Annual Report 2007-2008

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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 Nepal and Bhutan :: Middle East :: Iraq :: Central Asian Republics :: Africa :: Outlook


The department carried forward the Government’s commitment to take the Australia–India relationship to a new level. We expanded and enhanced links through regional bodies and in the fields of energy and resources, legal cooperation, defence and climate change. We initiated a joint feasibility study on a free trade agreement.

The department engaged Pakistan authorities on the security challenges in the Pakistan–Afghanistan border areas, underlining the need to combat terrorism resolutely. We urged the caretaker government in Bangladesh to adhere to its roadmap for a return to democracy, and supported an Australian observer team that monitored Nepal’s elections.

We played a lead role in the development of a new whole-of-government approach to Australia’s engagement in Afghanistan that will enhance our civilian contribution and reinforce the work of Australia’s defence forces. We worked to secure support for a comprehensive political–military plan for the international mission. The department continued to provide whole-of-government coordination for Australia’s engagement in Iraq, including by contributing to the implementation of the Australian Government’s pre-election commitment to the withdrawal of Australian combat forces from Iraq.

Australia continued to support diplomatic efforts to address Iran’s nuclear activities. The department coordinated the domestic implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1803 imposing further sanctions against Iran. We continued to build support among Gulf Cooperation Council countries for a free trade agreement.

Australian missions in Africa hosted with Austrade a major promotion of Australian mining expertise at the annual African Mining Indaba in Cape Town.

The department worked with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to strengthen Australia’s sanctions against the Zimbabwe Government. We worked with other agencies to coordinate Australia’s response to the deteriorating humanitarian and security situation in Darfur, Sudan and the political crisis in Kenya.


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The Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Stephen Smith, at the fifth Australia–India Foreign Ministers’ framework dialogue with Indian Minister of External Affairs, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, in Canberra on 23 June 2008. Photo: Mark Graham
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The department directed a whole-of-government effort to take Australia’s relationship with India to a new level. Regular high-level contact strengthened the relationship. We organised Mr Crean’s visit to India in early 2008 to advance bilateral trade and World Trade Organization issues. India’s government reciprocated our interest in enhancing mutually beneficial links, especially in trade, investment and science, and seven Indian ministers with a broad range of portfolios visited Australia in the first half of 2008. Prominent Indian political figure, Rahul Gandhi, undertook a department-initiated study tour of Australia. Economic links remain the keystone of the relationship. Two-way trade in 2007 reached $13.3 billion, making India our tenth-largest merchandise trading partner and our eighth largest services trading partner. Education continued to drive the services relationship. India is now the second-largest source of overseas students in Australia after China, with more than 60 000 students enrolled in educational institutions.

The department managed two key bilateral forums: the Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) co-chaired by the Minister for Trade, Mr Crean, in Melbourne in May 2008; and the Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue, hosted by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, in Canberra in June 2008. These forums provide a mechanism for discussing priority issues and launching new initiatives. The JMC coincided with a major joint business conference and saw the signature of an intellectual property Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate enhanced cooperation in this vital area. Mr Crean and his Indian counterpart, Commerce and Industry Minister Mr Kamal Nath, agreed to establish a CEOs forum to build stronger links between the business communities of the two countries at the highest level. At the Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue, Mr Smith and Indian Minister for External Affairs, Pranab Mukherjee agreed to step up cooperation in a range of sectors, including law enforcement and public policy. They also signed bilateral treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance.

Working with a range of Australian agencies, we extended the depth and breadth of the relationship by establishing new dialogues with India on competition policy, water resources, economic policy, and visa, passport and consular matters. These dialogues will enable both sides to share best practice in key areas and resolve specific issues in a practical manner. The department contributed to the development of an expanded Australia–India Round Table, which will be convened by the Lowy Institute and a leading Indian think tank to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the two countries. We collaborated with AusAID to expand our technical assistance links with India, allocating up to $10 million over the next five years to fund public sector linkages in priority areas such as climate change, agriculture, water and resource management.

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Sophia McIntyre
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Sophia McIntyre

Sophia McIntyre took up her position as Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian High Commission in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in April 2008. Her work is extremely varied, encompassing security issues, management of the political/economic section, bilateral counter-terrorism cooperation, monitoring human rights and coordinating post’s efforts on illegal immigration issues.

