Annual Report 2006-2007

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Your location: Performance > Outcome 1 > Output 1.1 > 1.1.5 South and West Asia, Middle East and Africa

OUTPUT 1.1: Protection and advocacy of Australia's international interests through the provision of policy advice to ministers and overseas diplomatic activity

1.1.5 South and West Asia, Middle East and Africa

On this page: Overview :: India :: Afghanistan :: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka :: Middle East :: Iraq :: Africa :: Outlook


The formation of a separate division in July 2006 enhanced the department’s capacity to advance Australia’s diverse political, strategic and economic interests in South and West Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

India is an increasingly important regional partner for Australia. The department worked to make the most of the substantial potential Australia’s relationship with India represents, both in terms of expanding commercial links and growing common strategic interests.

The department played a leading role in coordinating Australia’s contribution to international efforts to assist democratisation and national recovery in Afghanistan and to support our increased military deployment there.

We also continued to coordinate policy advice on Iraq and to engage with the Iraqi Government and key coalition partners to advance our political, strategic and security objectives.

In the Middle East, the department continued to work on the bilateral architecture underpinning our growing trade interests. The department achieved agreement by Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries to negotiate a free trade agreement and commenced preliminary discussions to lay the groundwork for formal negotiations. A meeting of the Joint Ministerial Commission with Saudi Arabia underlined the strength of the trade relationship and potential for further growth in our largest Middle East market.

We emphasised to Iran the international community’s strong concern about its nuclear program and coordinated the domestic implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747 relating to Iran’s uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. We continued to support the Middle East peace process, including by the provision of further humanitarian support to the Palestinian Territories. The Israel—Hezbollah conflict demanded significant attention, particularly to the consular and humanitarian consequences.

The department worked successfully to strengthen relations with South Africa through a successful visit by the Deputy President and a Joint Ministerial Commission hosted by Mr Truss. We maintained pressure on Zimbabwe to respect democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We further tightened Australian sanctions and took action to prevent the Australian cricket team touring Zimbabwe. At the same time, we continued to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Zimbabwe.


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Minister for Trade, Mr Warren Truss, signing a memorandum of understanding with India’s Minister for Commerce and Industry, Mr Kamal Nath, at the 10th Joint Ministerial Commission meeting in New Delhi in March 2007. Photo: Adarsh Minocha, Foto Fare
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The department upgraded its effort to take forward the growing range of Australian interests in India, including through an organisational change to create a new South and West Asia branch. Supporting Australia’s expanding trade and investment links with India was a particular focus. India continues to be one of Australia’s fastest growing major export destinations—with year-on-year growth of more than 25 per cent—and a major tourism market. In 2006–07, it was the largest source of new overseas students in Australia. The department’s sharper focus on building Australia’s business success in India’s rapidly growing regions included facilitating two visits to India by Mr Truss in February and April 2007 (to attend a ministerial meeting of the G6 to discuss the WTO Doha Round). In the February visit, focused on bilateral issues, Mr Truss opened the new Australian consulate-general in Chennai and promoted Australian commercial interests in Chennai, Hyderabad, Delhi and Mumbai. The department also arranged annual bilateral trade discussions, co-chaired by Mr Truss, to pursue market access for key exports and help secure agreement with India for a joint study to identify opportunities for Australian companies in India’s food processing industry. Our facilitation of a large business delegation that accompanied Mr Truss highlighted the department’s efforts to assist the growing number of Australian companies finding opportunity in the Indian market.

Cooperation with India, as a partner in the Asia-Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate, was another major theme of the department’s dialogue with India over the year. Building on momentum generated by Prime Minister Howard’s 2006 visit, the department continued to strengthen bilateral links on counter-terrorism and to support enhanced cooperation between our defence and police forces and on legal issues.

Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation

In March 2007 the department led Australia’s participation in the seventh Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) Council of Ministers and associated officials’ meetings in Tehran. In consultation with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the department presented Australia’s views on the potential for cooperation on fisheries management projects through IOR-ARC.


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Trainees in the Australian funded trade training school in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan.
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Australia’s effort to help stabilise Afghanistan and advance its democratic transition was a major focus of the department’s work. We took the lead in coordinating Australia’s whole of government approach and facilitated visits to Afghanistan by Prime Minister Howard and Mr Downer. Both visits underscored a message of ongoing Australian commitment to the country and to fighting international terrorism.

