Southeast Asia

Program 1.1, 1.7, 1.8 and 1.10

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Australia’s foreign, trade and economic, development and international security policy interests and international standing are advanced through:

  • strengthened key international relationships, including high-level political and economic engagement with Indonesia and other countries of Southeast Asia

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  • contribution to enhanced regional architecture through the East Asia Summit (EAS) and dialogue with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

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An enhanced environment for security and development, including through:

  • effective whole-of-government efforts to promote international stability and development1

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  • participation in counter-terrorism programs and activities, including in Southeast Asia.

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To assist developing countries in the East Asia region by contributing to sustainable economic growth to reduce poverty and lift living standards.

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To assist developing countries respond to emergencies and assist refugees.

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Key Performance Indicators



The department’s advocacy, negotiation and liaison on Australia’s foreign, trade and economic, development and international security interests contributes positively to bilateral, regional and multilateral outcomes that help ensure the security and prosperity of Australia and Australians.

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Achievement of significant development results, including progress towards aid performance benchmarks which will provide a more rigorous approach to achieving value-for-money and results on the ground.

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1 New deliverable for 2014–15.


Australia’s economic and security interests remain inextricably linked with the countries of Southeast Asia. With a population of 620 million and a combined GDP of around US$2.5 trillion, the region remains an increasingly important partner for Australian trade and investment. In 2014, total trade with ASEAN countries amounted to over $100 billion, more than with Japan, the European Union or the United States.

The pursuit of regional economic integration has been a key aspiration of Southeast Asian nations over the past decade. The department worked to ensure Australian businesses are well positioned to take advantage of opportunities created by regional supply chains. Our economic diplomacy efforts were exemplified in the department’s facilitation of the Trade and Investment Minister’s visits to Indonesia, Singapore, Burma and the Philippines and by the successful visit to Australia of a Vietnamese business delegation, led by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

Australia’s development assistance supported efforts to improve economic governance in countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Cambodia.

Figure 7: Estimated department ODA to Southeast Asia (a)

Horizontal area graph of estimated department ODA to Southeast Asia, 2014–15

We introduced new mechanisms to deepen relations with countries in the region. The department coordinated whole-of-government efforts to establish the new Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Singapore, and we bolstered the growing relationship with Vietnam through the Declaration on Enhancing the Australia–Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership.

The department managed $1332.5 million in bilateral and regional aid across Southeast Asia to provide targeted and, on occasion, innovative assistance to support development in the region. We supported people-to-people links through initiatives such as the staging of the Australia–Malaysia Young Diplomats’ Roundtable. We also supported gender equality and empowerment of women in the region, for example, through the visit to Burma by the Ambassador for Women and Girls.

Australia maintained positive engagement with ASEAN countries on shared challenges such as countering violent extremism and security issues, including maritime and human security. Our work in strengthening regional institutions, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and the East Asia Summit (EAS), supported the promotion of human rights, democratic principles, the rule of law and international security.


The department faced a number of challenges in managing extensive government, economic and people-to-people relationships with Indonesia.

The Foreign Minister visited Bali in August 2014 to sign the ‘Joint Understanding on a Code of Conduct’, strengthening cooperation between intelligence agencies after a difficult period. We also supported the Prime Minister’s visit to Indonesia in October 2014 to attend the inauguration of Indonesian President Joko Widodo. In November 2014, President Widodo, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro attended the G20 Summit in Brisbane, during which we facilitated a bilateral meeting between foreign ministers.

We engaged early with President Widodo’s administration to initiate relationships with new ministers and officials in key economic portfolios that support our mutual economic, trade and investment interests. This included a meeting between the Trade and Investment Minister with his counterpart, Trade Minister Rachmat Gobel, in November 2014. We engaged with Australian business to raise awareness of the opportunities presented by Indonesia’s large economy and demographic trends, and the new administration’s ambitious economic agenda.

The Indonesian general and presidential elections in 2014 affected the pace of Indonesia–Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (IA-CEPA) negotiations, which are still in the preparatory phase. The department also worked with other government agencies to support Australian exporters and advocate greater certainty around Indonesia’s import policies and practices, particularly for live cattle, beef and horticultural products. In May 2015, the Foreign Minister announced a new post in Makassar, South Sulawesi, to advance trade and investment opportunities for Australia.

