Department Foreign Affairs & Trade  
Annual Report - Contents
DFAT Annual Report 1998-99

Appendix 5: Freedom of Information

This statement is provided in accordance with section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and is correct to 30 June 1999. It replaces the statement published in the 1997–98 Annual Report of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Access to Records under the Freedom of Information Act 1982

The Freedom of Information Act 1982 extends the right to obtain access to documents in the Government’s possession. Access is limited only by exemptions that protect essential public interests and the private and business affairs of people about whom departments and statutory authorities collect and hold information. During the year, we met our obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, processing 50 requests.

Members of the public seeking access to documents should lodge a formal Freedom of Information request. This must be made in writing, be accompanied by a $30 application fee, and include a telephone number, a fax number (if available) and an address within Australia to which notifications are to be addressed. Requests should be sent to:

Freedom of Information Unit
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
RG Casey Building
John McEwen Crescent
Barton ACT 0221
Tel (02) 6261 2903
Tel (02) 6261 1170

The department’s State and Territory offices also can be contacted for this purpose (see Appendix 14 for address lists).

When a request for access to a document is sought under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, a decision on whether to grant this access is made by a departmental Senior Executive Service officer responsible for the relevant work area to which the request relates.

The department levies the applicable fees and charges imposed under the Freedom of Information Regulations (fees and charges). Such fees and charges may be remitted, reduced or not imposed if grounds for financial hardship or general public interest can be established. Further advice regarding fees and charges may be directed to the Freedom of Information Unit of the department.

Access to Records under the Archives Act 1983

Records more than 30 years old are available for public access under the Archives Act 1983, except for information that falls into an exempted category. Archival records are not subject to the Privacy Act and most exemptions in departmental records relate to intelligence, security, defence or international relations sensitivities. Records are mostly held by the National Archives of Australia. Applications for access under the Archives Act should be addressed to:

Director, Access and Information Services
National Archives of Australia
PO Box 7425
Canberra Mail Centre ACT 2600
Tel (02) 6212 3900

The Archives Act also allows the department to grant approved individuals special access to records not generally available to the public. Where the records contain potentially exempt material, a charge will be levied to cover the actual cost of assessment and administration. Inquiries about eligibility for special access or information on departmental history should be addressed to:

Director, Historical Records Information and Access
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
RG Casey Building
John McEwen Crescent
Barton ACT 0221
Tel (02) 6261 2619
Tel (02) 6261 2628

We also publish a comprehensive range of public information on our website (

Functions and Powers

The department exercises, or participates in the exercise of, the following functions and decision-making powers:

  • entering into multilateral and bilateral treaties and arrangements, and their administration including:
    • implementing the World Trade Organization Agreement and its annexed agreements
    • negotiating intellectual property provisions under Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights
    • negotiating protocols and disciplines pursuant to the General Agreement on Trade in Services
    • implementing bilateral trade agreements, such as the Australia–New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement
    • implementing Australia's nuclear safeguards agreements and related multilateral arrangements
    • implementing treaties and agreements relating to arms control and disarmament
    • administering Australia's bilateral cultural agreements
    • fulfilling responsibilities under the Torres Strait and Timor Gap treaties
    • implementing the provisions of the Vienna conventions on diplomatic and consular relations
    • negotiating commodity agreements
    • fulfilling Australia's obligations under the United Nations Charter and international conventions
    • negotiating and implementing agreements to promote and protect human rights
    • negotiating and implementing investment promotion and protection agreements
    • negotiating and implementing environmental treaties
    • implementing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and associated maritime delimitation agreements
    • monitoring the implementation of Australia's extradition treaties and similar arrangements with Commonwealth and other countries and treaties of mutual assistance on criminal matters, and the negotiation of further treaties;
  • assisting Australian citizens travelling and residing overseas, including:
    • providing welfare assistance in cases such as death, arrest, hospitalisation, war, civil unrest and disaster
    • granting relief to, and assisting with repatriation of, Australians in difficulties overseas, where appropriate
    • registering Australian citizens
    • performing notarial acts
    • registering children born overseas to Australian parents as Australian citizens, as provided for under the Citizenship Act 1948
    • taking evidence overseas on the authority of an Australian court order;
  • providing postal voting facilities overseas under the direction of the Australian Electoral Commission and State electoral authorities;
  • issuing passports and other travel documents;
  • granting territorial and extra-territorial asylum;
  • performing duties overseas under the Shipping Registration Act 1981 and the Navigation Act 1912 under the direction of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority;
  • processing full-time student applications on behalf of the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs;
  • issuing visas for entry into Australia where the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs is not represented;
  • granting official financial assistance for holding international conferences in Australia;
  • authorising official expenditure on cultural exchanges, tours, exhibitions, academic exchanges and visits;
  • undertaking and publishing analyses of economic and political developments affecting Australia, with a view to encouraging informed debate on their implications;
  • providing advice and export permits to Australian Government agencies and the private sector with regard to Australia's obligations under UN sanctions regimes, including trade with and donations to Iraq and trade with Libya under UN sanctions regimes;
  • representing the Australian Government in international litigation, including in the International Court of Justice; and
  • assisting Australian exporters through the provision of advice to the minister on trade finance issues, including the operations of the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation.

