Annual Report 2004-2005
 

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Secretary's Review

The international year in review

  The Secretary, Mr Michael L'Estrange
The Secretary, Mr Michael L'Estrange.
Photo: Michael Jensen
 

A flexible workforce and close coordination with other Australian Government departments and agencies underpinned the department's contributions to strong whole of government outcomes across foreign and trade policy, security and consular issues.

Introduction

In an increasingly challenging and inter-connected global environment, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade worked to protect and promote the interests of Australia and Australians internationally during 2004–05. A flexible workforce and close coordination with other Australian Government departments and agencies underpinned the department's contributions to strong whole of government outcomes across foreign and trade policy, security and consular issues.

The broadening and deepening of Australia's bilateral and institutional engagement in the Asia–Pacific region were among the year's most significant developments, and the department contributed to that outcome in a variety of important ways. Through our lead role in the Government's swift and compassionate response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, the department helped meet a compelling humanitarian need and laid the groundwork for a legacy of practical partnership in our region. The department secured China's agreement to launch negotiations that could lead to a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA). Our advocacy helped secure the agreement of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to Australia's participation in the first East Asia Summit, to be held in December 2005. Our targeted lobbying helped launch free trade negotiations with ASEAN and New Zealand.

To further enhance Australia's economic prosperity, the department vigorously pursued market openings through bilateral, regional and multilateral means. We led negotiations that saw FTAs with the United States and Thailand enter into force in January 2005 and launched a range of new FTA negotiations. We worked assiduously in the interests of Australian exporters by driving an ambitious trade-liberalising agenda in the World Trade Organization Doha Round negotiations, providing global leadership to negotiations on agriculture through our chairmanship of the Cairns Group, and pursuing open markets in APEC.

The international security environment continued to pose serious challenges for the department, as demonstrated by the September 2004 terrorist attack against the Australian embassy in Jakarta. We continued to implement an extensive program to improve physical security standards at Australian missions in order to protect our overseas posts and the people who visit and work in them. The department strengthened Australia's international counter-terrorism engagement through practical cooperative mechanisms, particularly with regional partners.

In the South Pacific, the department played a central role in supporting the Government's efforts to consolidate Australia's more activist approach to promoting good governance and sustainable development. Successes included the continued progress of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and improved governance arrangements in many Pacific island countries, though much still remains to be done. The implementation of Australia's Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP) in Papua New Guinea suffered a setback as a result of a legal challenge in PNG. The department worked actively with PNG officials on new arrangements, helping ministers reach in-principle agreement on a revised ECP.

With Australians travelling overseas in ever-increasing numbers, the provision of high-quality consular and passport services remained a key priority for the department. Responding to the risk of passport fraud, we strengthened the passports regime by coordinating the passage of the new Australian Passports Act 2005. The department delivered more efficient customer service, with an average passport issue time of only 5.8 days. Under the department's smartraveller public information campaign, we promoted safe overseas travel including through the popular smartraveller website. We streamlined procedures for dealing with complex consular crises, ensuring effective coordination in Canberra and rapid, real-time responses in the field.

Enhancing Australia's security

The department worked with other agencies in a highly focused and practical way to strengthen Australia's alliance relationships (especially with the United States) and other partnerships (particularly with regional countries) that lie at the heart of Australia's national security interests.

Supporting the Government's efforts to counter international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) remained a top priority for the department. We led an interagency effort that produced the Government's White Paper Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia, published in July 2004, to inform the public about the contemporary terrorist threat and the Government's actions to combat it.

The department strengthened Australia's counter-terrorism capacity. Working with other government agencies, we enhanced our engagement with regional partners, including Indonesia and the Philippines, to address the terrorist threat. We negotiated counter-terrorism memorandums of understanding with Brunei and Pakistan—bringing to eleven the number of such bilateral arrangements. We coordinated the development of a new package of counter-terrorism assistance for regional countries, costing $40.3 million over four years. Building on the counter-terrorism meeting co-chaired by Mr Downer with his Indonesian counterpart in February 2004, the department helped advance regional counter-terrorism cooperation through working groups on legal issues and law enforcement. We worked closely with the Australian Federal Police and our Indonesian counterparts to establish the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC) and secured substantial international participation in and support for the centre.

To strengthen regional and global cooperation against WMD proliferation, the department coordinated Australia's involvement in the Proliferation Security Initiative and successfully increased regional countries' support for targeted counter-proliferation measures. With other agencies we promoted practical steps against international trade in WMD-related materials through a multi-year counter-proliferation outreach program in South-East Asia. To enhance regional engagement on nuclear security issues, the department arranged the ministerial Asia–Pacific Nuclear Safeguards and Security Conference hosted by Mr Downer in Sydney in November 2004.

