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






Services to Parliament, the Media and the Public : Sub-program 3.1

Description

The Parliamentary and Media Branch of the Public Affairs and Consular Division administers this sub-program. This branch also provides its services to all Australian overseas posts as operational requirements demand.

In May 1999, the branch underwent significant restructuring. It assumed departmental responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, Privacy Act 1982 and Archives Act 1983. With the incorporation of the Historical Documents Unit, the branch also took on responsibility for the production of publications to record and expand public knowledge of the portfolio’s history. These additional responsibilities were transferred to the branch from Sub-program 1.9, Information and Cultural Relations, administered by the Images of Australia Branch.

At the same time, responsibility for the International Media Centre in Sydney, for some media strategies and for Internet functions was transferred to Sub-program 1.9. As well, responsibility for ministerial travel was transferred to Sub-program 5.1, Executive Direction, administered by the Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch.

Table 40 Services to Parliament, the Media and the Public (3.1) Resources Summary

 

1997-98 Actual ($’000)

1998-99 Budget ($’000)

1998-99 Budget and Additional Estimates ($’000)

1998-99 Actual ($’000)

Appropriations

       

Running costs

3 642

3 719

3 725

4 074

Other program costs

0

0

0

0

Total appropriations

3 641

3 719

3 725

4 074

Less adjustments

50

100

121

157

Total outlays

3 591

3 619

3 604

3 917

Staff years

27

n.a.

n.a.

25

n.a.: Not applicable.

Figure 35 Services to Parliament, the Media and the Public (3.1) Organisational Chart

Figure 35

Objectives, Performance Indicators and Result

Objective



To coordinate the provision of the department’s advice to ministers and the Parliament; to coordinate responses to ministerial correspondence; to coordinate departmental advice to Cabinet; to assist parliamentary visits overseas, including by the presiding officers and parliamentary delegations; and to facilitate visits to Australia by the Parliament’s overseas counterparts.

Indicator



The timeliness and quality of ministers’ question time briefing ensured through improvements to the database of possible parliamentary questions (PPQs) and provision of training courses for departmental staff in PPQ writing; and coordination of effective departmental attendance at Senate Estimates’ hearings and of responses to questions on notice.

Improvements to the database of possible parliamentary questions through upgraded software were delayed until after January 2000 as a result of Y2K compliance projects. We expect the upgrade to be completed by early 2000.

The department maintained and updated as needed a current database averaging 100 PPQs, and improved PPQ quality by sharpening the focus and increasing readability, and by training 16 officers throughout the department in PPQ writing (double the number of the previous year).

We drafted for ministers’ consideration 134 answers to questions on notice, reducing the average response time by one-third for Senate questions (44 days). (Information is not available for our average response time to House of Representatives questions.)

Indicator



The level of service provided in responding to requests from parliamentary delegations and federal parliamentarians planning overseas travel, particularly help in arranging programs of calls; efficiency in responding to requests for briefing on portfolio issues by federal MPs as required; and the number of requests for assistance met.

We assisted approximately 50 members of Parliament and 15 parliamentary delegations with overseas visits. We also provided all members of Parliament with written guidance on the help available from the department for official overseas travel. We received no complaints from clients in providing these services.

Table 41 Number of Parliamentary Overseas Visits Assisted*

 

1998–99

Members of Parliament

50

Parliamentary delegations

15

Total

65

* Statistics available only from 1998–99 onward.

The department prepared approximately 50 briefings to parliamentarians, including presiding officers, and 20 informal briefings to parliamentary committees. As well, we coordinated 10 formal submissions to parliamentary inquiries. (Details concerning these inquiries are at Appendix 7.)

Indicator



Satisfaction of ministers and divisional clients with the timeliness, format and coordination of departmental advice and ministerial correspondence.

During the year in review, we processed 1 598 ministerial submissions and briefs to meet ministers’ deadlines. We also developed new departmental templates to ensure shorter and more focused briefing papers. This new briefing format was introduced in May 1999, and has been well received by ministers.

