Annual Report 2008-2009

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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 :: Pakistan :: Afghanistan :: Iraq :: Middle East :: Africa :: Sri Lanka :: Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives ::South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation :: Outlook


The department led Australia’s whole-of-government military and civilian contribution to international efforts to bring security, stability and development to Afghanistan, including supporting a significant expansion of Australia’s contribution.

Implementing the Government’s commitment to take Australia’s relationship with India to the front rank of our international partnerships was a key priority in 2008–09. The department’s work to advance this commitment included support for a visit to India by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, and prosecuting a joint free trade agreement feasibility study.

We strengthened ties with Pakistan through high-level political engagement, including the visit to Pakistan in February 2009 by Mr Smith. We developed and implemented a whole-of-government strategy to enhance Australia’s relationship with Pakistan encompassing defence, policing, counter-terrorism, development and commercial dimensions.

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Deputy Prime Minister Ms Gillard in Baghdad in June 2009 with Iraqi Prime Minister Mr Nouri Al-Maliki (standing), Iraqi Minister of Interior Mr Jawad Al-Bulani (right) and the Australian Deputy Head of Mission to Iraq, Mr Adrian Morrison.
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Australia’s remaining combat forces in Iraq were withdrawn in August 2008. In December, with the Department of Defence and other agencies, the department negotiated a bilateral memorandum of understanding (MOU) for a limited number of embedded ADF personnel to remain in Iraq to 31 July 2009. We contributed to the deepening of cooperation with Iraq, including through support for the visit to Australia by Iraq’s Prime Minister, Mr Nouri Al-Maliki, and the visit to Baghdad by the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard, and the signing, during Ms Gillard’s visit, of six MOUs.

The department continued to advance Australia’s security interests in relation to Iran, reflecting Australia’s concern about Iran’s nuclear activities.

We carried forward the Government’s commitment to enhance Australia’s relations with Africa, and supported high-level visits to and from African countries. We led the Government’s strong international role in pressing for political transformation in Zimbabwe and implemented strengthened sanctions against members of the Mugabe government.

The department expressed concern over the conflict in northern Sri Lanka, particularly the impact on civilians, and encouraged the Sri Lankan Government to combat people smuggling.


  Exports Exports     Imports Imports  
Goods and services (a) 2007
Trend growth 2003–2008
Trend growth 2003–2008
India 11,356 16,484 30.0   1,916 2,450 14.3
Other South Asia (b) 832 984 0.9   290 335 1.6
Total South Asia 12,188 17,468 26.7   2,206 2,785 12.2
Bahrain (b) (c) 133 178 9.6   145 213 11.4
Kuwait (b) 529 501 –1.0   294 481 29.4
Oman (b) 363 705 24.5   3 14 9.9
Qatar (b) 196 183 11.4   240 402 14.8
Saudi Arabia (b) 1,946 2,494 4.8   1,007 890 –0.9
United Arab Emirates (b) 3,083 3,924 30.5   2,140 2,316 25.3
Total GCC (b) 6,250 7,985 15.2   3,829 4,316 14.4

(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) to Bahrain which are confidential in ABS trade statistics.
Sources: DFAT Stars database and ABS Catalogue 5368.0


The department made progress in implementing the Government’s commitment to take Australia’s relationship with India to the front rank of our international partnerships. To this end we facilitated regular ministerial-level contact. During Mr Smith’s visit to India in September 2008, which included a visit to the economically dynamic southern Indian cities of Chennai and Hyderabad, he and his Indian counterpart, the then Minister for External Affairs, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, announced that Australia and India would work towards taking the bilateral relationship to the status of a ‘strategic partnership’. Following the Indian national elections in May 2009, we focused on engagement with the new Indian United Progressive Alliance Government.

Economic links are a crucial aspect of the bilateral relationship. In 2008, India was Australia’s fifth-largest export market (up from seventh in 2007) and eighth-largest trading partner (up from tenth in 2007), with two-way trade in excess of $18.9 billion. Resources and energy exports, most notably coal and gold, were Australia’s largest merchandise exports. We supported a visit to India by the Minister for Resources, Energy and Tourism, Mr Martin Ferguson, in November 2008, a key outcome of which was the conclusion of bilateral action plans in the areas of coal, petroleum and natural gas, new and renewable energy, and mining and minerals.