Sophia notes that a flexible approach to work in Colombo is essential: issues tend to move quickly and require a fast response, particularly where security issues are involved. The intensification of fighting between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam since the end of 2007 has seen an increase in the number of bombing attacks in Colombo and other areas of the country. Managing the risks to post security and Australians in Sri Lanka in this environment, as well as the potential impact on staff welfare, is a challenging but essential part of her role.

Shortly after commencing her posting, Sophia travelled to the Sri Lankan Army-controlled Jaffna Peninsula with the UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) to assess the military, human rights and humanitarian situation there.

The difficulties faced by the community living in this war-ravaged environment are immense, but it is rewarding to see first hand how important Australia’s contribution to the relief effort is in helping people rebuild their lives.

The department continued to support the work of the Australia–India Council (see sub-output 3.1.2 on page 217 for more information).

Australia-India FTA feasibility study

Australia and India agreed in August 2007 to undertake a joint feasibility study of the merits of a free trade agreement (FTA). Terms of reference for the study are comprehensive, covering goods, services and investment as well as key cross-cutting issues such as government procurement, intellectual property, competition policy, labour mobility and sanitary and phytosanitary issues. The department engaged key Australian stakeholders through consultations with industry, state and territory governments and public interest groups. There has been a strong level of interest in the study and stakeholders are broadly supportive of a bilateral FTA. The officials-level joint study group met in New Delhi (April 2008) and Melbourne (May 2008). During the Australia–India Joint Ministerial Commission in May 2008, Mr Crean and his counterpart, Mr Nath, welcomed the strong momentum established by the joint FTA feasibility study and agreed that its conclusion be brought forward to the end of 2008.

Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation

The Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR–ARC) is an international organisation comprised of 18 Indian Ocean Rim member states, established in Mauritius in March 1995. The Association disseminates information on trade and investment regimes, with a view to promoting better understanding of impediments to trade and investment within the region.

In May 2008, the department led Australia’s participation in the eighth IOR–ARC Council of Ministers and associated officials’ meetings in Tehran. Australia was appointed to the new Working Group on Strengthening the Secretariat and to the Governing Committee for the IOR–ARC Special Fund at the meeting. Australia supports and advocates practical fisheries management projects through IOR–ARC.


Australia’s commitment to help stabilise and rebuild Afghanistan remained a major focus of the department’s work. We took the lead in coordinating Australia’s whole-of-government approach including efforts to strengthen Australia’s aid and policing effort. We facilitated visits to Afghanistan by the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, both of which underscored Australian commitment to the country and to fighting international terrorism. The department also supported Mr Rudd’s participation in the NATO Summit’s consideration of Afghanistan in Bucharest on 3 April 2008—the first time an Australian prime minister had attended such a NATO meeting. The meeting endorsed a public declaration of international commitment on Afghanistan and a comprehensive strategic political–military plan to better integrate military and civilian activity. The department was actively involved in the drafting of both documents.

The department, with AusAID, supported Mr Smith’s participation in the International Afghanistan Support Conference in Paris on 12 June 2008, where Mr Smith announced $250 million in further assistance to Afghanistan. In the lead-up to both the Bucharest and Paris conferences, we were active in encouraging sustained commitment by the broader international community to help Afghanistan address its multifarious challenges.

As a result of the attack in January 2008 on the Serena Hotel, which housed Australia’s embassy in Kabul, the department managed the relocation of the embassy to more secure temporary premises. We advanced preparations for the co-location of a permanent Australian embassy chancery with the Netherlands embassy in Kabul. The security of embassy staff in Kabul remains a major focus.

In March 2008, the department joined with the Canadian High Commission in Canberra to stage a photographic exhibition of Australia and Canada’s contributions towards international efforts to build a stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan. Material from the Canberra exhibition subsequently formed part of an Australian–Canadian–Dutch exhibition on reconstruction in Afghanistan, which was organised by our embassy in Berlin at the German Parliament in April 2008.

Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan

The department supported Australia’s engagement with Pakistan during a period of political transition in the lead-up to parliamentary elections in February 2008. Following the appointment of a new, democratically elected government in Pakistan, we intensified Australia’s bilateral relationship including by supporting a visit to Pakistan by the Chief of the Australian Defence Force. We supported Australia’s education, agriculture and aid interests in Pakistan to help it meet its pressing development challenges.