Our participation in a number of major international meetings on Afghanistan ensured Australian views continued to be factored into broader international consideration of Afghanistan’s needs. The department was also active in encouraging the greatest possible coordination of international effort in Afghanistan and worked in key capitals to underline the need for sustained commitment by the broader international community to help the country meet the multiple challenges it faces. We supported increased Australian Defence Force deployments in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. We also advanced negotiations on a memorandum of understanding on privileges and immunities covering members of the Australian Federal Police, to make possible their forthcoming deployment to Afghanistan. They will help Afghanistan’s own security forces develop the capability to provide for the country’s security.

The department opened a new embassy in Kabul in September 2006, and continued to focus on the security of our staff there. We also advanced preparations for the co-location of a permanent Australian embassy chancery with that of the Netherlands in Kabul.

PERSONAL PROFILE: Brett Hackett, Ambassador to Afghanistan

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Ambassador to Afghanistan Mr Brett Hackett.
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As a major troop contributor and aid donor, Australia is working closely with the Government of Afghanistan and the international community to ensure the country returns to stability and democracy after the upheaval of the Taliban era.

Brett Hackett has been Australia’s first Ambassador to Afghanistan since our Embassy in Kabul opened in September 2007. Before then, Australian interests in Afghanistan were the responsibility of the Australian High Commission in Islamabad. The Embassy is based in the Hotel Serena, in central Kabul, but will move to a purpose-built facility in 2008.

The Embassy’s most critical tasks are to lead and coordinate Australia’s whole of government effort in Afghanistan, including support for Australia’s troop deployment to Oruzgan in southern Afghanistan where Australia is part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team led by the Netherlands. Australia has also deployed a Special Forces Task Group to Afghanistan as well as an RAAF radar team. The total number of Australian troops in Afghanistan will be about 1000 by mid-2008.

Brett describes working life in Kabul as full of challenges but not without its rewards. ‘It’s a very dynamic working environment. Issues can come out of nowhere and need to be resolved quickly. Sometimes it’s frustrating but at other times it’s great to get a sense that life for ordinary Afghans is improving.’ Brett is based in Kabul but regularly travels to Oruzgan to liaise with the Provincial Reconstruction Team and other Australian deployments.

Brett joined the public service in 1990. He has served overseas at Australia’s missions in Islamabad and Ottawa. In Canberra, he has worked on a range of bilateral issues, most recently on East Timor.


Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka

The department advanced Australia’s relationship with Pakistan, facilitating the visit of the Attorney-General to take forward discussions on counter-terrorism, which remained a key priority in our bilateral dialogue. We supported Australia’s modest commercial interests, including helping to facilitate the first shipment of Australian dairy cattle to Pakistan. We also provided extensive support to Pakistan as host of the April 2007 Cairns Group Ministerial Meeting and hosted the first bilateral Joint Trade Commission meeting in Cairns in September 2006.

The department continued to engage Bangladesh and Sri Lanka on counter-terrorism. We played a coordinating role in Australian cooperation with Sri Lanka on irregular migration and people-smuggling and supported the establishment of an Australian Federal Police liaison office in Bangladesh to enable closer practical cooperation on law enforcement matters. Sri Lanka’s deteriorating security outlook is increasingly a cause for concern and the department worked to protect Australians through careful attention to the implications of the return to conflict there for our consular and other interests. As a period of substantial political instability culminated in the assumption of power by a caretaker government in Bangladesh, the department acted quickly to emphasise Australia’s expectation that a clear roadmap be announced for a return to democracy, the holding of free and fair elections and the full protection of civil liberties.

Middle East

The department advanced Australia’s trade and investment interests in the Middle East, organising a successful meeting of the Joint Ministerial Commission with Saudi Arabia—our largest Middle Eastern market—in Riyadh in November 2006, co-chaired by Mr Truss. We built support among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman) for a free trade agreement (FTA). We held preliminary discussions with the GCC on the FTA to lay the basis for the first formal negotiating round scheduled for July 2007. We continued consultations with Egypt on a Trade and Economic Framework to underpin the trade relationship. Working with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), the department concluded a memorandum of understanding with Egypt on trade in live animals and on the slaughtering and handling of Australian live animals, in order to address animal welfare concerns. (See also output 1.1.7.) With DAFF and Austrade, we helped conclude an MOU on trade in live animals with Libya, signed in May 2007.

The department assisted relevant Australian agencies (the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Defence) in concluding negotiations with the United Arab Emirates on separate agreements on extradition and mutual assistance in criminal matters, and a defence cooperation agreement, which further strengthens one of our key bilateral relationships in the Middle East. Agreements with Lebanon on child welfare and investment protection and promotion could not be finalised due to ongoing political tensions in Lebanon.