The department led a joint feasibility study into the merits of a free trade agreement (FTA) between Australia and India with India’s Department of Commerce and Industry. The terms of reference for the study, agreed in March 2008, had the aim of exploring the scope for building an even stronger economic and trade relationship. During three meetings and intersessional discussions, the joint study group made progress in developing ideas for strengthening trade links. In October 2008 and again in February 2009, under the International Media Visits program, a group of Indian journalists visited Australia to explore the potential gains for both countries from an FTA (for further information on the FTA study, see sub-output 1.1.7; on the International Media Visits program, see sub-output 3.1.2).

Education continued to dominate services exports, with over 75 000 Indian students choosing to study in Australia in 2008. The department contributed actively to the Prime Minister’s taskforce on crimes against international students and worked closely with state governments in addressing concerns over the safety of Indian students. The High Commission in New Delhi played a pivotal role in liaison with the Indian government and media on the student safety issue. In June, we hosted a visit to Australia by seven Indian journalists to promote understanding both of Australia’s cultural diversity and of measures to improve the safety of international students.

The department has engaged closely with Indian authorities as part of Australia’s preparations for the Commonwealth Games to be held in New Delhi in 2010. Our work has included consular planning for the large number of Australians expected to attend the games and working with India on security measures for athletes, officials and spectators at the Games.

The department supported the Australia–India Council in building institutional and people-to-people links between Australia and India (see sub-output 3.1.2).


Australia continued to intensify its engagement with Pakistan to address that country’s acute security, economic and development challenges. The department coordinated a whole-of-government strategy to advance Australia’s interests in Pakistan and supported the visits to Pakistan of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Australia’s Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. We contributed to multilateral efforts to assist Pakistan, including through the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, the Pakistan Donors’ Conference and Ministerial meetings held in Tokyo in April. Together with AusAID, we helped develop an approach for the Government to assist in meeting the humanitarian needs of the more than two million people displaced, especially in the Swat Valley, as a result of the Pakistan Government’s offensive against militants.


The department played a key role in shaping Australia’s whole-of-government contribution to international efforts to bring security, stability and development to Afghanistan. Australia has a significant role in Afghanistan as the largest non-NATO military contributor.

In April 2009, the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, announced the commitment of additional military and civilian resources and financial assistance to Afghanistan. This includes an increase of Australia’s troop commitment to Afghanistan from 1100 to 1550 with troops serving in training, reconstruction and staff roles. An infantry company will assist in security arrangements for national elections in August 2009. Australia’s Ambassador to Afghanistan accompanied the Prime Minister on a visit in December 2008 to Tarin Kowt to meet Australian personnel on deployment in Afghanistan.

We coordinated Mr Smith’s attendance at the International Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague on 31 March 2009. The conference, hosted by the Netherlands and chaired by United Nations Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, brought together key regional countries, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) countries and international organisations. The conference called for a comprehensive approach, involving the integration of international military and civilian efforts across the country; and the need for closer involvement of Afghanistan’s neighbours in international stabilisation efforts. The department contributed to Australia’s position in response to the US administration’s review of its strategy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. Both elements of the strategy were strongly backed by Australia as critical to success in Afghanistan.

A major element of the Prime Minister’s announcement in April was the appointment of a Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Ric Smith AO PSM. The department facilitated the Special Envoy’s visit to Istanbul for a meeting of the Afghanistan/Pakistan Support Group, a group of senior representatives of governments with an interest in both countries, and for high-level meetings in Afghanistan and Pakistan in May 2009. We also supported the Special Envoy’s participation, on behalf of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in the Italian-hosted G8 outreach session on Afghanistan and Pakistan in Trieste in June 2009.


The department continued to play a key role in shaping Australia’s whole-of-government policy on Iraq. Australia’s remaining combat forces in Iraq were withdrawn in August 2008. In December, in concert with the Department of Defence and other agencies, we concluded a bilateral memorandum of understanding (MOU) on a status of forces arrangement for a limited number of embedded ADF personnel to remain in Iraq until 31 July 2009.

Personal Profile:

Adrian Morrison

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Adrian Morrison
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Adrian Morrison has been deputy head of the Australian Embassy in Baghdad since September 2008. He has worked with the Ambassador to shift the bilateral relationship beyond a narrow security focus to a broader commercial, political and strategic partnership. This included the lead-up work underpinning Prime Minister Maliki’s successful visit to Australia in March 2009, and the negotiation of the six memorandums of understanding (MOU) that formed the key visit outcome. Activities undertaken under the MOUs will assist Iraq build on recent security improvements to become a stable and prosperous democracy. The Embassy has already facilitated several visits to Iraq by Australian companies prompted by the Maliki visit.

