Annual Report 2008-2009
 

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Your location: Performance > Outcome 3 > Output 3.1 > 3.1.1 Public information and media services on Australia's foreign and trade policy

OUTPUT 3.1: Public information services and public diplomacy

3.1.1 Public information and media services on Australia's foreign and trade policy

On this page: Overview :: Media services :: Website services :: Trade advocacy and outreach ::Speeches :: Treaties :: Outlook

Overview

The department’s work continued to attract substantial public and media attention. In addition to strong media interest in consular cases, there was also a high level of interest in a number of significant foreign and trade policy developments. We gave a high priority to assisting the media to provide informed and balanced coverage of these issues.

The department’s online services experienced high usage levels, in particular for information across the range of foreign and trade policy, media releases, travel advice and passports information. Demand for our trade advocacy materials, including specialist trade-related publications, statistics and services, both publications and online, remained high.

Media services

The department’s provision of consular assistance to Australians overseas attracted significant media interest. High-profile consular cases included individual cases in Croatia, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. Drug cases involving Australians overseas were also a focus of media interest.

In addition to responding to enquiries on these issues, we arranged 52 background briefings and interviews. Issues covered by individual media briefings included free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations, the Doha Round, developments in Zimbabwe, the Middle East, the Pacific and South Asia, and nuclear issues. We also provided general media briefings on APEC, the Australia–European Union Partnership Framework and FTA negotiations. We received positive feedback from the media on these briefings.

We provided strategic media advice and support to ministers in connection with a range of international meetings, including the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Niue in August 2008; the inaugural meeting of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament in Sydney in October 2008; the APEC Leaders’ meeting in Lima in November 2008; the Australia–Indonesia: Partners in a new era conference in Sydney in February 2009; Anzac Day commemorations in Turkey in April 2009; and the Australia–PNG Ministerial Forum meeting in Brisbane in June 2009.

In the monitoring of media reporting, our priority remained to ensure portfolio ministers, parliamentary secretaries and the senior executive were kept fully informed of media interest in, and reporting on, key portfolio and emerging issues. This monitoring also helped us to provide informed and timely responses to occasionally incomplete or inaccurate media coverage of portfolio issues.

We responded to over 7078 media enquiries from domestic and foreign media outlets, of which 2108 were handled by the after-hours media liaison duty officer. This was consistent with the level of enquiries in the previous year.

We assisted with the issuing of 393 press releases from portfolio ministers, parliamentary secretaries and the department itself. We issued 70 notes to the media advising them of such matters as accreditation requirements for overseas events and details of media conferences. We also facilitated and distributed 337 transcripts for ministers and the senior executive.

We provided in-house training on dealing successfully with the media on portfolio issues to new graduate recruits, consular officers and selected officers going on overseas postings.

Website services

The department’s suite of websites remained a key tool in delivering online services and accurate and current information. Information across the range of foreign and trade policy issues and specific services (such as consular and passport services) attracted significant public interest. The departmental home page includes regularly updated information on current issues and events.

In response to an external content and design review commissioned in 2007–08, we appointed a website design company to enhance the useability and appearance of our corporate and ministerial websites. This was the first phase of a major strategic review of our web presence planned for 2009–10. This review will also address issues raised in an Australian National Audit Office audit of a number of websites, including the department’s.

We continued to strive for full compliance with current guidelines aimed at ensuring websites are accessible to people with a disability, as required by the Australian Government Information Management Office.

New subsidiary websites were established during the year for the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament and for Australia’s candidature for a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2013–2014.

We launched a new project to enhance server capacity to manage unexpected demand while providing effective business continuity systems. To improve productivity and better balance staff workloads pending the outcome of the strategic review, an interim content management tool was installed to streamline control of updates and other changes to the site.

The website recorded high usage, bearing out its importance in our overall public advocacy strategy. Average weekly access to the website remained stable, compared to 2007–08, at around 755 000 page-views per week. The smartraveller website recorded an average of 512 000 page-views per week compared to 476 000 in 2007–08.

