Annual Report 2003-2004
 

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Secretary's Review

The international year in review

  The Secretary, Dr Ashton Calvert AC
The Secretary,
Dr Ashton Calvert AC
(Photo: Michael Jensen)

‘The challenging international environment and demanding policy agenda have meant we have had to be creative and dynamic in the way we work…’

The dynamic and uncertain international environment continues deeply to affect the lives and interests of Australians at home and abroad—raising both challenges and opportunities. The response of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade across the breadth of its activities—ranging from new regional counter-terrorism arrangements to the active pursuit of market openings—has been prompt, carefully targeted to Australian interests, and highly professional.

Close liaison and coordination with other Australian Government departments and agencies and Australian industry in pursuit of our priorities was an enduring theme in many of the department's key activities in 2003–04. By working with others we ensured that Australia's interests overseas were promoted in an effective and coherent manner. As a result, we achieved some very positive outcomes which included, but were not limited to:

We continued to place high priority on our responsibility to provide the Australian public with high-quality consular and passport services. The changing and challenging international environment has generated unprecedented demand in Australia for accurate, up-to-date information on the risks facing Australians and Australian interests abroad. The department's smartraveller campaign publicised the availability of such information to Australians. We continued to place emphasis on issuing timely travel advisories. New passport services were also developed, with a focus on improving the security and inviolability of issuing procedures.

Enhancement of Australia's security

Among the department's highest priorities during the year was our support of the Government's efforts to counter international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The department's Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism played a leading role in coordinating Australia's international counter-terrorism activities and policies, and in furthering bilateral and regional cooperation.

With the Indonesian Government, the department arranged the Regional Ministerial Meeting on Counter-Terrorism in Bali in February 2004. This meeting identified practical steps to strengthen and consolidate regional cooperation on issues such as law enforcement, information sharing and legal frameworks. An important outcome of the meeting was agreement to establish the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation in Indonesia, to act as a key resource for the region in tackling transnational crime, including terrorism.

We expanded the number of counter-terrorism arrangements between Australia and regional governments from six to nine in 2003–04. We led counter-terrorism dialogues with strategic partners, and encouraged a strong approach to counter-terrorism in global and regional forums, including the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the Pacific Islands Forum and the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee.

We increased public understanding of the terrorist threat, including by drafting Australia's first White Paper on Terrorism—Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia—launched by Mr Downer in July 2004. The White Paper provides readers with a deeper understanding of the nature of the terrorist threat, how it affects Australia, and the Government's commitment to combat it at the international level.

The department provided the Government with extensive advice on the challenging situation in Iraq. We led the inter-agency Iraq Task Force—the principal mechanism for coordinating government policy, operational decisions and advocacy on Iraq issues. Despite operating in a difficult security situation, the department, with its representatives in Baghdad, was able to support Australia's efforts to assist with the stabilisation of Iraq, while at the same time advancing our commercial interests.

The exposure of the network for the proliferation of WMD run by Pakistan's nuclear scientist AQ Khan highlighted the need for Australia to continue to work creatively with like-minded countries to counter the threat posed by such weapons. The department played a leading role in the Proliferation Security Initiative—a coalition of countries developing practical measures to prevent the spread of WMD and related materials. We used multilateral, regional and bilateral channels to encourage compliance with international non-proliferation norms by countries with nuclear programs of concern such as Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). We worked assiduously to strengthen multilateral non-proliferation regimes.

The department played a key role in building international support for the extension for a further year of the United Nations Mission in Support of East Timor. We developed and implemented a vigorous and practical strategy to assist South Pacific countries. RAMSI—which was coordinated and led by the department—had a remarkably positive impact in its first year on stabilising the security and economic situation in Solomon Islands. Australia's nearest neighbour—Papua New Guinea—was another major focus for the Government and the department. We developed an Enhanced Cooperation Program to help Papua New Guinea improve its law and order, economic management, border control and security.

We played an important role in the Prime Minister's successful campaign at the 2003 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' meeting to elect (for the first time) an Australian to the position of Secretary-General of the Forum—former departmental senior official, Greg Urwin.

Contribution to national prosperity

The department pursued an ambitious agenda in 2003–04 for improved access to overseas markets for Australian business, using the full range of multilateral, regional and bilateral approaches available to us.

The department maintained strong advocacy in support of an ambitious outcome for the current WTO Doha Round, which would open markets to Australian goods and services and correct long-standing imbalances in the global trading system, particularly in agriculture. We played a key role representing Australia's interests in the Doha Round negotiations as a member of the Five Interested Parties group (with the United States, the European Union, Brazil and India), and as a leader of the Cairns Group of agricultural fair traders. Despite our best endeavours, progress towards multilateral liberalisation through the Doha Round was disappointingly slow during the review period, highlighted by the failure of WTO members to reach agreement at the WTO Ministerial meeting in Cancún, Mexico.

We maintained pressure on other countries to continue to look for ways forward, including through other forums such as APEC. This contributed to the recent agreement among WTO members in July 2004 on a Framework Package to guide the next phase of negotiations. This was an important outcome, and represents a significant step forward towards the conclusion of the Round. The department played an active role in using the WTO dispute settlement system to protect Australia's rights and obligations, including through challenging the European Union's sugar subsidies.

