.

We arranged speaking opportunities and media appearances for senior departmental officers to communicate the Government's approach to specific trade policy initiatives and, more generally, to promote the importance of trade for Australian communities. In May and June 2003, we organised a series of community workshops on globalisation in regional and metropolitan locations throughout Australia. These workshops gave the Australian community an opportunity to express their views on Australia's participation in global trade and investment. We gave presentations to school students, community groups and had an information kiosk at the Northern Territory Expo in Darwin.

Trade advocacy globalisation workshops

The department organised a series of trade advocacy globalisation workshops in regional and metropolitan locations across Australia to spread the key messages contained in our report Globalisation: Keeping the gains. It argues the benefits of globalisation to the world and Australian economies by stimulating growth and reducing poverty. It draws direct correlations between the increase in Australia’s living standards over the past two decades with efforts to open the Australian economy.

Workshops were held in cities and towns such as Bendigo, Newcastle, Toowoomba and Narrogin in Western Australia, as well as state capitals. They featured presentations by Saul Eslake, the ANZ Bank’s chief economist, and by the principal departmental author of the report.

Over 800 Australians, from all sectors of the community, including church and community groups, secondary schools, non-government organisations and local councils took the opportunity to express their views and discuss globalisation, as well as the Government’s broader trade policy agenda. This project is a good example of the department’s commitment to communicate with Australians on trade policy issues.

Other public information activities


The department's speechwriters, in consultation with ministers' offices and relevant areas of the department, prepared some 200 ministerial and senior executive speeches. These constitute an important part of increasing awareness and understanding of Australia's foreign and trade policies among both domestic and international audiences.

Material for schools

The department contributed significantly to ongoing demand for teaching resources on trade and globalisation issues. We provided significant editorial input to the Exporting for the future resources book for Year 11 and 12 students, a joint Austrade/department initiative. We also disseminated to economics, geography and society and environment teachers around Australia fact sheets and brochures containing up-to-date information about key aspects of Australia's trade policies. In collaboration with a leading academic educationalist, the department produced a secondary school student guide to our report Globalisation: Keeping the gains.

Consultative activities

The department continued its consultative activities on foreign policy, regularly engaging relevant community representatives and non-government organisations (NGOs) on security-related and human rights issues. As secretariat for the National Consultative Committee on Peace and Disarmament, we organised the committee's annual meeting to discuss policy issues and developments relating to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation, and a second meeting to consult with committee members on the foreign and trade policy White Paper. We continued to publish pamphlets on current security issues to stimulate informed public debate on strategic policy and arms control issues. We also organised two formal consultations with interested NGOs to discuss human rights issues. See sub-output 1.1.5 and output 1.3 for information on the department's consultations on trade issues.


In August 2002, Mr Downer launched the Australian Treaties Database (ATD), an online research resource at www.info.dfat.gov.au/treaties. Developed by the department, the ATD provides access to texts, national interest analyses, regulation impact statements, reports by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties and the Government's responses. In a significant advance for researchers in June 2003, the department linked the database to all government legislation and regulations passed or issued pursuant to Australian treaty action since 1983. Users responded warmly to the ATD, which has increased our efficiency in managing treaties information and reflects the Government's commitment to a more transparent treaties process.


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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report 2002–2003
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