Annual Report 2003-2004
 

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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 advocacy and outreach :: Trade publications :: Commercial and statistical services :: Other public information activities

Overview

The past year saw substantial public interest in foreign and trade policy developments.

We built a strategic approach to the media contributing to successful public information campaigns on major policy initiatives, including the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and passports developments.

The department implemented a broad trade advocacy and outreach program. We fine-tuned our public diplomacy activities to respond more effectively to community interests about specific government trade policy priorities and to increase understanding of broader issues such as globalisation. Our efforts focused on expounding the potential benefits for individuals and their communities of engaging in further trade liberalisation.

Other foreign and trade policy issues to attract significant media attention included Iraq, counter-terrorism, security, proposed free trade agreements (FTAs) with China and ASEAN, travel advisories, events in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia and maritime boundary negotiations with East Timor.

The internet has become the department's principal tool for disseminating information and advice quickly to mass audiences in Australia and overseas. The department's prompt dissemination of material on AUSFTA in February 2004 was an example of our strategic use of the Internet to provide information on a key Government policy objective.

Media services

The department's active and systematic engagement with Australian and international media helped provide informed and positive coverage on foreign and trade policy issues.

We responded to 6700 requests for information from media outlets, including rural, regional and online media, community radio, pay television and industry publications. This reflected a return to more normal levels after 15 000 information requests the previous year, relating mostly to the Bali bombings and associated consular matters. We maintained a round-the-clock media duty roster, providing high-quality and timely information.

We provided portfolio ministers, parliamentary secretaries and the Prime Minister's Office with strategic media advice and support for events and initiatives including RAMSI, the memorial service for the Bali bombings in October 2003, the Regional Ministerial Meeting on Counter-Terrorism in February 2004, the APEC Leaders' Meeting in October 2003, the World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference in Cancún in September 2003, the Cairns Group Ministerial Meeting in Costa Rica in February 2004, and the launch by Mr Downer and Mr Vaile of Australia's participation in the Aichi Expo in Japan in February 2004.

Iraq continued to attract strong parliamentary, media and wider public interest, generating a significant workload for the department. In the lead up to the June political transition, we prepared a publication, Iraq—the Path Ahead, at Mr Downer's request, setting out the Government's policy on Iraq. This booklet was distributed to foreign governments through our overseas network and through diplomatic missions in Canberra. We responded to a high volume of public inquiries and correspondence and liaised with the Iraqi Australian community in Australia.

The department continued to refine its media monitoring processes. We made improvements to our departmental database of portfolio relevant articles and journalists, which enabled us to audit media coverage on an ongoing basis. Our media planning combined the reactive and the strategic, allowing us to manage everyday issues effectively while providing flexibility to respond to emerging issues. We have strengthened interaction between the department and the media.

One-on-one interviews and briefings remained the most popular means of communication for journalists and proved to be highly effective in ensuring well-informed media coverage on portfolio issues. We arranged 750 of these briefings, with the AUSFTA among the most popular topics of discussion. The department held 34 general media briefings on key trade and foreign policy topics and ministerial visits, compared to 35 similar briefings in the previous year.

We issued over 340 media releases on behalf of portfolio ministers and parliamentary secretaries and 13 departmental media releases, with the majority of these resulting in media coverage. Our continued outreach with technical and industry publications has provided us with 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 over 700 contacts registered on our media contact database receive these releases via email. Just under half of these contacts are trade-related.

Internet

Demand for material on the department's website increased significantly over the year, with the website registering over 770 000 page-views per week by June 2004 (up from under 500 000 at the end of June 2003).

In early 2004, we redesigned the website to give more prominence to current foreign and trade policy issues on the home page and to implement the Government's decision on Australian Government branding. We also implemented behind-the-scenes changes to provide more efficient update of content and make the site more accessible to people with disabilities. Information about contemporary Australia was given greater profile on the home page.

As soon as the AUSFTA negotiations closed in February 2004, the draft text was made available on a special website, followed soon after by the final text. The site also contained a comprehensive set of resources such as 'plain English' guides to the agreement, answers to frequently asked questions, and other reports and fact sheets. Public interest in the site was dramatic, with page views of the site jumping from 2000 a week before the release of the draft text to over 105 000 page views a week when the new site went live. Similar websites were established for the Thailand–Australia Free Trade Agreement and to help with public submissions on the Australia–China Trade and Economic Framework.

The department made active use of the Internet to inform Australians of developments in bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations. This included weekly updates on developments in the WTO Doha Round negotiations and regular WTO-related information bulletins—the weekly WTO Doha Round Bulletin and newsletters on WTO dispute settlement and the WTO services and intellectual property negotiations. These bulletins were provided by email to subscribers. The department's website also provided email addresses for public and business comment or feedback on trade negotiations.

Travel advisories and country-specific information were the most visited areas of the website during the year. As a result of the department's continued promotion of its travel advisory service, subscriptions by email grew to over 42 000 users. We also created a new website in support of the Government's smartraveller travel information campaign, providing a consolidated source of travel information for members of the public.

The department produced Asialine Online—a web-based magazine providing a free email-based service to around 950 registrants. Asialine Online targets Australian businesses, organisations and individuals with an interest in the Asian region. New articles were added each month, providing snapshots across a range of issues in individual countries and the region.

We positioned the department's website behind a new security firewall to upgrade protection from malicious attack, and to ensure continuous availability to the public. We also continued to relocate overseas post websites to Canberra to improve security and content management.

Trade advocacy and outreach

The department has developed a wide-ranging communications strategy that makes use of print, audio and electronic media to inform the Australian public of the benefits of international trade. An increased use of our website to provide important information on trade policy as soon as it is available has enabled a wide audience covering industry, media, NGOs and the general public to access information in a short timeframe. We sought to tailor information to different audiences, based on age, gender and regional location, so as to ensure the information provided was relevant and accessible. For instance, younger Australians have been provided information through the use of promotional postcards. An example of outreach to regional Australians was the production of a brochure on the positive impact of trade on the Northern Territory.

