Annual Report 2007-2008

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Your location: Performance > Outcome 1 > Output 1.1 > 1.1.9 International organisations, legal and environment

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

1.1.9 International organisations, legal and environment

On this page: Overview :: United Nations :: Environment :: Sea law, environment law and Antarctic policy :: Sanctions and transnational crime :: International law :: Treaties and outreach :: Human rights :: People smuggling and trafficking :: Avian and pandemic influenza :: Commonwealth :: Outlook


The department supported the Government’s emphasis on multilateral diplomacy, which has been demonstrated by an enhanced involvement in the United Nations (UN) and other international organisations. Most notable was the Government’s ratification, immediately on its coming to office, of the Kyoto Protocol and the subsequent high-level Australian attendance at the Bali Conference of Parties on Climate Change in December 2007, led by the Prime Minister. Of particular significance for the department was the early visit by the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, to the headquarters of the UN in New York and his announcement that Australia would be a candidate for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2013–2014 term. The department moved quickly to support the election bid and has been active in seeking support around the world.

The department was a major contributor to the Government’s efforts to eliminate commercial and scientific whaling. We coordinated international representations to the Japanese Government in Tokyo in December 2007 and with the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) developed and implemented a range of Government initiatives on whales.

The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf agreed almost entirely with Australia’s submission to it, prepared by the department and other agencies, and confirmed Australia’s entitlement to 2.55 million square kilometres of seabed where we have the right to explore and exploit resources such as oil, gas and marine organisms.

The department, especially through our UN mission in Geneva, worked constructively to help improve the Human Rights Council’s ability to respond effectively to urgent human rights situations. On Indigenous issues, following the National Apology, we conveyed to the international community information about Australia’s actions to promote reconciliation and to close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

United Nations

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The Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, handing over the documentation finalising Australian ratification of the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, on 12 December 2007, while both were in Bali to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Photo: Auspic
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The department worked closely with a range of Australian government agencies to advance key Australian interests across the United Nations (UN) system during the 62nd Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), especially in relation to international security, non-proliferation, human rights, climate change, trade, international development issues and reform of the UN’s operations.

Following the 24 November 2007 federal election, and in line with the Government’s commitment to the multilateral system as one of the three fundamental pillars of its foreign policy, the department supported visits to the UN in New York by the Foreign Minister, Mr Smith, and the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, in January and March 2008 respectively.

During his meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Prime Minister conveyed the Government’s intention to contest a seat on the UN Security Council for the 2013–2014 term. While acknowledging the challenges involved, the Prime Minister noted that should Australia be successful it would assume a seat on the Security Council for the first time in about 30 years. The department began work on the campaign which will engage Australia’s diplomatic network for four years until elections in October 2012. During his visit the Prime Minister also announced a pledge of $5 million towards conflict prevention, including towards the emerging legal concept of the ‘Responsibility to Protect’.

The department continued to place a high priority on the promotion of democracy both in the region and more broadly. In June 2008, the Prime Minister announced that Australia would co-chair the Bali Democracy Forum with Indonesia. Australia also continued to support the UN’s efforts in this field, including through the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF), of which Australia is a member of the advisory board. In 2007 the department supported the successful appointment of an Australian, Mr Roland Rich, to the position of Executive Director of UNDEF.

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The Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, speaking at the High-Level Segment of the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP13) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bali on 12 December 2008. Photo: Auspic
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The department continued to push for the reform of UN structures and working methods, including the UN’s management of peacekeeping and disarmament issues, which represent one of the fastest-growing areas of the UN budget. We continued to promote the need for budget discipline, transparency and accountability to ensure the UN system functions more effectively and efficiently. Australia also worked to strengthen the UN’s Department of Political Affairs, which assumes the main burden of the UN’s extensive conflict-prevention agenda.

The department worked to support the successful candidacy of another Australian, Mr Mike Smith, for the position of Director of the UN’s Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate. This important position was established to enhance the UN Security Council’s ability to monitor implementation of counter-terrorism measures and to raise states’ counter-terrorism capabilities. Mr Smith was appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with the agreement of members of UN Security Council.

In May 2008, an Australian, Dr Francis Gurry, secured the nomination to be the next Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The department played a critical role in the management of this campaign. Dr Gurry’s nomination is subject to confirmation by the WIPO General Assembly in September 2008. As WIPO Deputy Director General, Dr Gurry has been the most senior Australian in the UN system for a number of years, and will be only the third Australian to lead a UN agency once his appointment is confirmed.