The department, working with legal teams, family members and foreign partners, led an exhaustive whole-of-government effort to secure clemency for Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. We made many high-level representations on behalf of the two men. These efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. We also provided effective consular assistance to the Chan and Sukumaran families. Following the executions, the Australian Government registered our deep disappointment by withdrawing our ambassador from Indonesia for consultations, and announcing a suspension in ministerial contact.

We managed $551.9 million in bilateral aid, with regional and global programs bringing our total assistance to an estimated $605.2 million. Through the Partnership for Food Security in the Red Meat and Cattle Sector, we trained 50 future leaders in animal husbandry, meat processing and agricultural policy to strengthen relationships and enhance long-term trade and investment opportunities in this sector. Our aid for trade activities delivered important outcomes to boost economic activity. This work included advice to support financial sector stability, improved macro-economic policy and counter-terrorism financing systems.

Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce, and Chairman, Indonesian Investment Coordinating Board, Mahendra Siregar
Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce (right), and Chairman, Indonesian Investment Coordinating Board, Mahendra Siregar, sign the Partnership for Food Security in the Red Meat and Cattle Sector Terms of Reference, Brisbane, 7 August 2014. [DFAT]

We helped Indonesia address infrastructure bottlenecks, such as delays and high costs to freight, and have positively influenced roads policy and planning. Through the Provincial Road Improvement and Maintenance Program, we continued to use performance incentives to promote good governance and better maintenance of provincial roads. We also supported the delivery of essential services for poor Indonesians—for example, since 2012 we have helped deliver piped water to 222,000 houses and sanitation connections to 38,000.

The human development component of our assistance to Indonesia included helping the Indonesian Government to achieve its goal of increasing students’ access to quality education in their first nine years of schooling. We have now supported the construction of more than 3000 classrooms, creating more than 112,000 new school places since 2010.

We supported the rollout to most of the country of an Early Warning Alert and Response System for emerging infectious diseases such as bird flu and the Ebola virus, and continued the development of a mobile phone-based national disease reporting system for animals. In Nusa Tenggara Province, we have contributed to a 40 per cent reduction in maternal deaths since 2009 and, in the Papua provinces, we have helped test more than 100,000 people for HIV since the end of 2012.

Our Empowering Indonesian Women for Poverty Reduction program brought together more than 250 Indonesian parliamentarians and women’s organisations to develop joint strategies to improve women’s living and working conditions. This program recognises the vital role gender equality plays in boosting economic productivity.

We strengthened Indonesia’s rural development sector, working with smallholder farmers to adopt innovative practices. We worked with Indonesian agencies to build understanding of good market practices and to influence national and sub-national policy in agriculture.

Indonesia was the New Colombo Plan’s most popular destination with more than 1100 Australian students supported under the pilot phase and 2015 rounds. The Australia–Indonesia Institute also continued to deepen ties between communities in both countries through programs such as the BRIDGE Indonesia language program and grants to improve mutual understanding and cultural awareness.

Australia–Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development

The $1 billion Australia–Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development (AIPRD) was established in response to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to assist Indonesia rebuild social and economic infrastructure across the country. In 2014–15, one program remained under AIPRD—the Eastern Indonesia National Roads Improvement Project (EINRIP) which supports the construction of 395 kilometres of high-quality roads in Eastern Indonesia.

EINRIP saw significant improvements to completed roads, such as the first phase of the Tohpati–Kusumba road, which have had a positive economic impact. Surveys reported significant benefits being generated by the new roads, including greatly reduced time and cost of travel. Travel by local residents has increased and, as a result, new small businesses are being established, creating business and employment opportunities. In 2015, EINRIP was recognised by the International Road Federation for excellence and innovation through a Global Road Achievement Award.

AIPRD–EINRIP road, Tohpati–Kusumba Phase 1, Bali. [DFAT]
Figure 8: Australia’s trade in goods and services with Southeast Asia (a)

Bar chart of Australia’s trade in goods and services with Southeast Asia


Thailand is our ninth-largest trading partner and bilateral trade and investment have both grown considerably over the 10 years since the signing of the Thailand–Australia Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). We have strong people-to-people links, with more than 25,000 Thai student enrolments in Australia in 2014, and more than 800,000 Australian tourists visiting Thailand. Australia engages closely with Thailand on interests including regional architecture, defence, law enforcement, counter-terrorism, and combatting people smuggling and human trafficking.