Importantly, we have ensured that these messages have been reinforced by people-to-people links, established during outreach activities conducted by Mr Vaile, Mrs Kelly, international visitors and senior departmental staff. These activities allowed key messages to be delivered to industry and community groups across all states and territories.

Understanding globalisation

Eminent UK economist and author Professor Diane Coyle delivered the second Globalisation lecture series—sponsored by the department—in May 2004. Professor Coyle delivered a series of lectures titled Globalisation by the people, for the people. They helped to counter some negative views and misperceptions about globalisation. They attracted substantial media attention.

Professor Coyle delivered lectures in Canberra, Wollongong, Sydney, Townsville, Brisbane, Ballarat and Melbourne. She undertook an extensive program of meetings with business, government and community groups, including secondary students.

The department's Globalisation lecture series is an important part of the department's ongoing commitment to providing information to the community. It provided the Australian public with an opportunity to hear a respected international figure talk on globalisation, and to discuss issues of interest to them. Austrade's Chief Economist, Mr Tim Harcourt, also participated in the lecture series.

Trade publications

Economic analysis

The department launched four new economic analytical reports aimed at identifying opportunities for Australian trade and investment, the threat to commerce posed by terrorism, and at promoting the benefits of trade liberalisation. China's industrial rise: East Asia's challenge considered China's increasingly dynamic and competitive manufactured export sector and whether it was 'hollowing out' North and South-East Asian economies. The report found that, provided regional government policies continued to encourage flexibility, East Asia and Australia should benefit significantly from China's industrial rise. We attracted around 180 people to the launch of the report and it received positive media coverage.

Combating terrorism in the transport sector: Economic costs and benefits found that countering the risk of terrorism imposed enormous costs on the transport system and required significant effort from both government and industry. While it was impossible to remove completely the risk of terrorist attacks, security measures in the transport sector designed to counter terrorism could add certainty and stability to the global economy, raise investor confidence and facilitate trade. The report was released in June 2004 at the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade meeting in Chile.

South–South trade: Winning from liberalisation found that developing countries accounted for around one-third of global trade and that merchandise trade between developing countries increased twice as fast as world trade over the past decade. However, developing country tariff barriers were significantly higher than those of developed countries and around 70 per cent of the tariffs faced by developing country exporters were applied by other developing countries. This pointed to developing countries having much to gain from reducing their own trade barriers. The report was also released at the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade meeting in Chile.

African renewal: Business opportunities in South Africa, Botswana, Uganda, Mozambique and Kenya helped Australian companies take advantage of emerging opportunities in these five African economies through analysis of current economic, trade and investment policies and the business environment. The department presented the main findings of the report at functions in Melbourne and Perth.

Commercial and statistical services

The department produces a wide range of statistical publications about Australia's international trade relationships. These assist policy-making and business decisions and contribute to community understanding of trade issues. In 2003–04, we distributed over 3300 publications to a wide range of users in the public and private sectors. They included a successful and popular new publication, Australia's trade by state and territory, launched by Mr Vaile at the National Trade Consultations in Hobart in May 2004. It is the first of our statistical publications to present information at other than the national level.

Much of the statistical information we hold is available on a fee-for-service basis for Australian businesses and researchers interested in overseas markets. Our statistical consultancy service answered 8587 queries (see output 1.3 on page 124 for more information on services provided to business).

A set of country and economy fact sheets, including economic and demographic data for over 165 of Australia's trading partners and summaries of their trade with Australia, is available on the department's website at www.dfat.gov.au/geo/fs/index.html. The fact sheets are a valuable resource for Australian business people travelling overseas.

Other public information activities

The department appointed a new publications officer and set up a central registry to gather and disseminate information about all publications we prepare. This has provided a single point of contact for people outside the department wishing to make enquiries about our publications. The registry has also made more efficient the process of collating information about departmental publications for various reporting purposes. Details of how to contact the publications officer are available on our website.

Speeches

The department's speechwriters, in consultation with ministers' offices and relevant areas of the department, prepared over 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.

Consultative activities

The close relationship between international and domestic policies means that wide-ranging consultation within Australia is an important element of the department's efforts to advance the national interest overseas. This type of consultative interaction represents our main form of engagement with non-government organisations (NGOs).

The department supported several standing consultative bodies chaired by our Ministers—the Foreign Affairs Council (Mr Downer), the Australia International Cultural Council (Mr Downer), the Trade Policy Advisory Council (Mr Vaile) and the World Trade Organization Advisory Group (Mr Vaile).

The department regularly consults industry, NGOs and community groups in the course of negotiating trade agreements with other countries and on the WTO Doha Round negotiations (see output 1.3 for more information).

We regularly engaged relevant NGOs on security-related and human rights issues. We conducted biannual human rights consultations with NGOs. Where possible, Mr Downer participated in these consultations, which covered the full range of human rights issues. We continued to provide the Secretariat for the National Consultative Committee on Peace and Disarmament—involving NGOs, churches, academics and others—and organised its annual meeting to discuss policy issues and developments relating to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation. We also liaised with the Australian Network of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Treaties

The Australian Treaties Database lists the treaties signed or that came into force each year. We maintain the database at www.info.dfat.gov.au/treaties/. The department links the database to all government legislation and regulations passed or issued pursuant to Australian treaty action since 1983.

We conducted a highly successful seminar on treaty-making, as well as presenting a popular exhibition in the R G Casey building titled Antarctica—Treaty territory.

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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report 2003–2004
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