The department also successfully ran the campaigns for election to a number of other important international bodies including the International Maritime Organization, the Commission on Sustainable Development, the International Civil Aviation Authority and the International Labour Organization. Our presence on these boards, as well as others on which we already sit, ensures that we are well placed to advance Australia’s interests across the international spectrum.

The department continued to lead Australia’s engagement in the work of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), including providing secretariat support for the Australian National Commission for UNESCO. We attended the 34th General Conference of UNESCO in Paris in late 2007. In the margins of that meeting Australia was successfully elected to the 21-member World Heritage Committee for the term 2007–2011. This highlights the high esteem in which Australia is held as a best practice manager of its 17 world heritage sites, the most recent listing being that of the Sydney Opera House in June 2007.

In the context of UNESCO’s International Convention against Doping in Sport, the department contributed to the successful campaign to elect The Hon John Fahey AC to the position of President of the World Anti-Doping Agency, the world’s premier anti-doping body, underlining Australia’s credentials as a country with a clean sporting culture.


Climate change

The department contributed to strong outcomes on climate change across a wide range of international forums. The Secretary, as Special Envoy on the APEC Climate Change Initiative, worked with APEC economies to promote clean development and climate as a key focus of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Summit in September 2007. The department played a key role in expediting Australia’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force for Australia on 11 March 2008, and supported its participation in the Bali Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2007. After the Bali meeting, responsibility for international climate change negotiations was transferred to the new Department of Climate Change.


With the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), the department developed and implemented the Government’s initiatives on whales announced in December 2007. New measures launched during 2007–08 included a set of proposals to reform the International Whaling Commission, which were widely welcomed at the Commission’s annual meeting in Santiago, Chile, in June 2008. The department contributed to legal advice to the Government on the potential to take international legal proceedings against Japan, and helped manage a monitoring mission in the 2007–08 summer to gather evidence for use in any such proceedings. We coordinated international representations to Japan on 21 December 2007 to protest its Antarctic whale hunt, and had the largest number of co-sponsors of any such representations to date. We supported ministerial dialogue with Japan and undertook regular liaison with Japanese authorities on whaling issues pursuant to the Government’s objectives.

Tsunami warning systems

In close cooperation with Geoscience Australia, the Bureau of Meteorology, Emergency Management Australia and AusAID, the department coordinated implementation of the Australian Tsunami Warning System. Australia continues to play a lead role in strengthening international institutional frameworks in this area, including the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission’s (IOC) Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (IOTWS).

Australian missions around the Pacific have been active in encouraging Pacific island governments to sign Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) on tsunami early warning to permit the installation of tsunami monitoring equipment across the south-west Pacific. These systems provide benefits to Australia and the Pacific region as a whole in terms of providing improved data for identifying and responding to tsunami in the region. In 2007–08, Australia signed MOUs with the Cook Islands, PNG, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Negotiations on genetic resources

The department led the Government’s efforts in negotiations on trade in genetic resources under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) during the ninth CBD Conference of Parties in May 2008. We argued for more effective and pragmatic national implementation of the CBD in order to support relevant scientific research and commercial use of genetic resources. Australia, with other like-minded parties, succeeded in integrating more effectively the work of technical experts into the CBD future work plan, to help provide a more empirical basis for regulation of genetic resources.

The department led Australia’s participation, as an observer, in the fourth meeting of parties to the Biosafety Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity in May 2008. Australia worked with other delegations towards achieving by 2010 an international regime for liability and redress for damage from transboundary movement of living modified organisms that will be both effective and compatible with our domestic framework.

The department continued to lead development of Australia’s policy on marine biodiversity, including marine genetic resources, in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Consistent with Australia’s interests and expertise in oceans management, we worked within the United Nations General Assembly for increased use of area-based management tools, including marine protected areas, and advocated stronger implementation of existing norms to protect and preserve the marine environment beyond national jurisdiction. Our efforts helped shape the UN’s forward agenda on the protection and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Sea law, environment law and Antarctic policy

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Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Stephen Smith, speaking at the High-Level Conference on Global Food Security, organised by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in Rome on 4 June 2008. © FAO/Alessandra Benedetti
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The department’s close work with the Attorney-General’s Department and Geoscience Australia over several years culminated on 18 April 2008 with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf’s recommendations on Australia’s submission to determine the outer limits of our continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. The Commission agreed almost entirely with Australia’s submission and confirmed Australia’s entitlement to 2.55 million square kilometres of seabed where we have the right to explore and exploit resources such as oil, gas and marine organisms.