Dealings with Thailand were complicated by the Thai military coup in May 2014. The department has worked to ensure Australian responses were measured and appropriate. We engaged with the Thai interim government as the best way of ensuring that our national interests in the bilateral relationship were protected, as well as to encourage a return to democracy and the protection of human rights.

Ms Bishop’s visit to Bangkok in May 2015 was the centrepiece of this strategy. The visit included discussions with the Thai Prime Minister and other political leaders covering Australia’s support for Thailand’s return to democracy and the importance of protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. The department facilitated complementary activities, including cooperation on electoral system reform between the Australian and Thai electoral commissions and a visit by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The department supported a comprehensive economic diplomacy agenda with Thailand. We worked closely with other government agencies and with industry in negotiations with Thailand for TAFTA to be updated to create greater bilateral market opportunities in services and investment, and to secure better access for Australian agricultural products to the Thai market.

Over 160 Australian students are studying in Thailand under the New Colombo Plan in 2015. The department continued to provide a high standard of consular assistance to visiting Australians, including those involved in commercial surrogacy. We also supported commemorative activities in Thailand to mark the Centenary of Anzac, including events at Hellfire Pass and Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.

Table 3: Australia’s trade in goods and services with Southeast Asia (a)(b)





Goods and services



Trend growth



Trend growth

















































Other ASEAN (c)





















Total Southeast Asia







(a) Goods data on a recorded trade basis, services data on a balance of payments basis.

(b) Excludes some confidential items of trade. For more information refer to the DFAT Adjustments article.

(c) Other ASEAN comprises Brunei, Burma, Cambodia and Laos.

Based on DFAT STARS database, ABS catalogue 5368.0.55.004 and unpublished ABS data.


The department facilitated frequent high-level visits, including the Prime Minister’s visit to Kuala Lumpur in September 2014, which reinforced the strength of the bilateral relationship. We supported visits by the Deputy Prime Minister and Malaysian Transport Minister to progress cooperation in the search for MH370 and on investigations into the downing of flight MH17.

We worked with Malaysia on countering terrorism and violent extremism, effectively advancing security and stability in the region. We played a key role in the negotiation of a bilateral MOU on transnational crime, signed in December 2014. With Malaysia chairing ASEAN and the EAS in 2015, the department continued to engage closely to advance Australia’s regional interests, including on strengthening the EAS in its 10th year, and to support our high-level delegations for regional meetings.

Mr Robb co-chaired the 17th meeting of the Joint Trade Committee with the Malaysian Minister of International Trade and Industry in Melbourne in August 2014. Ministers agreed a work agenda to promote the benefits of the Malaysia–Australia Free Trade Agreement (MAFTA) to small and medium enterprises and increase two-way investment. In May 2015, officers from our high commission in Kuala Lumpur conducted a trade and investment roadshow in Australian capitals promoting economic opportunities in Malaysia.

We hosted several Malaysian opinion makers and political figures under the department’s Special Visitors’ Program. We also organised visits and exchanges to bring emerging Australian and Malaysian leaders together with the support of the Australia–Malaysia Institute.


On 29 June 2015, the Prime Ministers of Australia and Singapore signed a Joint Declaration to forge a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership to transform the bilateral relationship. The Prime Ministers committed to a 10-year roadmap of practical initiatives covering economic, foreign affairs and security, defence, and people-to-people issues. The declaration and roadmap were prepared through whole-of-government negotiations led by the department. The Prime Ministers also announced a Closer Economic Relationship (CER) and agreed parameters for a Review of the Singapore–Australia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) to begin in 2015. The CER sets out an agenda for deepened economic integration. The Trade and Investment Minister has been tasked with taking the roadmap forward.

The department negotiated a MOU on Cooperation to Combat Terrorism and a Partnership Arrangement on International Development with Singapore. We also worked across government to encourage the conclusion of a series of bilateral MOUs in the areas of arts and culture, standards harmonisation and civil service exchanges.

Our high commission in Singapore organised frequent high-level visits, including by ministers and state and territory governments. In March 2015, the high commission facilitated the Prime Minister’s attendance at the funeral of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

The department delivered a series of public diplomacy initiatives in the first half of 2015 to mark Singapore’s 50th anniversary and the 50th anniversary of bilateral diplomatic relations. These included the loan of four koalas to Singapore Zoo and the ‘50 Bridges’ arts and community engagement program. Ms Bishop launched these initiatives, supported by significant Australian corporate sponsorship, during her visit to Singapore in May.