The department continued to encourage Bangladesh’s caretaker government to adhere to a roadmap for the return to democracy, including the holding of free and fair elections and to progress its reform agenda. The caretaker government has pledged to hold elections in December 2008. We advanced Australia’s commercial, counter-terrorism, human rights, governance and aid interests in Bangladesh, including by supporting the delivery of humanitarian assistance following Cyclone Sidr in November 2007.

The department continued cooperation with Sri Lanka in counter-terrorism and illegal migration, as well as assisting business in trade and investment activities. The sharp deterioration in security and human rights in Sri Lanka, with consequent effects on Australian consular and security interests, was a focus for the department. The Government continued to advocate a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Sri Lanka. In the Maldives, we encouraged the democratisation process as the Maldives drafted a new constitution and moved towards its first multi-party elections scheduled to take place in October 2008.

Nepal held historic elections in April 2008 to a Constituent Assembly as part of its ongoing peace process. The department supported an Australian observer group, including parliamentarians, to the elections. In other areas, we supported Australian aid delivery, consular and commercial interests, especially in the rapidly growing education services sector. The department closely monitored Bhutan’s peaceful and orderly transition to democracy in 2008 and funded training for Bhutanese journalists covering elections.

Middle East

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Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Stephen Smith, meeting with the United Arab Emirates Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, on 9 June 2008 in Abu Dhabi.
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The department advanced Australia’s trade and investment interests in the Middle East, including by advocating the benefit of an FTA to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman. The department supported the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in achieving the resumption of live animal trade with Egypt, which was announced by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Mr Tony Burke, on 9 May 2008.

Australia continued to engage frankly and robustly with Iran on issues of mutual concern, including human rights. Australia registered its deep concern about Iran’s uranium enrichment activities and supported diplomatic efforts to address Iran’s nuclear activities, including in the UN Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The department coordinated the full domestic implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1803 imposing further sanctions against Iran.

The department continued its efforts in support of the Middle East peace process. Australia increased its aid program for the Palestinian Territories to $45 million for 2008. The department ensured Australia’s policy towards Hamas (listed under the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 as an entity associated with terrorism) was fully implemented.

The department coordinated Australia’s response, including consular response, to the political violence in Lebanon throughout 2008.

We continued to provide support for high-level visits to the Middle East in support of Australia’s strategic and commercial interests. Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, visited the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kuwait in June 2008; the Governor-General visited Israel and the UAE in May 2008; and a parliamentary delegation led by the Speaker of the House of Representatives visited Jordan in April 2008. We provided support for visits to Australia by the Yemeni Minister for Trade and the Lebanese Tourism Minister.

The department continued to support the work of the Council for Australian–Arab Relations. See sub-output 3.1.2 on page 216 for more information.


Photo - See caption below for descriptionRidwaan Jadwat
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Ridwaan Jadwat

Since Ridwaan Jadwat arrived at the Australian Embassy in Tehran in February 2006, Iran’s nuclear program has been at the forefront of international security concerns. As Deputy Head of Mission, he has frequently made representations to senior Iranian officials on the nuclear program and other issues where Australia has clear differences of opinion with Iran.

As head of the embassy’s political section, Ridwaan has also focused on a diverse range of issues, including Iran’s complex domestic political structure, its nuclear ambitions and strategic policies.


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The then Australian Ambassador to Iraq, Mr Marc Innes-Brown (centre), attending the Anzac Day ceremony in Baghdad on 25 April 2008. L–R: General David Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force – Iraq (MNF-I); the United States Ambassador to Iraq, Mr Ryan Crocker; Australian Ambassador to Iraq, Mr Marc Innes-Brown; United Kingdom Ambassador to Iraq, Mr Christopher Prentice; Lieutenant General John Cooper, DSO MBE, Deputy Commanding General, MNF-I.
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The department contributed to the implementation of the Government’s commitment to the withdrawal of Australian combat forces from Iraq in close consultation with key allies. The department also contributed to the implementation of the Government’s new visa arrangements for Iraqi staff at risk because of their engagement with the Australian Government.