In response to the nuclear proliferation threat, we supported the Government and ministers in delivering clear messages—both publicly and directly to the parties involved—to Iran and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea calling on them to abandon any nuclear weapons ambitions. We used Australia's position on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors to encourage Iranian cooperation with the Agency in resolving questions about Iran's nuclear activities.

To help build regional and global security in cooperation with a range of coalition partners, the department coordinated the Government's support for Iraq's political transition and economic rehabilitation amid an ongoing terrorist and insurgent threat. Iraq achieved an historic breakthrough with the conduct of democratic elections in January 2005 in which most eligible Iraqis participated despite the threats they faced in doing so.

Contributing to national prosperity

The department's trade policy agenda in 2004–05 continued to focus on improving market access for Australian goods and services to create jobs and opportunities for business in Australia. To this end we vigorously pursued market openings through bilateral, regional and multilateral negotiations.

The department pushed for a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations—which offer the best single opportunity to increase market access for Australian goods and services and to strengthen the global rules-based trading system. We contributed to the agreement reached in July 2004 on a 'Framework Package' that helped increase the momentum of negotiations. We supported Mr Vaile in chairing the Cairns Group ministerial meeting in Colombia in April 2005 and his participation in a number of ministerial-level meetings on the Round. Through Australia's leadership of the Cairns Group, the department helped ensure agricultural reform was kept at the centre of the Doha Round negotiations. We successfully prosecuted disputes in the WTO over the European Union's sugar subsidies and its approach to intellectual property rights for agricultural products.

The department contributed to unprecedented outcomes in advancing bilateral FTAs, notably through our support for Mr Vaile in finalising the FTAs with the United States and Thailand and launching FTA negotiations with: China, following the completion of a joint feasibility study; New Zealand and ASEAN; the United Arab Emirates; and Malaysia. The department's advocacy helped lay the groundwork for a joint announcement by Prime Minister Howard and Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi of a feasibility study into a bilateral FTA. With the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the department helped conclude bilateral MOUs on live animal trade with four countries—the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Jordan—enhancing trade relations with these important markets.

The department continued to work through APEC to increase regional economic integration and remove trade barriers. Consistent with Australia's goals for APEC, a mid-term stocktake of progress towards the Bogor goals of free and open trade and investment showed APEC had delivered significant social and economic gains to the Asia–Pacific region, in particular to developing countries. The department, in cooperation with other agencies, began policy preparations for Australia's hosting of APEC 2007 which will be an increasingly important priority.

Bilateral relationships

2004–05 saw a strengthening of bilateral relations with key partners. The department's close involvement in the Government's humanitarian and consular response to the Indian Ocean tsunami further enhanced bilateral cooperation with regional countries, particularly Indonesia and Thailand. With AusAID and other agencies, we began intensive, long-term work to rehabilitate affected countries, including through the Government's landmark $1 billion Australia–Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development.

The department played a major role in the consolidation of Australia's relations with ASEAN: we supported Prime Minister Howard's attendance at the ASEAN Vientiane Commemorative Summit in November 2004 which launched negotiations for the ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand FTA; and we provided targeted advice for Mr Downer's meetings with ASEAN that secured agreement to Australia's participation in the inaugural East Asia Summit to be held in Kuala Lumpur in December 2005.

The department coordinated a series of high-level visits from North, South and South-East Asia to further enhance Australia's relations with these regions. Visitors included: Indonesian President Yudhoyono whose visit resulted in the historic Declaration on a Comprehensive Partnership; Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, marking the first official bilateral visit by a Malaysian Prime Minister in 21 years; Chairman of the Chinese National People's Congress Wu Bangguo; Pakistani President Musharraf; Thai Prime Minister Thaksin; Vietnam's Prime Minister Khai; Singapore's President Nathan; and the Sultan of Brunei. The department supported the Prime Minister's visit to China in April 2005 which further strengthened Australia's relations with China's leadership. We worked to enhance Australia's relationship with India, including by organising high-level meetings on trade and strategic issues.

The department worked to ensure that Australia's fundamentally important relationship with the United States moved from strength to strength. We supported ministers' involvement in the annual Australia–US Ministerial Consultations in Washington in July 2004 which, along with a series of other high-level visits, further enhanced our alliance relationship and military, intelligence and security cooperation. To encourage Australian companies to take advantage of opportunities in the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement, the department worked successfully for the creation of a new category of US visa specifically for Australian business.

The department focused clearly on Australia's diversifying interests with Japan, not only in the context of further strengthening vital bilateral economic links but also in relation to an expanding agenda of mutual interests including strategic issues.