The Philippines

The department provided support for the Trade and Investment Minister’s attendance at the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting in the Philippines, in May 2015. Mr Robb was accompanied by an 11-member business delegation, highlighting Australia’s infrastructure expertise and the opportunities for Australian and Filipino companies, including through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs).

PPP discussions, Manila, 21 May 2015
Ambassador to the Philippines, Bill Tweddell (second left), with Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb AO (centre), Philippines Secretary to the Cabinet, Jose Rene Almendras (right), and Austrade Senior Trade and Investment Commissioner, Anthony Weymouth (far left), PPP discussions, Manila, 21 May 2015. [DFAT]

In September 2014, the Senior Officials’ Strategic Dialogue brought Australian and Philippine defence and foreign affairs counterparts together in Manila to discuss shared strategic bilateral and regional issues.

The department supported high-level visits from Philippine officials through the Special Visits Program, including Dr Arsenio Balisacan, Secretary for Socioeconomic Planning, who visited Canberra in January 2015 for discussions on public sector reform, competition policy and economic development.

The department managed $120.4 million in bilateral aid, with regional and global programs bringing our total assistance to an estimated $138.5 million. The focus of this aid was on areas where assistance can catalyse reform, improve government capacity and take advantage of the Philippines’ own resources. We provided critical support to national government implementation of PPPs for priority infrastructure projects, promoting increased private sector participation through better and more transparent procedures.

We maintained our support to the Philippine Government to improve its public financial management systems, in order to increase the efficiency, accountability and transparency of its public expenditure. We also improved the governance capacity of local governments, particularly in road maintenance and revenue collection.

We worked with the Philippine Government and business organisations to support education reforms and provide additional classrooms for overcrowded schools. Programs improved teacher training and the school curriculum. In Mindanao—the Philippines’ poorest region—our aid ameliorated the effects of conflict by building more capable and responsive state institutions and expanding economic opportunities for conflict-affected communities. Across the country, we worked with the government and local communities to increase national and local government disaster preparedness.


The bilateral trade relationship with Vietnam grew by 28.5 per cent in 2014 and the country’s rapid economic growth is reshaping our traditional aid relationship into a stronger economic partnership. Our focus now is on addressing barriers to Vietnam’s development by improving economic efficiency.

We managed $116.9 million in bilateral aid, with regional and global programs bringing our total assistance to an estimated $150.6 million.

Our people-to-people links are enhanced by the presence in Australia of over 220,000 Australians of Vietnamese origin, and by the fact that Vietnam is Australia’s third-largest source of overseas students. Increasingly, Vietnam and Australia are working together on issues such as regional security, defence, policing, immigration and combatting transnational crime.

We worked to raise the profile of the relationship and deliver substantive policy outcomes through a visit by Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, in March 2015, accompanied by a large, senior delegation of ministers and business representatives. Outcomes included the signing of a Declaration on Enhancing the Australia–Viet Nam Comprehensive Partnership and the conclusion of bilateral MOUs on unexploded ordnance removal, peacekeeping, a new working holiday maker visa arrangement and preventing human trafficking.

We organised the 3rd annual ‘2+2’ Australia–Vietnam Strategic Dialogue, to engage Vietnam on regional security issues, and the 11th round of the annual Australia–Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue to address specific human rights concerns and offer practical ideas to enhance human rights standards.

The department worked actively with other government agencies to address disruptions to Australian horticultural exports owing to quarantine concerns, and to ensure Vietnamese compliance with the Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme that protects the welfare of live cattle traded overseas. Vietnam was Australia’s third-largest market for live cattle in 2014.

Our economic partnership was enhanced by aid for infrastructure projects, human resources development and institutional strengthening. The Cao Lanh Bridge project remains on schedule for completion by 2017, and will create significant economic efficiencies in the Long Xuyen City region through improved transport efficiency. Other key results in 2014–15 included training nearly 2000 people in trade policy, providing 185 Australia Awards scholarships (62 per cent to women) and helping 64,500 people access clean water. The Economic Diplomacy Fund, launched by our embassy in Hanoi, supported departmental projects promoting private sector linkages in the water sector, AFP-led women in police leadership training, and Austrade projects on food safety awareness and aviation safety.