More than 1 000 courier runs to Parliament ensured regular, reliable service from the department. Responses from ministerial offices and divisional clients indicated a high level of satisfaction with the service provided.

The department processed 10 226 items of ministerial or departmental correspondence during the year in review. Commencing in January 1999 and continuing until the end of the reporting period, we ensured that there were no items of outstanding correspondence at the end of each month. Ministerial office staff and divisional clients expressed increased satisfaction with the ministerial correspondence system during the year.

Table 42 Number of Registered Items of Ministerial Correspondence, Replies, Ministerial Submissions and Briefs

 

1996–97

1997–98

1998–99

Ministerial correspondence

12 866

12 119

10 226

Replies to ministerial correspondence*

n.a.

n.a.

6 780

Ministerial submissions and briefs

2 105

1 916

1 598

* Excludes correspondence not requiring a reply, correspondence transferred to another agency, and campaign mail; statistics available only from 1998–99 onward.

Indicator



Satisfaction of ministers, the Cabinet Secretariat and the department with the timeliness and effectiveness of liaison with Cabinet.

During the year in review, the department handled 233 Cabinet documents, 28 of which originated within the department. We also coordinated comments on the department’s position in relation to 64 documents. Feedback from ministerial offices, the Cabinet Secretariat and divisional clients revealed a high level of satisfaction with the department’s performance in this area.

Table 43 Number of Cabinet Documents

 

1996–97

1997–98

1998–99

Cabinet documents

390

329

233

DFAT-originated documents

28

24

28


Objective



To provide timely, high-quality advice about Government policy and portfolio developments to the national and overseas news media and to members of the public, in order to stimulate informed public discussion of issues affecting the portfolio.

Indicator



Media satisfaction with the daily front-line response to inquiries, and the 24-hour service for Australian and international journalists; and client satisfaction with the sub-program’s coordination of the release and distribution of ministerial and departmental media releases, speeches and reports, media kits for special events, and daily news compilations.

Press commentary on the Government’s foreign and trade policy agenda was very positive over the review period. The department played an important supporting role, working with ministers’ offices to manage effectively media inquiries on major policy issues and consular incidents.

We regularly received positive feedback from the media. Journalists expressed satisfaction with the quality and availability of official media comment via the 24-hour media hotline service. Approximately 15 000 media and public inquiries were handled during business hours, and 2 500 media callers were assisted promptly after hours. More than 110 ministerial media releases were issued, and 200 transcripts were distributed, in addition to ministerial speeches and departmental publications. We also received positive feedback on the timeliness of the distribution and on the quality of the media releases, speeches and media kits.

Table 44 Number of Media Releases and Estimated Media Inquiries*

 

1998–99

Ministerial media releases

110

Inquiries from the media and the public

15 000

After-hours media callers

2 500

* Approximate numbers. Statistics available only from 1998–99 onward.

We continued the program of media briefings by senior departmental officers, giving more than 40 briefings on foreign and trade policy issues. We also continued to provide background briefings for Australian foreign correspondents prior to their postings abroad, to facilitate a greater understanding of Australia’s international policies. Foreign correspondents based in Australia were targeted by the media briefing program through the use of teleconferencing, along with one-on-one briefings where appropriate. A dedicated media services site was added to the department’s Internet website (http://www.dfat.gov.au/media).

Mr Downer Leaving a Press Conference about CARE australia workers Mr Steve Pratt and Mr Peter Wallace,

  • The department maintains an active relationship with the media, ensuring journalists have timely access to high-quality official media comment on foreign and trade policy issues via our 24-hour media hotline service. The photo shows Mr Downer leaving a press conference about CARE Australia workers, Mr Steve Pratt and Mr Peter Wallace, jailed in Yugoslavia. photo: Belinda Pratten\ The Sydney Morning Herald

Objective



To produce timely, well-researched and high-quality draft ministerial speeches that promote a clearer and more comprehensive understanding of Government policy directions and objectives.