The department worked to strengthen further Australia's economic, security and people-to-people links with Europe. As the European Union grows in political and economic weight, we increased engagement with the EU on security and strategic issues and supported high-level visits to the United Kingdom, France and other key European countries to advance shared economic, political, consular, military and aid interests.

In Australia's region, the department played a leading role in the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) as we moved from the first phase of cooperation with the Solomon Islands Government to stabilise law and order and government finances to the second phase of longer-term strengthening of national infrastructure and institutions. In a major step for ward for a peace process in support of which the department and other government agencies worked actively for over seven years, the election of the first autonomous government of Bougainville took place in June 2005. The department led a robust whole of government response to political instability in Vanuatu, securing a commitment by Vanuatu's new government to improved governance and economic reform.

The department's coordination of Australia's commitments under the Enhanced Cooperation Program (ECP) with Papua New Guinea—focusing on law and order, the economy and governance issues—received a setback when the PNG Supreme Court ruled that elements of the legislation underpinning the ECP were unconstitutional. The department led negotiations with the PNG Government on possible solutions. In-principle agreement was reached by Australian and PNG ministers on a revised ECP which is consistent with the Supreme Court ruling.

The department led the Government's negotiating team that made significant progress towards an agreement with East Timor on maritime boundaries and sharing of resource revenues.

We strengthened our commercial and strategic links with Latin America by supporting high-level visits to the region and helping to organise targeted trade, education and tourism promotion activities in key countries.

Advancing Australia's interests through global cooperation

The department worked actively to help build support in the international community for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's efforts to make the United Nations more efficient and responsive to contemporary global challenges. We pushed strongly for pragmatic solutions to development, security, human rights, rule of law and institutional issues facing the United Nations in the lead-up to the September 2005 Summit of world leaders.

The department led Australia in several major international environment negotiations, securing outcomes that advanced national interests. In the face of concerted opposition from whaling countries, the department coordinated a major international lobbying effort to secure outcomes at the International Whaling Commission meeting in June 2005 consistent with the Government's conservation stance. On climate change, we promoted the development and adoption of clean climate technologies and supported bilateral climate change arrangements with several partners. With other agencies, the department supported the creation of the Asia–Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate—involving China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United States—which aims to develop climate change solutions that protect the environment, promote economic development and reduce poverty.

The department used bilateral and multilateral means to push for practical improvements to international observance and implementation of human rights standards. At the UN Commission on Human Rights we contributed to the adoption of resolutions calling on Sudan, North Korea, Cuba and Myanmar to improve human rights in their countries. Separately we led bilateral human rights dialogues with China and Vietnam, discussing issues of concern and identifying areas where Australia could provide direct technical assistance to improve implementation of international human rights standards.

Through the Bali process, the department worked closely with Indonesian counterparts and Australian agencies to promote practical regional cooperation to combat people smuggling and trafficking in persons. The Bali process has helped develop strong networks, cooperation and capacity-building among relevant regional operational agencies.

To improve our region's future preparedness for tsunamis and other seismic events, the department successfully led Australia's effort to establish an Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System, with the organisation's secretariat to be located in Perth.

Consular and passport services

The unpredictable international security environment, combined with increasing numbers of Australians travelling overseas, continued to present challenges for the department's consular service. In 2004–05 we provided consular assistance to over 25 000 Australians overseas—almost double the number from the previous year. We issued over 1.2 million travel documents—16 per cent more than in 2003–04.

The department's consular crisis management arrangements operated in a highly effective way in response to major challenges including the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Jakarta embassy bombing and hostage taking in Iraq—when a sustained, multi-agency effort in Canberra, Iraq and elsewhere contributed to a successful outcome with the release of Douglas Wood after 47 days in captivity. Strong interagency cooperation and an integrated whole of government approach underpinned our effective coordination of the Government's response to these events. Debriefings and lessons-learned exercises ensured the ongoing robustness of our crisis response systems.

To promote safe overseas travel, the department continued to take great care in issuing and revising travel advisories, providing Australians with up-to-date information on security conditions in major overseas destinations. We liaised closely with the National Threat Assessment Centre (NTAC) to ensure a close correlation between the information in travel advisories and NTAC's intelligence-based threat assessments.

We improved our online facilities for dealing with consular and passport enquiries, including by making online passport information more accessible. The smartraveller website recorded on average 217 000 web page views per week, a 32 per cent increase over the previous year—reflecting strong demand for consular information and the success of our smartraveller advertising campaign.

The department made important progress to strengthen further Australia's world class passports system, particularly to help prevent identity theft and lost and stolen passports. We coordinated the drafting and approval of the Australian Passports Act 2005, which entered into force on 1 July 2005, establishing a tighter regulatory regime for passports administration. We made significant progress towards introducing an ePassport using biometric facial recognition technology from October 2005.