The department led Australia’s efforts to support Burma’s peaceful transition to democracy and to ensure Australia is well placed to capitalise on the opportunities for deeper political and economic cooperation. Total Australian development assistance to Burma was $99.1 million.

We encouraged Burma to ensure its elections in November 2015 are credible and inclusive and provided support for increased voter registration and training for election officials.

The department is supporting efforts by the Burmese government to end armed ethnic conflict. Our aid supported ceasefire monitoring and promoted informed negotiations between the government and ethnic minority groups.

Conditions in Burma’s Rakhine State have resulted in large numbers of Muslim Rohingya fleeing, often with the assistance of people smugglers, creating a serious issue in the region. The department led Australia’s advocacy to persuade the Burmese government to address the problem within Burma, including through granting citizenship to the Rohingya. Australia also provided $5 million in humanitarian assistance for displaced people in Rakhine State as well as longer-term development assistance to increase economic opportunities.

Our aid worked to improve the investment climate through better governance, education, and health outcomes. We supported Australian business delegations and the expatriate business community in-country to help Australian business benefit from new opportunities.

Our increased engagement has required new forums for bilateral discussion. In 2015, the department held the first Foreign Ministry Consultations at senior officials level in Nay Pyi Taw covering a range of political, security and human rights issues. The department led the 2nd High-Level Consultations on Development Cooperation to develop a shared understanding of development priorities.

The department assisted Burma with its chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014 by seconding officials to Burmese ministries. We also supported Burma’s participation in G20 meetings and visits by Prime Minister Abbott for the EAS Summit and President Thein Sein for the G20 Summit.


The department engaged early and developed good working relationships with senior members of Timor-Leste’s newly-established government. We facilitated productive ministerial meetings with senior leaders through the provision of advice on the change of leadership and new policy directions.

The department led whole-of-government engagement with Timor-Leste on legal disputes and management of oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. Timor-Leste has now discontinued International Court of Justice proceedings. The department ensured the disputes did not detract from other elements of the relationship.

We worked with Austrade to advise Australian businesses on investing in Timor-Leste, including through an infrastructure ‘webinar’. We helped improve economic integration between eastern Indonesia, Timor-Leste and northern Australia, including attending a trilateral cooperation meeting between officials in Kupang, Indonesia, in June 2015. We also commissioned a study to shape more effective economic integration. We assisted visits by ministers from the Northern Territory to Dili, which focused on developing business links in the construction industry. We supported Timor-Leste’s participation in the Australian Seasonal Worker Program.

Australia remains Timor-Leste’s largest development partner. The department managed total assistance of an estimated $96.2 million, helping improve service delivery in health, education, and water and sanitation. For example, our assistance enabled the return to service of Timor-Leste’s full ambulance fleet which allowed critical emergency care to reach rural areas more effectively, including for pregnant women.

The aid program supported rural roads and skills training, enhancing economic opportunity and our support for agriculture helped over 56,000 farming households grow better crops. Through the Market Development Facility in Timor-Leste, we supported private sector development by partnering directly with local businesses to make markets work better.

The department also helped the Timorese Government better manage its public finances and civil service. For example, the development and rollout of a Human Resource Manual for all Timorese public servants has strengthened the civil service performance management framework.

We promoted gender equality by encouraging deeper engagement of women in the nation’s development, including by engaging women in village infrastructure projects.


Australia’s relationship with Cambodia expanded with the signing of a bilateral MOU on refugee resettlement in September 2014, on which the department led negotiations. We supported high-level visits to Cambodia by Australia’s current and former Ministers for Immigration and Border Protection, and to Australia by Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Sar Kheng. These exchanges strengthened Australia’s cooperation with Cambodia on common security challenges and created opportunities for further expansion of the relationship, including in combatting people smuggling, narcotics trafficking and child sex tourism, and cooperation on counter-terrorism and maritime security.

The department supported Australian business opportunities in Cambodia, including by facilitating negotiations on animal health protocols that will assist future live cattle exports.

Despite strong recent economic growth, Cambodia faces major development challenges. Our aid program is helping to address these challenges. The department managed total aid to Cambodia of an estimated $90.5 million and, in September 2014, Australia committed to supplement existing aid to Cambodia by $40 million over a four-year period. In 2014–15, our aid supported upgrading and maintaining the rural roads network, and rebuilding key transport infrastructure damaged by the 2011 floods. We undertook extensive design work on a major new program to address Cambodia’s infrastructure challenges.