Trade advocacy and outreach

The department produced a variety of public diplomacy materials, including media releases, brochures, fact sheets and articles, to encourage greater understanding of the Government’s trade policy and to spell out the benefits of trade to the Australian community.

We developed a series of fact sheets about the ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand FTA (AANZFTA) and, in conjunction with Austrade, a brochure explaining the key points of the Australia–Chile FTA. We commissioned a study by the Centre for International Economics titled Benefits of trade and trade liberalisation, which was launched by the Minister for Trade on 1 June 2009. The study quantified the benefits to growth, income and employment in Australia that have been generated by Australia’s trade reform over the past 20 years.

We played a leading role in delivering key messages to the Australian community on the broader benefits of trade and investment. We regularly produced and disseminated information and advocacy material to the media, stakeholders and the public on issues such as World Trade Organization negotiations and the latest trade statistics and analysis.

Economic analysis

We produced an analytical publication, Australia and Japan: How distance and complementarity shape a remarkable commercial relationship. The publication highlights the importance of the Australia–Japan relationship to both countries, as well as to the Asia-Pacific region. The Parliamentary Secretary for Trade launched the publication at Parliament House on 5 December 2008.

We covered a wide range of trade issues through the inclusion of articles in our various trade publications. One article, for example, noted the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ decision to make imports of large aircraft confidential from September 2008. As a result, Australia’s reported total trade with Brazil, Canada, France and the United States would be lower, but Australia’s reported total trade with the world would not be affected. Our trade statistical publications contained other analyses, including the reconciliation of Australia’s reported trade with that of partner country data.

Market information and research

The department’s trade statistical publications and monthly trade statistics remain valuable resources for businesses, researchers and members of the public. The publications, covering the composition and direction of Australia’s trade in goods and services with over 220 countries, are available free online. Monthly trade statistical updates provide a snapshot of Australia’s trade performance, including the composition and direction of trade.

Australia’s trade by state and territory, produced annually by the department, provides detailed statistical data and analysis of the composition and direction of trade by state and territory. It is the only publication which provides detailed trade information covering all states and territories in one easy-to-use book.

There were over 700 000 website downloads of the publications in the reporting period. The Composition of Trade Australia, which is produced on a calendar and fiscal year basis, received over 235 000 downloads.

Commercial and statistical services

We maintained our consultancy service which provides statistical information and advice, on a fee-for-service basis, to Australian businesses and researchers. While the service specialises in trade and economic data on Australia’s trading and business relationships, it also provides information on the global trade of over 100 countries (accounting for around 90 per cent of total world trade).

In 2008–09, the department’s statistical consultancy service answered around 5000 enquiries, compared to around 6000 in 2007–08.

A set of fact sheets, including economic and demographic data for more than 170 of Australia’s trading partners and summaries of their trade with Australia, is available on the department’s website at www.dfat.gov.au/geo/fs. The fact sheets are a valuable resource for Australian business people travelling overseas.

Speeches

The department’s speechwriters, in consultation with ministers’ offices and relevant areas of the department, prepared 118 speeches for ministers, parliamentary secretaries and the senior executive.

Treaties

The Australian Treaties Database is an online public resource maintained by the department for researching treaties to which Australia is a signatory, or where Australia has taken other treaty action. The database can be accessed at www.info.dfat.gov.au/treaties. The department links the database to all government legislation and regulations passed or issued relevant to Australian treaty action since 1983.

Outlook

The media will retain a close interest in high-profile consular cases and in major foreign and trade policy developments. We will continue to accord priority to the provision of accurate information and targeted background briefings to media representatives. We will conduct a strategic review of the department’s web-based services to ensure this important public advocacy tool remains comprehensive, up-to-date, accessible and responsive during periods of high demand.

We will continue our leading role in delivering key messages to the Australian community on the benefits of trade and investment, as well as specific statistical information about our trading partners. Our production and dissemination of information and advocacy material to the media, stakeholders and the public on issues such as World Trade Organization negotiations and the latest trade statistics and analysis will remain a priority.

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