The department provided legal advice and assistance on the expedited process required for Australia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Bali in December 2007.

We continued to provide legal and policy advice on Australia’s substantial involvement in Antarctica, including over the 5.8 million square kilometre Australian Antarctic Territory. At the thirty-first Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in June 2008, the Australian delegation, led by the department, achieved key outcomes including improving measures for environmental protection, encouraging further consideration of biological prospecting activity in Antarctica and improving hydrographic surveying and charting.

The department contributed to the achievement of an indefinite extension of the Torres Strait Treaty’s moratorium on mining and drilling in the Torres Strait. While the moratorium was extended for short periods previously, an indefinite extension further enhanced the Treaty’s protection of the Torres Strait’s fragile environment and the way of life of its traditional inhabitants. We continued to work with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and the Attorney-General’s Department to advocate the consistency of Australia’s system of pilotage in the Torres Strait with international law and to promote this in various international forums.

We provided legal advice and diplomatic assistance to Australia’s delegation negotiating a South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organisation. Two negotiating meetings were held in New Caledonia (10–14 September 2007) and Ecuador (10–14 March 2008) where progress was made on drafting text for the convention to regulate the organisation. Australia continued to emphasise the importance of ecosystem-based management to fisheries management and conservation of the environment.

Sanctions and transnational crime

The department worked to ensure that UN sanctions were fully and effectively implemented in Australia. The department coordinated the implementation of the International Trade Integrity Act 2007 which enacted Commissioner Cole’s recommendations on UN sanctions administration from his Report of the Inquiry into Certain Australian Companies in relation to the UN Oil-for-Food Programme. This required the repeal and replacement of all existing regulations implementing UN sanctions in Australia with new regulations that accommodate the post-Cole arrangements.

In the process, the department ensured that Australia’s UN-mandated terrorist asset freezing regime, which applies to persons and entities designated both by the UN’s Taliban and Al Qaida Committee and by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, was strengthened, through significantly increased criminal penalties for breach.

The department undertook an extensive outreach campaign on the operation of UN sanctions and changes to UN sanctions enforcement laws in Australia. This outreach focused on exporters and federal, state and territory trade promotion bodies to highlight the extraterritorial operation of Australia’s UN sanctions enforcement laws, as well as other Australian extraterritorial offences, such as bribery of foreign public officials. The department also established an interdepartmental committee to coordinate the implementation, administration and enforcement of UN sanctions in Australia. This committee meets on a quarterly basis to discuss the continuous improvement of sanctions administration in Australia.

The department continued activities to combat transnational crime, in partnership with relevant government agencies and in concert with other domestic and regional partners. We advanced Australian foreign policy interests in United Nations criminal justice forums and participated in the second Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. We contributed to legislative reforms and international outreach to reinforce Australia’s strong anti-bribery message, and also contributed to Australia’s Phase 2 written response to the OECD Working Group on Bribery.

In close cooperation with the Attorney-General’s Department, we contributed to the strengthening of law enforcement relationships across the region by providing advice and assistance to the negotiations and implementation of a number of bilateral extradition, mutual legal assistance and prisoner transfer treaties. In June 2008, we finalised and facilitated the signature of Australian extradition and mutual assistance treaties with the Republic of India.

The department also contributed to the Government’s determination to combat transnational crime by cooperating with the Australian Federal Police to ensure allegations or admissions about the commission abroad of Australian offences with extraterritorial criminal effect that came to the department’s attention (such as UN sanctions breaches, the commission of bribery and other forms of corruption) were subjected to scrutiny by law enforcement authorities.

International law

The department continued to provide support to the International Criminal Court, including as chair of the Court’s Committee on Budget and Finance and by engaging in negotiations to finalise a definition of the crime of aggression. In August 2007, we hosted a successful visit to Australia of the Court’s prosecutor, Mr Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who participated in meetings with ministers, officials and non-government representatives. The department and the Attorney-General’s Department jointly hosted an outreach and advocacy seminar on the Court’s role in promoting the rule of law and ending impunity for those alleged to have committed the most serious crimes of international concern. Approximately 60 ministers and senior government officials from 17 countries attended the seminar, as well as a number of academics and representatives from the non-government sector. The seminar was a useful step in encouraging more regional countries to accede to the Rome Statute, the Convention establishing the Court.