The department continued to promote APEC as the pre-eminent forum in the region. We played a leading role in the development of APEC's agenda, including with respect to security issues, trade and investment liberalisation and facilitation and encouraging APEC members to maintain high standards with respect to FTAs.

We led negotiations which concluded high-quality FTAs with the United States and Thailand. Both agreements were the culmination of complex and intense negotiations on the part of the department and other government agencies, in close consultation with industry and other stakeholders. Once they enter into force, both the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement and the Thailand–Australia Free Trade Agreement will provide significant new benefits and opportunities for Australian exporters.

To maintain the positive momentum, we are giving active consideration to a possible FTA with China—initially by assessing the potential benefits to Australia—and have begun discussions on a possible FTA between ASEAN and Australia and New Zealand, and a study of a possible FTA with Malaysia. We have reached preliminary agreement with the United Arab Emirates on negotiation of an FTA.

Bilateral Relationships

The department made substantial progress in consolidating and expanding Australia's extensive network of bilateral relationships. The department's contribution included sustained advocacy in support of Australia's overseas interests and support for high-level visits.

Strengthening economic links and diplomatic and security cooperation with Asia was a focus of the department's work. The Prime Minister's visit to Japan in July 2003 resulted in the signing of the Australia–Japan Trade and Economic Framework, which was negotiated by the department. We supported the Prime Minister's visit to China in August 2003 and Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Australia in October 2003. During the latter visit, Ministers presided over the signing of several bilateral agreements, including a Trade and Economic Framework and agreement on a joint feasibility study towards a possible bilateral FTA.

In addition to the cooperation with Indonesia and other regional countries on counter-terrorism, highlights in South and South-East Asia included: the finalisation of the FTA with Thailand; the deepening of relations with ASEAN through the commencement of discussions for an FTA between ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand; and the growth in India's importance as a trading and strategic dialogue partner.

Australia's engagement with the United States remains at a historically high level. The successful negotiation of the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement was a major achievement. The department supported President Bush's visit to Australia in October 2003 and the Prime Minister's visit to the United States in June 2004. At a time of significant expansion of the European Union's weight in international affairs, we deepened cooperation with the European Union on security and aid issues, particularly in the Asia–Pacific region.

Contribution to strengthening global cooperation in ways that advance Australia's interests

The department continued to play an active and practical role in multilateral institutions such as the United Nations (UN), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Commonwealth to strengthen global cooperation, good governance and economic development around the world. We provided strong support for moves to reform the UN, including by contributing to a high-level panel on threats, challenges and change established by the UN Secretary-General. The department supported the Prime Minister's participation at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Abuja, Nigeria.

The reputation we have earned for Australia in human rights advocacy was rewarded by Australia's appointment, for the first time, to the position of Chair of the UN Commission for Human Rights in 2004. We have used this opportunity to focus on building the effectiveness of the Commission, and to encourage wider international application of universal standards of human rights.

The department played an active role in advancing Australia's many and diverse international legal interests during the year. We helped combat illegal fishing in Australian waters (including by contributing to the apprehension of the Viarsa 1 and the Maya V vessels), drafted implementing treaties for improved assistance to Pacific neighbours, supported the implementation of the Timor Sea Treaty, negotiated maritime boundaries with New Zealand and made strong progress towards defining the outer limits of Australia's seabed jurisdiction.

The department's Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues coordinated an effective whole-of-government strategy to combat people smuggling, trafficking in persons and related transnational crime through the Bali process, resulting in strengthened regional cooperation. A senior officials' meeting in June 2004, jointly hosted by Australia and Indonesia, demonstrated the value of our close cooperation with Indonesia on these issues and agreed on future directions for the Bali process.

The department continued to advocate effective international action on environmental issues while striving to ensure such goals were advanced in ways that reflected Australia's economic and other interests. In the absence of genuine progress towards a comprehensive global response to climate change, the department contributed to a number of bilateral and wider arrangements between like-minded countries that are aimed at promoting practical cooperation in climate change and related areas.

Consular and passport services

The department continued to accord high priority to providing effective, sensitive and timely consular assistance to Australians who experienced difficulties overseas. Nearly 13 000 Australians received direct consular assistance from departmental staff in 2003–04 in a wide range of cases. We arranged—in cooperation with Indonesian authorities and other Australian Government agencies—the memorial service held in Bali in October 2003 for the victims of the Bali bombings one year earlier.

We improved the accessibility of information available to Australians on the risks associated with travelling overseas through the smartraveller campaign, launched in September 2003. The campaign publicised and made more accessible the department's extensive system of travel advisories, which included 527 updates for 144 destinations in 2003–04, thereby helping Australians to travel safely.

In response to the continuing difficult security situation around the world, we further developed our crisis management and contingency arrangements, including through close consultation with other relevant agencies.