Our funding through the Cambodia Agricultural Value Chain Program has given Cambodian farmers better access to modern farming techniques, lifting their productivity and the quality of their crops. Irrigation schemes enabled an estimated additional 2809 hectares of land to be irrigated and 2767 families to grow more than one rice crop per year. Funding also enabled the release of 6.6 square kilometres of land in three provinces that had previously been contaminated by landmines and unexploded ordnance for farming and other activities, directly benefiting some 13,000 people living in affected areas.

Aid programs enabled health centres and hospitals to provide better quality care, and supported 2.6 million poor people to access free essential health care. They have a strong focus on promoting gender equality and better outcomes for women and were highlighted in the Ambassador for Women and Girls’ meetings with senior Cambodian interlocutors when she visited Cambodia in February 2015.

Australia remains committed to assisting the United Nations to bring to justice the perpetrators of atrocities that took place in Cambodia in the 1970s. Contributions through the aid budget have made Australia the third-largest contributor to the Khmer Rouge Trials.

Brunei Darussalam

Australia remains a leading education destination for Bruneian students studying abroad (second only to the United Kingdom) with around 350 currently studying in Australia and around 10,000 Brunei–Australia alumni. Our education ties were strengthened with the arrival of Australia’s first New Colombo Plan Scholar in January 2015 at the Universiti Brunei Darussalam.

In June 2015, the department hosted a series of events to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Borneo (Oboe) campaigns, Australia’s last major campaigns of World War II. We welcomed a group of eight campaign veterans and held a commemorative service at the site of the Brunei landing. The veterans helped launch a joint multimedia exhibition with the Universiti Brunei Darussalam. The exhibition showcased the stories of local elders who lived through the war and Australia’s role in liberating Borneo.

The department also continued to monitor, and make representation on, the implementation of Brunei Darussalam’s Shariah penal code in the context of international human rights norms and to inform Australians living in and travelling to Brunei Darussalam of the importance of complying with local laws.

Ministers and Australian veterans, Murara Beach, 10 June 2015
High Commissioner to Brunei Darussalam, Todd Mercer (right), Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Senator Michael Ronaldson (left), Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC and Special Minister of State, Brian Winchcombe (second left), Brunei Deputy Minister of Defence (third right), and Commander of Royal Brunei Armed Forces (second right), with Australian veterans, Murara Beach, 10 June 2015. [DFAT]


Despite high levels of economic growth in recent decades, Laos continues to face a number of development challenges. Australia is a major bilateral donor providing total assistance in 2014–15 of an estimated $55.9 million.

During her visit to Laos in July 2014, Ms Bishop launched a basic education aid program to build classrooms, train teachers and improve school access for children with disabilities. We continued to support vital human resources development in education by providing technical assistance, in-Australia awards, and in-country scholarships.

We promoted rural growth and poverty reduction by establishing new village banks and micro-finance institutions, building or rehabilitating roads, clearing unexploded ordnance, and providing water supply and sanitation facilities.

The aid program advanced women’s economic empowerment by improving productivity and working conditions in the garments industry and helping female entrepreneurs expand their businesses. We also addressed gender equity through our basic education program by supporting girls’ participation in school.

The department continued to promote trade and investment in close cooperation with the private sector, including assisting Australian investors and holding regional roadshows to promote business opportunities. Through the aid program, we also provided support to Laos to strengthen engagement in regional integration and meet its WTO accession commitments.

The department supported Laos’ participation in the 4th Australia–Laos Human Rights Dialogue (HRD) in March 2015 and hosted a study tour involving Australian human rights bodies. The HRD and study tour enabled the department to discuss future cooperation and raise specific issues and cases of concern. The HRD gave rise to a follow-up visit to Laos by the Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner, funded and arranged by the department.

In promoting people-to-people links, we assisted with visits to Laos by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and two Australian parliamentary delegations on education, vaccination and ASEAN issues, and supported study visits to Australia by Lao officials.

East Asia Summit, ASEAN and regional engagement (East Asia regional programs)

Australia’s bilateral engagement with the countries of Southeast Asia is strengthened by our engagement with ASEAN, the region’s premier representative grouping. A strong and cohesive ASEAN has fostered cooperation and encouraged norms of behaviour that have laid the foundation for peace and prosperity in the region.