We worked to strengthen the international humanitarian law framework by leading a whole-of-government contribution to international negotiations that adopted a draft treaty banning cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. At the 30th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement the department worked to develop an effective Red Cross response to complex humanitarian challenges, including climate change, armed violence and international disaster relief.

The department continued to make a significant contribution to whole-of-government efforts to address legal issues relevant to deployments of Australian personnel to a range of countries, including Afghanistan, East Timor, Iraq and Solomon Islands. At the request of the Government of East Timor, we supported the rapid deployment of Australian police and military personnel to East Timor following attempts on the lives of the East Timorese President and Prime Minister in February 2008.

We contributed to the negotiation and facilitated the signing and entry into force of a range of bilateral treaties furthering Australia’s security interests, including: the Australia–US Defense Trade Cooperation Treaty and the Implementing Arrangement to the Treaty; and the Agreement between the Australia and the Republic of Indonesia on the Framework for Security Cooperation (the Lombok Treaty, entered into force through an exchange of notes between the Foreign Minister, Mr Smith and Indonesia’s Foreign Minister in Perth on 7 February 2008).

The department supported the liberalisation of air services between Australia and key aviation partners by working towards the signature of a range of air services agreements. We facilitated the signature of an agreement between Australia and the European Community on Certain Aspects of Air Services on 29 April 2008, and facilitated the signature by the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd of an Open Skies Agreement with the United States during the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington in March 2008.

We contributed to Australia’s border protection capability by facilitating the signature of the Australia–European Union Passenger Name Record (PNR) Agreement on 30 June 2008, allowing the transfer of PNR data to the Australian Customs Service by airlines that process PNR data within the jurisdiction of the European Union.

The department, in conjunction with the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO), concluded negotiations on an Agreement with Russia on Cooperation in the Use of Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Purposes, which was signed during the APEC Leaders’ Meeting in September 2007. The Agreement will be subject to scrutiny by the Australian Parliament.

The department worked to strengthen Australia’s economic and investment interests through participation in the negotiation of a number of bilateral economic treaties, including a new tax treaty with Japan, a Protocol amending the tax treaty with South Africa, and the commencement of tax negotiations with New Zealand. We facilitated the entry into force of an Agreement with New Zealand on the Mutual Recognition of Securities Offerings.

Treaties and outreach

The department continued to support the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT), which reviewed 20 new treaties during the year. During the APEC Leaders’ Meeting, the Treaties Secretariat facilitated the signature of five treaties and nine Memorandums of Understanding. It also worked to facilitate consultations with states and territories on treaties currently under negotiation and to facilitate the committee’s follow-up briefings. Following the appointment of the new JSCOT, we further streamlined the treaty tabling process by enabling minor treaty actions to be scrutinised by Parliament in an expeditious manner.

The department provided extensive advice on treaties matters to other government agencies (including through a number of well-attended treaty seminars) and maintained, through the Australasian Legal Information Institute (AustLII), a free, best practice internet facility enabling access to all 2629 Australian treaty texts. A contract to extend AustLII’s management of the Australian Treaties Library for a further three years was agreed.

Human rights

The new Government’s commitment to renewed engagement with the United Nations and other multinational forums has had important consequences for the work of the department in the area of human rights and Indigenous issues.

United Nations Human Rights Council

The department, especially through our UN mission in Geneva, worked constructively and actively with Council and non-Council members alike to help improve the Council’s ability to respond effectively to urgent human rights situations. Australia was pleased to support several strong resolutions on the human rights situation in Burma, but other country situations, notably Zimbabwe, continue to be insufficiently addressed by the Council. The department continued to focus its efforts on creating sound structures so the Council can become a strong, effective institution.

The first two rounds of the Council’s new Universal Periodic Review mechanism proved to be positive and valuable. The department engaged strongly with the process, which provides an avenue for constructively discussing the human rights situations of other countries, and identifying practical steps that can be taken to address specific issues.

Indigenous issues

The department actively advanced the Government’s agenda on Indigenous issues, including in the UN human rights system. For example, the Prime Minister’s National Apology to the Stolen Generations on 13 February 2008 generated a positive response from Indigenous peoples, foreign governments, the global media and in the United Nations. Following the Apology, the department actively conveyed to the international community information about Australia’s actions to promote reconciliation and to close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, held in New York in April 2008, was an opportunity for the department to assist Government efforts to indicate informal support for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Consultations on the Declaration with key Australian stakeholders, such as state and territory governments and Indigenous and non-Indigenous organisations, are ongoing.