Outside Participation

The department is open to the views of outside organisations and provides opportunities for community representatives to contribute to developing aspects of Australia’s international relations through:

  • representation on bodies such as the Foreign Affairs Council, Australia International Cultural Council, Australia–China Council, Australia–France Foundation (whose director is located in the Australian embassy in Paris), Australia–India Council, Australia–Indonesia Institute, Australia–Japan Foundation (whose director is located in the Australian embassy in Tokyo), Australia–Korea Foundation, National Consultative Committee on Peace and Disarmament, and the Non-government Organisation Consultative Forum on International Environmental Issues;
  • our regular exchange of views with organisations including Amnesty International and other human rights organisations, and the UN Association of Australia;
  • our consultations with the Australian Industries Development Association, the Confederation of Australian Industries (and the various business cooperation committees that meet under the confederation's aegis), and Australian industry, including the Australian Wheat Board, Australian Dairy Corporation, Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Services Network, Australian Ricegrowers’ Cooperative Limited and Queensland Sugar Corporation. These consultations consider priorities for multilateral trade negotiations and other negotiations to alleviate problems caused by market access restrictions;
  • participation in Australian delegations to international meetings and/or conferences, such as the Executive Committee meeting of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change;
  • the department’s formal arrangements for consultations with interested bodies on trade-related matters, including the Trade Policy Advisory Council, National Trade Consultations, Agricultural Trade Consultative Group and various business councils;
  • the process of public consultations the department pursues to shape Australia’s position on new multilateral trade negotiations in the World Trade Organization;
  • our liaison with other departments and agencies with relevant technical competencies in areas such as quarantine, mining and air services;
  • participation in consultations with the UN Sanctions Committee;
  • our liaison process with industry in the preparation of the annual Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement; and
  • the business relations programs operated by the department’s State and Territory offices, which strengthen links with business, provide briefings, and organise seminars on trade policy and development issues, as well as maintaining regular consultations with business.

During the review period, the department undertook to encourage broader and more informed discussion of foreign and trade policy in the media through the departmental senior spokesperson. Regular senior spokesperson briefings gave the media access to authoritative sources on a very broad range of issues, ranging from important trade policy advances to major unfolding news stories on Iraq and Indonesia. Frequently, a panel of officials with expert knowledge of the subject of the briefing accompanied the senior spokesperson. The panel also often included representatives of other Government departments and agencies.

The department frequently provided individual companies with briefings on trade and economic developments in relevant countries. In consultation with relevant business groups, the department also organised trade missions where sufficient interest and justification existed.

To ensure the department understood community views on issues affecting Australia's region, we met representatives of community groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and religious organisations. Such meetings also provided community groups with information on aspects of international affairs, including advice on Australia's foreign and international trade policies.

The department consulted industry, environment and development groups on international environment issues through consultative arrangements with non-government organisations. The Council of Australian Governments facilitated this communication with the States and Territories.

In terms of liaison with universities, colleges and academic circles, the department engaged in exchanges of views on current political, international, legal and international development issues, and encouraged departmental officers to meet and speak with community groups.

Public Diplomacy

Under the umbrella of public diplomacy, the department administered an overseas program of public affairs and cultural relations in support of Australian foreign policy and trade objectives. The program covered all aspects of Australian life, including science and technology, social and economic projects, the arts, Australian studies, sports development activities, a range of visits programs, and academic and media exchanges. The department consulted a wide range of institutions, agencies and individuals in arranging public diplomacy programs, including relevant State and Commonwealth departments and agencies, business and industry organisations, the media, arts groups, sports organisations, the education industry, and non-government organisations and institutions.

Evaluation of Departmental Activities

The department delivers a mix of policy advice, services and public advocacy. Departmental activities are evaluated through a variety of mechanisms. In terms of periodic evaluation on the achievement and setting of objectives, key evaluation tools in the department are the Divisional Evaluation Review, Post Evaluation Report and, in the case of the State and Territory offices, Office Evaluation Report. These mechanisms provided an opportunity for the department’s Senior Executive to examine carefully the key priorities for work areas in the forthcoming year and to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of work areas in meeting objectives in the past year. In making these evaluations, the process may entail extensive consultations with a range of stakeholders, both within and outside the department. The department also undertook a number of non-periodic assessments of work unit performance on an element of a particular program, through management reviews, audits or evaluations. In addition, the department occasionally sought consultants to assist in reviewing a particular activity.

Categories of Documents

Documents more than five years old are transferred into archival custody or destroyed in accordance with a disposal schedule. Australia’s overseas posts have documentary holdings of their own, which may parallel those the department holds in Canberra and in State and Territory offices.