The department worked with regional partners to build the political-security agenda of the EAS to advance mutual interests in a stable strategic environment. During the 9th EAS, the department worked to ensure that leaders addressed high-priority issues of concern, such as tensions in the South China Sea, the threat of foreign fighters and Ebola. We convinced leaders to endorse the Australian-initiated EAS Statement on Rapid Disaster Response and the goal of eliminating malaria in the Asia–Pacific region by 2030.

We supported whole-of-government efforts to foster habits of cooperation on disaster response and maritime issues in the region. In April 2015, Australia co-chaired the ASEAN Regional Forum workshop on the development of a more strategic approach to disaster response exercises. The department and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority hosted an Expanded ASEAN Maritime Forum Workshop in May 2015 to improve EAS participants’ readiness to respond to transboundary maritime pollution incidents.

In 2014, we commemorated the 40th anniversary of Australia–ASEAN diplomatic relations. The department supported a leaders-level Commemorative Summit in Burma in November 2014, where leaders agreed to elevate Australia–ASEAN relations from a Comprehensive Partnership to a Strategic Partnership. This milestone cemented our relationship in the top tier of ASEAN’s external partners, with a commitment to regular leaders-level summits.

In August 2014, Ms Bishop and ASEAN foreign ministers agreed on a new Plan of Action to further strengthen economic, political-security and socio-cultural cooperation with ASEAN. The department co-chaired with the Philippines the ASEAN–Australia Forum in March 2015, which discussed topical issues on regional peace and security and deepened political-security cooperation under the Strategic Partnership. We worked closely with Austrade to explore opportunities for Australian business to capitalise on the region’s economic dynamism and the expected declaration of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by the end of 2015. This included supporting the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ annual conference in Kuala Lumpur, which showcased ASEAN’s economic integration plans.

In addition to our bilateral aid programs, the department invested a further $66.5 million in Southeast Asia through our regional aid program, helping to build regional capabilities and strengthen regional institutions.

The department contributed to preparations for the declaration of the AEC at the end of 2015. For example, we built the capacity of the ASEAN Secretariat, supporting it to implement numerous activities around the liberalisation of goods, services and investment. We used the Economic Cooperation Support Program to help developing ASEAN countries implement and access the benefits of the ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand Free Trade Agreement.

The regional program also focused on helping countries of the Mekong region bridge the gap with other more advanced ASEAN economies in areas such as health security, trade facilitation, private sector development, and management of water resources. We supported regional human security through flagship initiatives to combat trafficking in persons and encourage safe labour migration.

New Colombo Plan

Around 2300 New Colombo Plan (NCP) mobility students and scholarship recipients are undertaking study and internships in Southeast Asia during the pilot phase and 2015 round. Singapore and Indonesia, which were pilot locations in 2014, have now been joined by Brunei Darussalam, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Timor-Leste as host locations in 2015. The NCP has been warmly received across Southeast Asia by governments, universities, businesses and alumni groups.


Our engagement with regional partners is essential to help manage strategic challenges. We will maintain our focus on strengthening the EAS as an institution, in its 10th anniversary year, to help it become more responsive in addressing strategic challenges, with a particular emphasis on countering violent extremism and maritime security. We will continue to provide support to Malaysia in its chairing of ASEAN and the EAS, and support Laos to prepare for its ASEAN chairmanship in 2016. We will also establish the new Australia–ASEAN Council as an effective new institution.

There will be on-going challenges in Australia’s relationships with Southeast Asia as the region undergoes change, adapting to shifts in global weight and power. We will work to maintain strong diplomatic networks within the region, positioning Australia well to ensure that our strategic interests are protected and advanced.

We will focus our economic diplomacy on advancing Australia’s trade and investment interests in countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam, including through enhancements to existing bilateral and regional FTAs. We will elevate bilateral relations with the Philippines and seek to build greater ballast and resilience in the relationship with Indonesia.

Australia remains committed to promoting stability and prosperity within the region, and the department will work hard to support countries such as Thailand, Burma and Timor-Leste through political and economic transitions.

The department will negotiate new Aid Investment Plans for development-partner countries which take account of Australia’s aid policy and partner government priorities—ensuring our investments promote gender equality and greater engagement by the private sector. We will shift from a traditional donor-recipient model to investments which leverage partner countries’ resources and domestic capacity to improve development outcomes.