The Department

3.1 Services to Parliament, the Media and the Public

Table 26: Resources Summary for Sub-program 3.1

Figure 35: Services to Parliament, the Media and the Public Program and Organisational Structure as at 30 June 1998

Sub-program Objectives

In 1997-98, the objectives of sub-program 3.1 were to:

  • coordinate the Department’s advice to ministers and the Parliament; assist parliamentary visits overseas, including by the presiding officers and parliamentary delegations, and facilitate visits to Australia by the Parliament’s overseas counterparts
  • provide timely, high-quality advice to national and overseas news media about government policy and portfolio developments in order to stimulate informed public discussion of issues affecting the portfolio.

Description

The Parliamentary and Media Branch of the Public Affairs and Consular Division administers the sub-program. In February, responsibility for administering the Department’s responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and the Privacy Act 1982 was transferred to sub-program 1.9, Information and Cultural Relations, administered by the Overseas Promotion and Olympics Branch. Responsibility for ministerial and cabinet liaison was transferred from sub-program 5.1, Executive Direction, administered by the Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch.

The sub-program pursues strategies designed to help achieve two of the Department’s corporate goals: to promote public understanding of Australia’s foreign and trade policy; and to provide clients with highly professional, efficient and effective services. These strategies include coordinating parliamentary travel and briefings, policy submissions to ministers and replies to ministerial correspondence; drafting and distributing speeches for portfolio ministers; and managing comprehensive question time briefing. The Department’s media operations include compiling a daily media summary and providing a 24-hour media inquiry service, a comprehensive website and an ongoing series of media briefings.

Performance Information

In 1997-98, the Department indicated that it would evaluate its performance using:

  • ministerial satisfaction with tasking and coordination of question time briefing
  • level of service provided in responding to parliamentary delegations and other requests from federal parliamentarians planning overseas travel, particularly help in arranging programs of calls; efficiency in responding to requests by federal MPs for briefings on portfolio issues; and number of requests for assistance met
  • satisfaction with the daily frontline response to media inquiries and the 24-hour service for Australian and international journalists; and client satisfaction with coordination of the release and distribution of ministerial and departmental media releases, speeches and reports, media kits for special events and daily news compilations
  • quality and timeliness of ministerial speeches which promote a clearer understanding of policy directions to varied audiences in Australia and overseas; and client satisfaction in responding to inquiries on speeches.

Performance Outcomes

The Department provided a high level of service to ministers and parliament through preparing comprehensive question time briefs, briefing and planning assistance for parliamentarians travelling overseas, and providing briefings in response to requests from committees. Ministers were satisfied that timely briefing material and speeches made national and international audiences more aware of policy directions.

Ministers’ offices and domestic and international media provided feedback indicating a high degree of satisfaction with the Department’s media operations; this continued a trend toward better informed and more positive media coverage of portfolio issues. In its first full year, the ‘senior spokesman’ initiative provided an ongoing series of media briefings, produced more than 50 briefings on a broad range of foreign and trade policy issues, and thereby increased the Department’s effectiveness in promoting better understanding of policy issues in the broader community. Journalists and the Prime Minister’s office acknowledged the Department’s contribution to media arrangements and its effective handling of them at the APEC summit in Vancouver, and during prime ministerial visits to Thailand and the United Kingdom, and guest of government visits to Australia including by the Argentine President, Carlos Menem, and the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Tung Chee Hwa.

The Department’s efforts advanced the management of media aspects of crisis issues, including Iraq and the assisted departure of Australians from Phnom Penh and Jakarta. The Department followed a three-tier strategy by delivering media briefings in Canberra, arranging forward placement of a media officer to assist media on the ground and establishing a ‘Hot Issues’ page on the Department’s Internet website (http://www.dfat.gov.au/hot/index.html) to provide hourly updates on changing circumstances. In the case of Indonesia, for example, this helped to provide balanced and authoritative reporting of the events as they occurred and enhanced the Department’s capacity to deliver clear messages to Australians considering travel to Indonesia.

The Department prepared some 200 ministerial speeches promoting Australia’s foreign and trade policy. Important themes included the East Asian economic crisis and Australia’s continued commitment to the region, the importance of continued domestic economic reform to Australia’s international trade performance and the need to promote further trade liberalisation. The Department prepared Mr Downer’s speeches used to address ‘Australia’s Foreign Policy Priorities’ in August; these set out the Government’s general foreign policy principles and future action plan. The Department also prepared speeches for Mr Fischer addressing public interest in the Government’s trade policies. These speeches explained how a multi-layered strategy combining bilateral relationships, regional trade initiatives and activities in multilateral forums, such as the WTO, advances Australia’s economic and trade interests.

Through its International Media Centre in Sydney, the Department continued to promote close contact with foreign correspondents, arranging some 150 functions, including media briefings, conferences and addresses by ministers to foster effective communication and provide access to portfolio information. It encouraged a trend for international media organisations to establish bureaus in Australia. These efforts contributed to the London Daily Telegraph, Germany’s Handelsblatt and several Chinese and Japanese groups establishing permanent representatives in Sydney. Also the Overseas Media Visitors program hosted 53 senior journalists, including important groups from China and Japan.

Photo: Local media and foreign correspondents attend a press conference at the Department's International Media Centre in Sydney. (photo: Peter Kelly Photography)

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