The Israeli–Hezbollah conflict of 2006 demanded significant attention by the department as part of a major whole of government exercise, in particular to ensure the safe evacuation of over 5000 Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families from Lebanon (see output 2.1).

Australia registered strong messages with Iran in support of international efforts to address Iran’s nuclear program and in respect of our broader bilateral interests. The department coordinated the necessary action to ensure the domestic implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1737 and 1747 (see also outputs 1.1.9 and 1.1.10) relating to Iran’s uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.

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Minister for Trade, Mr Warren Truss, with Saudi Arabian Minister for Commerce and Industry, Dr Hashim bin Abdullah Yamani.
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The department continued its efforts in support of the Middle East peace process and coordinated Australia’s policy towards Hamas (listed under the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 as an entity associated with terrorism). Following the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the appointment of the emergency Palestinian government in June 2007, the department, in consultation with AusAID, responded quickly to provide Australian support for the new government and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, announced during Mr Downer’s visit to Ramallah in June 2007.

The department provided support for a series of high-level visits to the Middle East in support of Australia’s strategic and commercial interests, including Mr Downer’s visit to the Middle East (Israel, Palestinian Territories, UAE, Jordan and Iraq) in June 2007; Mr Truss’s visit to Saudi Arabia for the Joint Ministerial Commission and the UAE in November 2006; visits by the Minister for Communications and the Minister for Defence to the region, and the President of the Senate’s visit to Kuwait in April 2007. The department also provided support for an official parliamentary delegation visit to Saudi Arabia and many business-focused visits by state premiers and ministers.


The department advanced Australia’s political, strategic and security objectives in Iraq. Australia’s continuing support for democracy and stability contributed to the work of Iraq’s elected government. We actively encouraged the Iraqi Government to take control of their own security, which has occurred in the two provinces to which Australian troops have been deployed. There are encouraging signs of progress and the department continues to prioritise measures in support of security, rehabilitation and the consolidation of democracy in Iraq.

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Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Alexander Downer, meeting with Prime Minister of Iraq, Mr Nouri al-Maliki, in Baghdad.
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Through a dedicated Iraq Task Force, the department has maintained its role of coordinating regular meetings with key departments and agencies, and providing policy advice on Iraq to ministers. The Iraq Task Force, together with International Organisations and Legal Division, managed the department’s cooperation with the Inquiry into certain Australian companies in relation to the UN Oil-for-Food Programme (the Cole Inquiry).

Australia continues to build strong links with Iraq, not only through contact between our respective embassies, but also through high-level meetings. The department supported visits by the Prime Minister Mr Howard, Mr Downer and the Minister for Defence Dr Nelson to Iraq to meet their counterparts, Iraqi leaders and senior coalition representatives. These visits and Guest-of-Government visits to Australia by the Iraqi Ministers of Oil and Foreign Affairs greatly strengthened the bilateral relationship. Departmental officials met key Iraqi ministers, advisers and decision-makers to convey Australia’s firm commitment to security, the rule of law, human rights and economic recovery in Iraq.

The department continued to foster close and high-level relations with key coalition partners on developments in Iraq. Our efforts have reinforced these relationships, and advanced Australia’s strategic interests more broadly. Australia’s role in training, mentoring and security oversight in two southern Iraqi provinces has further strengthened strategic cooperation.

The department worked with AusAID, the Department of Defence and other agencies to develop and deliver Australia’s strategy for rehabilitation and reconstruction assistance. Australia took part in meetings with donors, including to the International Compact of Iraq (Egypt, 3 May) and the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq (Istanbul, 20 March). Australian officials attended the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conference on ‘Addressing the Humanitarian Needs of Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons inside Iraq and in Neighbouring Countries’ (Geneva, 17—18 April). The focus of our work remains the efficient and targeted delivery of assistance.

In a challenging security environment, our embassy in Baghdad has advocated Australia’s political, security and commercial interests to Iraqi leaders, international organisations, community groups and core alliance partners (the United States and United Kingdom). The department reaffirmed our close trading partnership and worked to retain Australia’s access to the Iraqi wheat market. Together with Austrade, the department guided Australian companies on the security environment in Iraq, and facilitated contact with Iraqi government officials and members of the private sector.

Security of Australians in Iraq

The security environment in Iraq remains extremely dangerous and poses a particular challenge for embassy staff. The department kept the Australian public informed about the security situation through regular updates to the Iraq travel advice, which specifically warns that our ability to provide consular services is limited, particularly outside Baghdad. Embassy staff provided consular assistance to a number of Australian contractors injured in roadside attacks and, with transport and security assistance from the Australian Defence Force, travelled to northern Iraq to successfully negotiate the release of an Australian detained for over two years.