In support of our priority objective of enhancing Australian security, the department strengthened the integrity of our world-class passports system during the year with the introduction of a new passport—the M-series—which incorporates state-of-the-art security features. We advanced new facial biometric technology to support identify verification in passport issuing processes. We introduced interactive online services to provide Australians with improved and continuous access to passports services. The department worked with other governments during the year to combat passport fraud, including through the exchange of data on lost and stolen passports as part of regional counter-terrorism cooperation.

Public diplomacy

The department worked hard to promote an accurate image of Australia and its culture overseas, including by supporting and promoting Australian art and artists internationally. We sponsored visits to Australia by influential individuals and journalists under our Special Visits Program and International Media Visits Program respectively. Bilateral foundations, councils and institutes managed by secretariats in the department fostered links between Australia and key countries through a diverse range of cultural and public diplomacy activities.

We maintained close contact with the Australian media in order to provide the public with comprehensive, up-to-date, relevant information on Australia's foreign and trade policies, with particular emphasis on high-profile issues, including global security concerns and the Government's trade policy agenda. Our staff were available to respond to media enquiries at all times of the day.

We intensified our consultation with Australian business and trade advocacy with the Australian public more generally. This helped to ensure industry groups and other interested parties were sufficiently well informed of developments to be able to contribute their views with respect to key trade developments, including FTA negotiations.

The Internet is now the principal tool for the dissemination of information about the department. We made improvements to the department's website in early 2004 to give greater prominence to current foreign and trade policy issues and to ensure content was updated in a timely manner. We encouraged the public to provide submissions on important policy developments via the website.

Security and information technology

The security of departmental staff remains of paramount importance. We were provided with significant additional funding—a further $74.5 million over five years—to upgrade the security of our overseas posts in response to the challenging international security environment. The funding is being used to relocate a number of higher-risk posts, and to upgrade physical security standards across all posts. The department undertook regular security assessments to inform the physical security program.

The department improved the security and reliability of its diplomatic communications network for carriage and protection of sensitive government information with completion of the SATIN project. The project, completed within budget and ahead of schedule, provides secure and effective communications for the government's international operations.

Corporate management

The challenging international environment and demanding policy agenda have meant we have had to be creative and dynamic in the way we work and ever more efficient in our management of resources. Our response has included the adroit use of task forces and specialist positions, such as the Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism and the Special Negotiator for Free Trade Agreements.

We have embedded a number of 'Working Smarter' reforms which, among other things, encourage staff to prioritise rigorously, to use outcomes in advocacy as the key benchmarks of their performance and to maintain a good balance between their work and private lives. We underpin these arrangements with a rigorous performance management system which rewards staff who perform above and beyond normal expectations. Through these and other reforms, we have kept our staff highly motivated, as demonstrated in our high retention rate for graduates, and ensured the department has the necessary flexibility to respond to contemporary challenges.

Outlook

2004–05 will be another demanding year for the department on numerous fronts.

In response to the challenging international security situation, the department will continue to attach priority to developing strategic and effective responses to protect and promote the interests of Australians. We will accord priority to strengthening further Australia's counter-terrorism cooperation with regional countries, extending regional counter-proliferation outreach with respect to WMD and working towards a resolution of nuclear issues in Iran and the DPRK. The security situation in Iraq will continue to be difficult, and coordination of Australia's diverse interests there will require ongoing work by the department.

Working on multiple fronts, we will actively seek greater market access for Australian exports. We will work hard over the coming year to ensure that the recently agreed framework for the WTO Doha Round negotiations translates into meaningful agricultural and other trade reform, including by maintaining and building close coalitions of like-minded countries. However, further negotiations are expected to be long and difficult.

If entry into force proceeds on schedule, from 1 January 2005 Australian exporters and investors will be able to take advantage of significantly improved market access from the FTAs with the United States and Thailand. We will seek to raise awareness of new commercial opportunities among Australian business. We will also give careful consideration to how best to advance Australia's interests through possible additional free trade agreements with China, Malaysia and ASEAN.

Our relationships with key strategic and regional allies will remain of fundamental importance. We will place priority on building relations with the next US administration following elections in that country in November 2004. It will also be another very important year for Australia's relationships with Pacific island countries. Through RAMSI, we will encourage further economic, governance and security improvements in Solomon Islands. We will continue to work closely with Papua New Guinea, Nauru and Fiji to help them address their economic and security challenges.

We will continue to work with other countries to promote reform of the UN system to enable it to respond more effectively to contemporary challenges. The forthcoming report of the Secretary-General's High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change and the 2005 UN Summit will provide important opportunities in this respect.

The department will continue to focus resources on providing as safe a work environment as possible for its staff. We will need to ensure we maintain an appropriate balance between furthering Australian interests and providing services at high-risk locations on the one hand, and ensuring the security of our personnel in those posts on the other. We will undertake an extensive program of physical security projects at posts, including further relocations where appropriate.

With respect to consular and passports services, we will maintain close cooperation and engagement with the media and travel industry about our travel advisory system, build up our emergency response team procedures, and undertake preliminary biometric-passport production and testing.

Through the highly developed advocacy skills and dedication of our staff, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to meet the challenges ahead, and provide the highest levels of support for the Government's international agenda.

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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report 2003–2004
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