OUTCOME 3: Public understanding in Australia and overseas of Australias foreign and trade policy and a positive image of Australia internationally
Provision of public information and media services on Australias foreign and trade policy
The department provided one of the best media relations units in government and we received positive feedback from media contacts on our services. We handled more than 6 000 calls from the media in Australia and overseas. Events in East Timor, Indonesia and the South Pacific generated large numbers of media inquiries and requests for policy information and briefings. At critical times, advice to the media was updated daily.
The department strongly supported ministers in their dealings with the domestic media. This included media liaison support for the APEC trade ministers meeting; media briefings on urgent consular issues such as the detention of CARE Australia workers in Yugoslavia and the canyoning tragedy in Interlaken, Switzerland; and the installation of an audiotape service for regional and rural radio stations. The department prepared and disseminated information on the benefits to Australia of international trade, particularly for rural and regional areas.
More than 30 formal media briefings were held by senior departmental officials and we distributed more than 250 ministerial media statements during the year.
A comprehensive review of the departments Internet website (www.dfat.gov.au) resulted in design and content changes that improved its accessibility and relevance. Specific clients such as business, media and students, now have their own gateways, and quick links are provided to speeches, media releases and travel advisories. Access has improved for Australians with disabilities and those in rural and remote communities.
Comprehensive country-specific information, including details of bilateral relationships and economic and trade policy directions, was added to the site. Most country pages (www.dfat.gov.au/geo) now contain fact sheets, links of relevance to bilateral relationships and contact information in Australia and overseas. The website also provided information about special events, such as the visits to Australia by the President of the Peoples Republic of China and the President of the Republic of Korea, the APEC trade ministers meeting in Darwin and the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference in Seattle.
A new sitean interactive service designed specifically for Australians doing business overseas (www.dfat.gov.au/tw/)provides information on economic and trade developments in Australias trading partners. Another new site launched in June 2000 (www.bizapec.com) provides online business information about the APEC economies, which received nearly three-quarters of Australias exports in 1999. The department produced a new publication, APEC: Getting Results for Business, which explains the business relevance of APEC trade facilitation work. The new WTO Disputes Investigations and Enforcement Mechanism was also made available on-line. For more information on these online services to business, see output 1.4.3.
All the departments publications are now available on the website, including major policy documents such as the Corporate Plan 20002002 (www.dfat.gov.au/corporateplan) and the Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement 2000 (www.dfat.gov.au/toos). In a first for the Australian Public Service, departmental publications can now be purchased online (www.publications.dfat.gov.au).
We implemented a website privacy statement and, in line with guidelines from the Privacy Commissioner, restricted monitoring of network information. We also reviewed and improved website and network security.
Although the department is increasingly using the Internet as a distribution platform for international public affairs material, we also maintain a small but focused publications program to disseminate accurate and timely information to target audiences (through overseas posts and State and Territory offices). A list of departmental publications produced or updated during the year is at Appendix 8.
We updated our general fact sheet series (www.dfat.gov.au/facts) covering a wide range of aspects of modern Australia, including cultural diversity, trade, culture and the arts, education, science and the Centenary of Federation.
We produced the first in a series of curriculum materials for senior secondary and primary school studentson climate change issues for secondary students and on the clearance and abolition of landmines for primary students. Feedback has confirmed that these materials are filling a gap in educating young Australians on the benefits flowing from active bilateral, regional and global engagement. This work will be expanded in the future.
An evaluation of the publications program was conducted during the year to ensure that it complements the Internet program. As a result, we discontinued the publication of a number of journals and rationalised the number of hard-copy fact sheets produced in favour of posting more up-to-date and comprehensive information on the website.
Australia in Brief
The department produced an updated edition of our reference booklet, Australia in Brief, which now has a stronger emphasis on policy issues such as the economy, trade, foreign policy, defence and the environment as well as broader way of life features. By the end of the financial year more than 120 000 copies had been distributed to overseas posts. Plans are under way for local-language versions of the publication to be produced in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Spanish, Thai and possibly Vietnamese, Portuguese, and Dutch.