Bilateral human rights dialogues

The department led a delegation to the last round of the Australia–China Human Rights Dialogue in Beijing on 30 July 2007. The dialogue focused on ‘the role of legal professionals in protecting human rights’, and it continued the tradition of constructive and frank discussion with the Chinese Government. Australia raised its full range of human rights concerns, including the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners, and the situation in Tibet.

Representations and consultations on human rights

Our overseas posts made representations on individual human rights cases and issues of concern during 2007–08. The department conducted a round of formal human rights consultations with Australia-based non-government organisations (NGOs) in May 2008, facilitating valuable exchanges of information, insights and advice on human rights issues.

People smuggling and trafficking

The Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues continued to lead Australian Government engagement with the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, which Australia co-chairs with Indonesia. In this context, the department cooperated closely with other Australian Government policy and operational agencies, such as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the Attorney-General’s Department and the Australian Federal Police on a number of Bali Process initiatives. We worked closely with international counterparts from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration and regional counterparts from Thailand and New Zealand, including through regular meetings of the Bali Process Steering Group. A number of other Bali Process workshops continued to build regional awareness and capacity. Further information on the Bali Process is available at

A department-led Australian delegation attended the UN Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) Forum in Vienna in February 2008. Australia and Indonesia jointly presented a side event, opened by Indonesia’s Minister for Women’s Empowerment, H.E. Dr. Meutia Farida Hatta, on the Bali Process’ utility as a model for regional cooperation in combating trafficking. The Vienna side event emphasised the importance of regional consultative mechanisms, such as the Bali Process, in efforts to eliminate trafficking worldwide. The department participated in the inaugural Government roundtable meeting with NGOs and community representatives on trafficking in June 2008.

The department continued to take an active role in the Australian Government inter-agency People Smuggling Task Force. A workshop hosted by the Australian embassy in Jakarta brought together representatives from a range of Australian Government agencies in the region, and helped shape a more coordinated regional approach to combating people smuggling and ensure all agencies were alert to emerging trends.

Drawing on our network of overseas posts, we worked successfully with other governments to disrupt people smuggling activities in the region and to extradite an alleged people smuggler from Thailand. In Indonesia, our embassy’s close engagement with Indonesian authorities saw the detention of several people suspected of organising people smuggling ventures to Australia.

Avian and pandemic influenza

The department contributed to ongoing government preparations for a possible influenza pandemic in Australia, our region or beyond. We were active in the Government’s preparedness planning, including participation in whole-of-government meetings on Emerging Infectious Diseases surveillance, communication during a pandemic, on national health security legislation and a pandemic exercise in May 2008. Globally we worked with the Department of Health and Ageing and AusAID to support the role of Australia’s chair, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Ageing, Ms Jane Halton, as chair of the Intergovernmental Meeting on Pandemic Influenza Preparedness: Sharing of Influenza Viruses and Access to Vaccines and other Benefits. We contributed to the work of the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza and responded to other emerging issues affecting the international community’s response.


The department played a key role in supporting senior attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (CFMM) in Uganda, in November 2007. We were active in developing the Commonwealth’s forward mandate, emphasising its core competencies in the field of good governance, democracy and election monitoring, and participated in the election of the new Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma. While Australia is not currently a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), we worked closely with the Commonwealth Secretariat on issues raised in that context such as the membership of Pakistan and Fiji, and the situation in Zimbabwe. We continued to provide strong financial support for the Commonwealth and its programs, as its third-largest contributor.


We will continue to support the Government’s focus on the multilateral system as one of the pillars of its foreign policy and we will work to support the role of the UN in peacekeeping and peace-building.

We will promote and support Australia’s candidacy for the UN Security Council and assist the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and other ministers in their advocacy in pursuit of this goal.

One new area of work will be to lend assistance to Indonesia’s proposal for a Bali Democracy Forum to promote democracy in the region.

The Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues will work with other agencies and with a wide range of regional governments to take forward the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Human Trafficking and Related Transnational Crime, with the aim of convening a third ministerial meeting of the Bali Process, to be co-chaired with Australia and Indonesia, early next year.

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