The security environment in Iraq is complex and dynamic. With colleagues from the Embassy, the department in Canberra and the Australian Defence Force, Adrian was involved in reshaping the Embassy’s protective and physical security arrangements to adapt to the challenges of the next few years, not least as Iraqi Security Forces resume responsibility for security from the Multi-National Force – Iraq.

‘Given the unique conditions of work in Baghdad, my Australian and Iraqi colleagues and I approach daily challenges pragmatically and flexibly in the task of furthering Australia’s interests in Iraq.’

The successful visit to Australia in March 2009 by the Iraqi Prime Minister, Mr Nouri Al-Maliki—the first by an Iraqi Prime Minister—signalled the start of a new phase in the bilateral relationship. The Iraqi and Australian prime ministers signed a declaration agreeing to increase cooperation and to enhance trade and investment ties. The Iraqi foreign, trade and industry ministers accompanied Prime Minister Al-Maliki, and Mr Smith and Mr Crean held meetings with their counterparts.

Following the visit, the department coordinated the drafting and negotiation of six MOUs on: agriculture; resources and energy; trade cooperation; education, training and research; public health; and security and border control. The Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, signed these agreements in Baghdad on 27 June 2009 in the presence of Prime Minister Al-Maliki.

We worked closely with AusAID and other agencies in implementing Australia’s $165-million, three-year development assistance program for Iraq, with a strong focus on capacity-building in the agriculture and government sectors. The department also worked with Austrade in providing advice and support to Australian companies interested in doing business in Iraq.

Although slowly improving, the difficult security situation continued to present significant challenges for embassy staff, other Australian officials and Australians working in Iraq. The embassy nevertheless continued to pursue Australian interests, help Australian business and deliver consular assistance.

Middle East

The department supported the Government’s commitment to enhanced engagement with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman). We obtained agreement for the establishment of a foreign ministers-level dialogue with GCC members, to take forward Australia’s growing shared interests with the countries of the Gulf. We pursued strongly Australia’s interests in a free trade agreement with the GCC (see sub-output 1.1.7).

The department continued to engage strongly in relation to Iran, reflecting the Government’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities, human rights, threatening statements towards Israel and violence against protestors following the presidential elections. The department implemented the Government’s additional sanctions against Iran, and worked with other countries to address concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities (see sub-output 1.1.10).

We coordinated the Government’s response to the conflict in December and January in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, including the practical response of pledging $36 million in assistance to the Palestinian people, announced by the Parliamentary Secretary for Development Cooperation, Mr Bob McMullan, in Sharm el-Sheikh in January 2009. We provided advice to the Government on the Middle East peace process.

The department continued to facilitate high-level engagement with the Middle East in support of Australia’s strategic and commercial interests. Mr Smith visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories in October 2008, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in March and Saudi Arabia in May 2009. Mr Crean visited Saudi Arabia and the UAE in November 2008. The Prime Minister and the Governor-General visited the UAE in December and January respectively. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry visited Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in March 2009. The Deputy Prime Minister visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories in June 2009.


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The Governor-General, Ms Quentin Bryce AC, greets children in Botswana during her visit in March 2009.
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A high priority for the department was advancing the Government’s commitment to strengthen engagement with Africa. We led whole-of-government implementation of the Government’s policy through strengthening trade and investment, an expanded development assistance program and fostering people-to-people links. We formalised new diplomatic relations with several African countries, including Liberia, Burkina Faso, Niger and the Republic of Congo, and expanded Australia’s contact with governments across the continent.

In January 2009, Mr Smith became the first Australian Foreign Minister to address an Executive Council meeting of the African Union held in Addis Ababa. He met almost 30 African ministers. A visit by the then Defence Minister, Mr Fitzgibbon, to Addis Ababa in February 2009 opened the way for increased dialogue with the African Union on peace and security issues.

The department coordinated the visits to Australia of the foreign ministers of Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Botswana in May and June. We also facilitated the visit of the Governor-General to ten African countries in March and April, namely Mauritius, Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and the Seychelles.