Indicator



Satisfaction of ministers and other clients
with the quality and timeliness of ministerial speeches, and the extent to which they promote a clearer understanding of policy directions to varied audiences in Australia and overseas.

The department prepared more than 175 ministerial speeches on every aspect of Australia’s foreign and trade policy during the year. The number was slightly lower than the previous year, as speeches were not required from the department during the election period when the Government was in caretaker mode. All speeches were produced to deadline. We received consistently positive feedback on the quality of these speeches from ministers’ offices as well as from target audiences and organisers of speaking engagements. Many of the major speeches on Government policy were quoted in media reports, and several Australian overseas posts reported complimentary host government comment on speeches. Ministerial speeches helped foster an informed public debate in key areas of policy significance, including on Australia’s trade performance, our response to the East Asian economic crisis, and developments in Indonesia and East Timor.

Objective



To project abroad an image of modern Australia in support of our key foreign and trade policy objectives.

Indicator



The number of departmentally processed requests under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the Archives Act 1983 and the Privacy Act 1982 and the number not subject to requests for review or legal appeals; and client satisfaction with the promptness in processing requests.

We published Volume XV of Documents on Australian Foreign Policy, Australia & Indonesia’s Independence, Documents 1949, in July 1998. Several draft chapters of the department’s centenary history of Australia’s relations with Asia have also been completed.

On 13 August 1998, Mr Downer approved a new program of thematic volumes in the Documents series, commencing with Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia, 1963–66, and Australia and the Colombo Plan. Mr Downer subsequently authorised the department (on 1 March 1999) to produce a volume on Australia and Indonesia’s Incorporation of Portuguese Timor, 1974–76.

Objective



To administer the department’s responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the Archives Act 1983 and the Privacy Act 1982.

Indicator



The number of departmentally processed requests under the
Freedom of Information Act 1982, the Archives Act 1983 and the Privacy Act 1982 and the number not subject to requests for review or legal appeals; and client satisfaction with the promptness in processing requests.

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. 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 1982 and most exemptions in departmental records relate to intelligence, security, defence or international relations sensitivities.

During the year, we met our obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, processing 50 requests. We answered 521 public and official requests for information, 38 of them under sections 40 and 56 of the Archives Act 1983, and assessed 655 files for public or special access, 407 of them in response to requests made under the Archives Act. We received no inquiries in the past year relating to the Privacy Act 1982. Additional information is reported in the department’s section 8 statement in Appendix 5.

The department was asked to make only one internal review of a decision under the Freedom of Information Act. Clients have accepted our reasons for delays in releasing documents in the few cases in which deadlines have not been met under this Act. We received 34 requests for reconsideration of access decisions under the Archives Act 1983, but no appeals. There were no adverse decisions of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in relation to departmental decisions. We regularly received letters of thanks from the public for our actions under the Archives Act, and received no complaints from any clients relating to this Act.

Table 45 Number of Requests Processed under the
Freedom of Information Act 1982

 

1996–97

1997–98

1998–99

Requests for Information

     

Access granted in full

7

12

10

Access granted in part

21

16

33

Access refused

5

3

1

Requests transferred or withdrawn

15

19

6

Total

48

50

50

Requests Subject to Review or Legal Appeal

     

Subject to internal review

6

2

1

In Administrative Appeals Tribunal

2

0

1

Ombudsman

0

0

0

 

Table 46 Number of Requests Processed under the Archives Act 1983

 

1996–97

1997–98

1998–99

Requests for Information

     

Public

120

152

213

Official

115

201

258

Special access

45

37

50

Total

280

390

521

Files Assessed for International Relations Sensitivities Before Release to the Public

     

Records received

613

997

894

Records completed

813

743

655

Number of folios

166 258

127 618

142 709

Open access

212

311

131

Released with exemptions

601

383

517

Subject to review

4

3

34

Subject to appeal

0

0

0


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