The embassy performed strongly despite several security incidents. The welfare of staff is an ongoing priority for the department, and security measures are under constant review.


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Fourth Australia–South Africa Joint Ministerial Commission. Minister for Trade, Mr Warren Truss, and Minister for Trade and Industry of South Africa, Mr Mandisi Mpahlwa, signing the joint communiqué, 18 October 2006. Photo: Michael Jensen
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The department continued to strengthen relations with South Africa, Australia’s largest trading partner in Africa. A Joint Ministerial Commission meeting held in Canberra in October 2006 and co-chaired by Mr Truss highlighted the growing importance of the bilateral trade relationship to both countries. A concurrent visit to Australia by South African Deputy President Mlambo-Ngcuka further strengthened high-level links. The department also hosted senior officials’ talks with South Africa, deepening dialogue on key regional and strategic issues relating to Africa, counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation.

The department continued to press for meaningful political and economic reform in Zimbabwe. Australia strongly condemned the violent attacks on opposition leaders by Zimbabwean security forces in March 2007, and we provided practical assistance to the victims of the violence through our post in Harare. We developed with AusAID additional means of assisting the people of Zimbabwe, and in May 2007 Mr Downer announced the establishment of the Australian Fund for Zimbabwe to provide humanitarian assistance and support to civil society in Zimbabwe. We maintained pressure on the Zimbabwean Government to undertake meaningful political and economic reform through targeted sanctions, updating Australia’s bilateral sanctions list to ensure that it fully reflected recent developments. The department provided advice and support to ministers on the Government’s decision to prevent the Australian cricket team from touring Zimbabwe.

The department coordinated Australia’s responses to the humanitarian crises in Sudan, in particular Darfur. We made representations to key African and Arab countries to encourage them to persuade the Sudanese Government to support a better peacekeeping force in Darfur. We worked closely with the Department of Defence to support the continued deployment of personnel from the Australian Defence Force and the Australian Federal Police to the UN Mission in Sudan. Australia also continued to provide extensive humanitarian assistance in response to the crises in Sudan.

The department continued to support Australian commercial interests across Africa. In February 2007, our African posts jointly hosted with Austrade a major promotion of Australian mining expertise at the annual African Mining Indaba in Cape Town. The promotion centrepiece, a business lounge, became a major networking centre at the 4000-delegate conference. Our missions in Africa also worked to promote Australian education services to African students, as well as resource-related investments.


Taking advantage of the potential offered by India’s rise, the department will seek to build momentum in our relations with India. We will seek to capitalise on India’s interest in Australia as a major player in global energy and resources sectors and through deepening our interaction on shared strategic interests. Afghanistan will remain a primary front in the battle against international terrorism, and the department will continue to play a leading role in coordinating Australia’s whole of government contribution to the essential tasks of stabilisation and reconstruction. We will work closely with Pakistan to encourage and assist it to improve governance and security in its border region with Afghanistan and will remain focused on improving counter-terrorism cooperation with both Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The political and strategic outlook for the Middle East remains challenging. The situation in Lebanon, ongoing instability in the Palestinian Territories, Iran’s defiance of UN Security Council Resolutions, and the threat of terrorism throughout the region will continue to impact negatively on a range of Australian interests. At the same time, prospects for further growth and diversification of Australian exports and commercial interests more broadly are likely to remain strong, particularly in GCC states. The department anticipates making substantial progress on the GCC FTA negotiations in 2007–08.

The department will pursue opportunities to strengthen further the bilateral relationship and promote Australia’s strategic and commercial interests in Iraq.

The crisis in Zimbabwe is deepening, and we will continue to search for ways in which we can promote reform and provide support to the ordinary people of that country. Strengthening Australia’s relationship with South Africa will remain a priority, and we will pursue opportunities that further our bilateral political and economic engagement.

Goods and services (a)
Other South Asia (b)
Total South Asia
Bahrain (b) (c)
Kuwait (b)
Oman (b)
Qatar (b)
Saudi Arabia (b)
United Arab Emirates (b)
Total GCC (b)

(a) Goods data on a recorded trade basis, services data on a balance of payments basis.
(b) Goods data only. Services data is not published by the ABS for these countries.
(c) Excludes exports of alumina (aluminium oxide).
Source: DFAT STARS database and ABS Catalogue 5368.0.

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