Our African posts continued to work with business to promote Australian commercial engagement throughout Africa, including in the natural resources sector and in education and other services. We again hosted with Austrade a major promotion of Australian mining expertise at the annual African Mining Indaba in Cape Town, a conference which attracted strong participation by African ministers and decision-makers.

The department led Australia’s response at an international level in pressing for political transformation in Zimbabwe. We implemented strengthened travel and financial sanctions against members of the Mugabe government. We coordinated with AusAID the provision of humanitarian assistance to the Zimbabwean people, in particular to counter the cholera epidemic and to alleviate chronic food shortages. We supported Australia’s response to the inauguration of the inclusive Zimbabwean government in February, and the Australian Government’s commitment to assist Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his ministers to rebuild Zimbabwe and to move towards democratic elections.

We worked with other agencies to coordinate Australia’s responses to crises in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Kenya and Somalia. We were active internationally in urging the Sudanese Government to allow NGOs to continue their essential humanitarian work in Darfur.

Sri Lanka

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Australia’s High Commissioner to Bangladesh, Dr Justin Lee (centre), with participants of the inaugral International Cooperation in Counter-Terrorism Workshop held in Dhaka from 26 to 30 April 2009, the first joint training exercise on counter-terrorism between the Australian Federal Police and the Bangladesh Police Staff College and the first activity undertaken under the auspices of the bilateral MOU on counter-terrorism.
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The department expressed concern over the security and humanitarian situation in northern Sri Lanka, particularly the impact of the conflict on civilians. During the final months of the military conflict in 2009, Australia called for all parties to make protecting civilians the absolute priority and to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone, reinforcing the calls of others in the international community.

Sri Lankan security forces defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in military action in May 2009. Over 280 000 internally displaced civilians were moved into camps administered by the Sri Lankan government. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, called for unrestricted access to the displaced persons camps by the United Nations and humanitarian agencies, and advocated early resettlement of the displaced population and the commencement of a process of political reform and reconciliation. The department worked with AusAID on the allocation of $23.5 million in Australian humanitarian assistance for internally displaced persons.

The High Commission in Colombo engaged Sri Lankan authorities to encourage them to take action against people smuggling (see sub-output 1.1.9).

Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives

Following two years of rule by a caretaker government, Bangladesh held parliamentary elections in December 2008. The department coordinated the participation of Australian election observers, including parliamentarians, at the elections. We concluded a counter-terrorism memorandum of understanding with Bangladesh.

The department made representations to the government of Nepal in respect of our trade and investment interests and continued to support consular activities and aid delivery.

Australia was represented at the coronation of the Fifth King of Bhutan by Australia’s High Commissioner in New Delhi, who is accredited to the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Australia welcomed the transition to democracy in the Maldives. The department sent election observers as part of a team organised by the European Union for the first multi-candidate presidential elections in October 2008 and the first multi-party parliamentary elections in May 2009.

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation

The department enhanced the Government’s engagement with South Asian countries by helping to obtain the decision in August 2008 by the leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to invite Australia to participate in SAARC as an observer. SAARC observer status will enable high-level Australian Government engagement with South Asian counterparts on an annual basis.


The department will assist the Government to deliver its commitment to further deepen relations with India. We will support a significant number of planned visits to India by senior Government ministers seeking to engage with the new Indian Government. We will enhance our engagement with South Asia more broadly, including by attending the SAARC Summit in Bhutan scheduled for the first half of 2010 as an observer for the first time.

The department’s role in coordinating the Government’s engagement with Pakistan to help address its profound economic, security and development challenges will be a priority. We will work with the international community to support the democratically elected government of Pakistan.

The department will facilitate an increased Australian presence in Afghanistan announced by the Prime Minister in April 2009, and coordinate the diplomatic and civilian aspects of Australia’s growing and complex whole-of-government engagement in Afghanistan.

Further development of the new phase in the relationship with Iraq will be a priority, including supporting engagement with Iraq by a wide range of Australian agencies.

The Middle East will remain a focus of attention. Developing an effective international response to Iran’s ongoing nuclear activities will remain a priority, as will making a constructive contribution to the Middle East peace process. We will pursue Australia’s substantial and growing trade and investment interests in the region. Further enhancing engagement with countries in the Gulf will also be a priority.

The department will increase its level of activity focused on Africa, through expanded high-level contact and engagement. We will encourage positive change in Zimbabwe. Responding to humanitarian crises on the continent as they occur will remain a high priority.

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