In response to the increasing international interest in Australias Indigenous peoples, the department produced a series of 14 Indigenous fact sheets. The series covered reconciliation, land rights and native title, Indigenous Australians and business, Government policies on health, housing, employment and education, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), Indigenous Australians and the Olympic Games, and the mining industrys relationship with Aboriginal communities. These publications have served a major information need, with posts using them to brief media representatives and other interested parties. Four thousand hard copies of each fact sheet were distributed.
The department promoted domestic awareness of the importance of Australian membership of the WTO and the benefits of trade more generally through public consultation in State capitals and five regional centres before the WTO ministerial meeting in Seattle, and briefings and public presentations to a wide range of clients across Australia. More information on our work to promote trade liberalisation can be found in outcome 1.
Recognising the importance of the debate on globalisation to the prospects for a new WTO round of trade negotiations, the department produced the report, APECA Decade of Progress (www.dfat.gov.au/apec). The report explains how a combination of open economic policies and institutional reform has led to improvements in social conditions across the board. The department established a new service for business, the WTO Disputes Investigations and Enforcement Mechanism, providing exporters with a formal means to petition the Government in cases where they believe others may be in breach of WTO commitments and to request the government to exercise Australias rights under the WTO Dispute Settlement Understanding on their behalf.
Agricultural trade: Cairns Group
Through outreach activities with delegations in Geneva, New York, and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome, the department built greater international support from major developing countries for the Cairns Groups positions on agriculture trade. Following this work, the Group of 77 developing countries officially called for the elimination of agricultural export subsidies, a key Cairns Group objective. The Cairns Groups UN Resolution on trade in agriculture was passed by a large majority of developing countries, many of which explicitly rejected trade-distorting agricultural protection measures in forums like the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the FAO.
Domestic awareness of the benefits of trade
During the year the department embarked on a major educational program on the role of trade in regional and rural Australia. A departmental team, supported by State and Territory offices, interviewed around 300 exporting companies and local organisations in over 30 regions covering most of Australia. Analysis of statistical data has underlined the strong links between exports, employment and incomes in regional areas.
The principal program output was a series of Exporting to the World brochures covering 18 individual regions, with a further 15 to follow. As well as explaining the benefits of trade to regional areas, they highlight export success stories across a range of industries and the contribution of exports to local employment and economic activity. The brochures also point out how government efforts to open up overseas markets to Australian exports bring practical benefit to local industries. A more detailed publication will draw together the findings of all the regional consultations and the econometric and statistical analysis.
This activity implements the recommendations of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Primary Industry, Resources and Rural and Regional Australia, which in 1998 called for public awareness programs to showcase successful exporters and demonstrate the benefits of trade reforms to regional communities.
The departments information booth at the Northern Territory Trade Expo in July 1999 generated a high level of interest and was effective in promoting the role of the department, our services and publications to business and the broader community.
A key regional event offering major opportunities for promoting Australias trade and investment interests was the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit 2000, which took place in Melbourne from 11 to 13 September 2000. In the lead-up to the summit the department assisted the World Economic Forum (WEF), along with the Victorian Government and the Australian Davos Connection, with summit preparations.
Arms control, security and nuclear issues
The department worked hard to improve domestic understanding of regional security policies, and to explain Australian approaches in bodies such as the Council for Security Cooperation in Asia and the Pacific and the ASEAN Regional Forum. We maintained high-quality website coverage of regional security and ASEAN Regional Forum matters. We also contributed to public debate on nuclear non-proliferation and arms control issues, particularly in the context of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
We promoted Government objectives on arms control and disarmament at three meetings of the National Consultative Committee on Peace and Disarmament. While cost pressures forced the discontinuation of Peace and Disarmament News, the department will use our website to reach a wider audience.
In 1996, the Government established a system to provide free public access to treaty information. Early in 2000, the last of the texts of all treaties to which Australia had been a party since Federation in 1901 was loaded on the Australian Treaties Library, providing Internet access to the texts of approximately 2 600 treaties (30 000 pages of original text), together with background and supporting information. The Australian Treaty List, which summaries all Australian treaties, was published, the first complete list for ten years, completing a century of Australian treaty-making.
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