Australia continues to build strong links with Iraq through our respective embassies and high-level visits in both directions. The department supported visits by the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and Mr Smith to Iraq to meet Iraqi leaders and senior coalition representatives, and visits to Australia by the Iraqi ministers of Trade and Agriculture. By helping identify avenues for assistance and cooperation, including in development and trade, these visits have greatly strengthened the bilateral relationship. Departmental officials conveyed to key Iraqi ministers, advisers and decision-makers the Australian Government’s firm commitment to security, the rule of law, human rights and economic recovery in Iraq. Together with Austrade, the department provided guidance to Australian companies on the security environment in Iraq, and facilitated contact with Iraqi government officials and members of the private sector.

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 with Iraq (Stockholm, 29 May 2008) and the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq (Bari, 28–29 October 2007). On 13 May 2008, Mr Smith announced that Australia would provide $140 million over three years, with $60 million in 2008–09, for humanitarian assistance and reconstruction priorities and to assist in building the capacity of the Iraqi Government in key sectors.

Security of Australians in Iraq

The security environment in Iraq remains extremely dangerous and poses a particular challenge for embassy staff and Australians travelling there. 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. The embassy continued to perform strongly in spite of these considerable challenges in delivering high-quality assessments of developments in Iraq and in the provision of consular assistance. The welfare of staff remains a priority for the department and security measures remain under constant review.

Central Asian Republics

The department advanced Australian commercial interests in the Central Asian Republics, including by supporting a business mission to Turkmenistan and an education roadshow in Kazakhstan to market Australian universities.


The department supported Australia’s strong role internationally in pressing for a credible democratic outcome to the Presidential elections in Zimbabwe. We arranged a visit to Australia by Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai in August 2007 for meetings with ministers, including the then Prime Minister, to generate discussion about possible solutions to the crisis facing Zimbabwe. We continued to coordinate closely with AusAID in taking forward humanitarian assistance to the Zimbabwean people. Working with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the department tightened Australia’s sanctions against the Zimbabwe Government, introducing restrictions on study visas for the adult children of sanctioned individuals.

The humanitarian situation in Darfur deteriorated during 2007–08. The department worked closely with other agencies on humanitarian, peacekeeping and diplomatic initiatives to end the atrocities and resolve the crisis. This included supporting the Department of Defence in taking forward Australia’s new commitment to provide military officers for the United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur. We made representations with key countries and in the United Nations calling on all parties to the Darfur conflict to pursue peace and respect human rights, and urging the Sudanese Government to facilitate effective peacekeeping deployment in Darfur. Australia also continued to provide humanitarian assistance in response to the crisis in Darfur.

The department coordinated a strong diplomatic, consular and humanitarian response to the political crisis in Kenya in early 2008. With regard to Australia’s growing interests across Africa, we expanded Australia’s contacts with governments and sought to formalise new diplomatic relations with several African countries.

Australia’s commercial engagement broadened throughout Africa, including in the natural resources sector. Our Africa posts again jointly hosted with Austrade, in February 2008, a major promotion of Australian mining expertise at the annual African Mining Indaba in Cape Town. We facilitated meetings between mining ministers from a number of African countries with Australian business. Our posts continued to promote Australian education and other services, as well as resource-related investments.


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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Australian Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mr John Courtney, with voters at a polling station on Zimbabwe’s presidential, parliamentary and local government election day, 29 March 2008.
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India will remain a long-term, strategic focus for the department. We will need to intensify efforts to engage India, in the face of international competition for its attention, and to build greater depth in the relationship. We will work closely with Pakistan to broaden our relationship, including by encouraging it to improve governance and security, especially in its border region with Afghanistan.

The department’s role in coordinating Australia’s whole-of-government approach to Afghanistan will continue to be a high priority as we work with the government of Afghanistan and the international community to secure stability and promote reconstruction. This will be a long-term effort in the face of a determined insurgent opposition and weakness in Afghanistan’s infrastructure. The provision of Australian assistance to, and cooperation with, Iraq will require continued close engagement both with the Iraqi government and relevant Australian agencies.

The Middle East will remain a focus of departmental activity as we develop Australia’s trade and investment interests while addressing constructively the region’s security challenges, including the uncertainty posed by Iran’s nuclear activities. Australia’s position on the Middle East peace process will continue to be of importance to bilateral partners and the Australian public.

Africa will become a more significant focus of the department’s attention as we move to enhance Australia’s relations with the continent’s institutions and nations, through broadening and deepening government and economic linkages. The department will continue to support Australia’s responses to humanitarian crises on the continent as they occur.



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