The department has extensive documentary holdings, including:

  • cables, minutes, memorandums, file notes, and other documents concerning political and economic matters, human rights, refugees, disarmament, security, trade and other issues in foreign countries and international organisations;
  • submissions to portfolio ministers and senior officers;
  • electronic records of departmental file titles;
  • storage of texts of inwards and outwards cablegrams;
  • computer disk storage of statistical and other material;
  • working files, including consular and passport case files, and correspondence;
  • documents received from foreign governments, including notes verbale and aides memoire;
  • Australian and foreign intelligence community documents;
  • documents prepared for use in legal proceedings;
  • texts of speeches and press statements on foreign affairs and trade;
  • documents prepared to brief the business community on the economic/business environment of overseas countries;
  • ministerial correspondence;
  • the Australian treaty collection and the collection of agreements of less-than-treaty status;
  • briefs for Australian delegations and ministers visiting overseas;
  • cabinet submissions and decisions;
  • credentials of foreign heads of mission in Australia;
  • series Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937–1949 and Documents on Australian Foreign Policy (post 1950 series);
  • the series Current Notes 1936–1972 and Australian Foreign Affairs Record 1973–1992;
  • documents of international agencies;
  • emergency task force papers;
  • Executive Council minutes;
  • annual Post Evaluation Report papers;
  • Divisional Evaluation Review;
  • Office Evaluation Report;
  • evaluation and audit reports;
  • reports and working papers of the East Asia Analytical Unit;
  • directives to, instructions to, and briefings for overseas posts;
  • reports on meetings and conferences;
  • reports to UN treaty bodies;
  • briefings for ministers on possible parliamentary questions;
  • records of appearances by departmental officers before the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, and other parliamentary committees;
  • ad hoc reports on overseas official travel by federal and State members of Parliament;
  • briefs for, and reports on, post liaison visits;
  • corporate planning documents, including the Corporate Plan 1997–1999, Portfolio Budget Statements and Additional Estimates Statements;
  • documents and databases relating to budget and human resources management;
  • documents on office supplies and equipment, motor vehicles, telephones and general office services matters;
  • documents on property and accommodation matters within Australia;
  • documents relating to the funding of overseas property;
  • documents relating to workplace bargaining;
  • documents relating to the selection of experts, engagements of individual and institutional experts, advisory board members, project managers and contracts for the engagement of consultants;
  • documents on personnel planning, conditions of service, career development counselling, and discipline and grievance matters;
  • reports of selection advisory committees and joint selection committees;
  • documents on average staffing levels;
  • documents and databases relating to staff employed overseas (locally engaged staff), their salaries, conditions, classifications and numbers;
  • documents and databases relating to the design, implementation and operation of the department’s computer-based information handling, storage, retrieval and control systems serving the areas of communications, accounting, records management, consular, passports, freedom of information, training, management, aid projects and training awards;
  • documents on fraud investigations;
  • documents on personnel security, physical and protective security, funding of protective security measures, post inspection reports, technical and information technology security, and contingency plans in relation to the department’s operations abroad and in Australia;
  • a database on incidents affecting security overseas;
  • a database of business clients in the department’s State and Territory offices;
  • documents and a database relating to foreign diplomatic and consular personnel in Australia;
  • memorandums and cablegrams;
  • records of meetings and discussions;
  • submissions to senior officers and portfolio ministers;
  • standard paragraphs for correspondence on a wide range of policy items;
  • documents relating to funding, financial operations, debtors and payment of claims in Australia and overseas;
  • documents relating to claims under the Scheme for Compensation Due to Defective Administration;
  • magnetic storage and microfiche records of passport issue details;
  • electronic record of passport applications and relevant attachments;
  • master sets of DFAT News, an internal departmental bulletin;
  • organisation charts and related information;
  • personal records of employees, including some data on their families and next of kin;
  • personal security files on security-cleared personnel;
  • records of travel, removals and storage;
  • sets of administrative circulars;
  • sets of current and discontinued information papers;
  • public information materials projecting Australia and its policies overseas on film, video cassette, radio tape, compact disc, slide and written forms;
  • training material in various forms, such as film, video cassettes and slides;
  • annual forward IT procurement plans;
  • a permit register under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987;
  • documents and database records related to implementation of the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1994;
  • survey returns relating to the identification of companies and organisations subject to permit and notification requirements of the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1994;
  • documents and records related to implementation of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; and
  • documents and database records related to policy and transactional issues under the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation EFIC Act 1991 (note: EFIC’s activities under parts 4 and 5 of the Act are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act 1982).

Registers of Australian Births Overseas

Since the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs records details of Australians born overseas, people may seek extracts from the registers through that department. Consular officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade performing functions under the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 at Australian overseas posts also maintain registers of Australians born overseas.

Although data entered in our registers are regularly notified to the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the registers themselves are held at the posts concerned. People may request and obtain extracts from the relevant posts.

Documents for Sale and Free of Charge

Many documents are available either for purchase or for free from Commonwealth Government Info bookshops or the department. All departmental publications currently stocked are listed in
Appendix 6.

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