Security and information technology

The September 2004 attack against the Jakarta embassy and the security situation in Baghdad underscored the increasingly challenging security environment facing Australian missions and their staff and families overseas. With a dedicated Post Security Task Force, the department developed and began coordinating an extensive program of further security improvements at our overseas posts, including by upgrading physical barriers and relocating particularly vulnerable chanceries.

The department replaced its 20-year old electronic message system with the new Official Diplomatic Information Network (ODIN). ODIN has generated faster delivery times and significant savings.

Public diplomacy

The department managed Australia's participation in the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi, Japan, to which the Government committed $35 million. The Australian Pavilion at the Expo site, including an impressive arts and entertainment program and business facility, projected a contemporary image of Australia as culturally diverse, technologically sophisticated and economically dynamic and attracted very positive feedback from visitors. The success of our Expo pavilion further boosted people-to-people and institutional ties with Japan in education, tourism and culture.

The department supported Australian art and artists internationally to promote an accurate image of Australia and its culture. We sponsored visits to Australia by influential figures and journalists, promoting people-to-people ties that advance Australia's foreign and trade policy interests. Bilateral foundations, councils and institutes managed by secretariats in the department fostered cultural, educational and economic links between Australia and partner countries. The department supported the establishment, within DFAT, of the Australia–Malaysia Institute and the Australia–Thailand Institute, bringing to nine the number of such bilateral bodies.

The department enhanced its internet capabilities to deal with heightened activity on the department's websites, sparked by interest in the Indian Ocean tsunami, consular cases and free trade agreements, among other issues. Consistent with whole of government interests, the department updated these and other departmental websites continuously to provide the Australian community with prompt and accurate information.

Corporate management

The department continued to manage a diverse and changing workload through innovative and flexible deployment of staff. We established discrete task forces to handle negotiations for the range of bilateral free trade agreements. The strength of the department's contingency and crisis management procedures was proven by the rapid establishment of 24-hour centres to manage consular crises and related policy and operational responses. These centres ensured ministers and senior officials were updated with the latest information and served as coordination points for whole of government planning and activity. Centralised management procedures allowed staff to be re-deployed smoothly once surges in activity subsided.

The department maintained high retention rates and a flexible, healthy workforce through its commitment to staff skilling, assessment and reward, regular promotion opportunities and a good work/life balance.

Outlook

In 2005–06 the department will develop strategies and deploy resources flexibly— domestically and at our overseas posts—to advance the interests of Australia and Australians in a challenging global environment. Close coordination with other government agencies will continue to be critical to delivering integrated whole of government outcomes.

Increasing Australia's defences against the threat of global terrorism will be a key priority. We will work to strengthen further our bilateral and regional counter-terrorism cooperation—in particular in South-East Asia. The department will pursue practical initiatives to enhance WMD-related export control and non-proliferation regimes and work proactively with regional partners to strengthen maritime and transport security and reduce transnational crime. To provide as safe a work environment as possible for its staff, the department will increase security at Australia's overseas missions through a program of physical security improvements.

In supporting the Government's wide-ranging trade agenda the department will work actively to open markets for Australian business. We will continue to push for trade liberalisation through the WTO Doha Round negotiations in advance of the Hong Kong ministerial meeting in December 2005—though securing outcomes across all issues will be a major challenge—and to lead the Cairns Group on agriculture. Other key priorities will be to ensure business takes advantage of the bilateral free trade agreements with the United States, Singapore and Thailand and to pursue progress on the FTA negotiations under way with China, ASEAN and New Zealand, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates and on the FTA feasibility study with Japan.

The department will further strengthen key bilateral relationships—in our region and beyond—to advance our national interests. We will seek to consolidate Australia's strong standing in the region by contributing actively through regional consultative mechanisms including the inaugural East Asia Summit and APEC, and by working to make them productive forums for regional cooperation. In coordination with other agencies we will work to encourage further governance, security and economic improvements in the South Pacific.

In the United Nations and through other partnerships, we will advocate and implement practical responses to global environment, human rights, people smuggling and other transnational challenges. The department will provide policy and organisational input to Australia's hosting of the inaugural ministerial meeting of the Asia–Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate.

Providing efficient consular and passport services will remain a core departmental priority as increasing numbers of Australians travel overseas. We will work to strengthen the passports regime, including through the use of technology to deliver security enhancements for Australian passports while continuing to provide a highly efficient passport delivery process.

Through the dedication and skills of staff in Australia and across our overseas network, and through effective internal and interagency coordination, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will continue to provide strong support for the Government's policy-making to advance Australia's national interests.

Michael L'Estrange
Secretary

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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report 2004–2005
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