On 30 December 2002, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer, and the Minister for Trade, Mr Vaile, announced the establishment of the Council for Australian-Arab Relations. In accordance with the Ministers' decision, the Council for Australian-Arab Relations was established with effect from 1 January 2003, for an initial period of three years, at the end of which it was reviewed and made permanent.
The Council's function is to advance Australia's national interest by initiating and supporting activities designed to enhance awareness and understanding between the peoples and institutions of Australia and the Arab countries. In carrying out its mission the Council will aim to:
- broaden awareness and understanding in Australia and the Arab countries of each other's cultures, traditions and social and political institutions and areas of excellence;
- influence corporate Australia and assist in developing government policies to enhance Australia's economic and political relations with Arab countries; and
- support Australia's broader diplomatic objectives among Arab countries.
Structure and Membership
The Council will consist of a chair, plus up to eight other members, and a Secretariat funded from the resources of the Middle East and Africa Division (MAD).
The Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, or a representative appointed by the Secretary, and the Chief Executive Officer for Austrade, or a representative appointed by the Chief Executive Officer, will be ex officio members of the Council.
The chair and the other board members of the Council will be appointed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs with the agreement of the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment on a part-time basis for terms of up to three years, and are eligible for re-appointment. Council members will be drawn from business, Government and the academic community.
The chair and members may be reappointed, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs may terminate the appointment of the chair or a member at any time by notice in writing.
A member may resign his or her membership by notice in writing to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, but the resignation does not have effect until it is accepted by the Minister.
Neither the chair nor the other board members of the Council will be employees of the Department or the Commonwealth by virtue only of their appointment to the Council.
The Council will not be a legal entity. Therefore the Council will not be able to enter into contracts, incur debts or spend funds. Instead, the Department will be able to enter into contracts and spend funds for the Council's purposes, in order to perform the Council's activities and implement its recommendations.
The Council has the functions to:
- make recommendations to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Trade for enhancing Australia's cultural, economic, political and social relations with Arab countries; and
- develop an annual business plan of activities aimed at implementing the Council's objectives. The business plan will recommend expenditures on those activities, from funds allocated to the Council.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs may from time to time issue directives to the Council, and the Council will be bound by such directives.
To meet government accountability requirements, the First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division, will have responsibility for approving the expenditure of funds, the engagement of consultants and entering into contracts by the Department for the performance of the activities mandated by the Council's business plan and for other matters related to the carrying out of the Council's purposes.
The Secretariat will have functions to:
- provide administrative support for the Council;
- implement the recommendations of the Council; and
- undertake other activities as appropriate.
In carrying out their functions, Council members and the Secretariat will confer as necessary with Austrade, and other relevant agencies and bodies.
The Council will determine the activities to be undertaken in each year in its annual business plan, which may be modified by the Council from time to time. The activities will be directed towards achieving the Council's purposes and may include (but not be limited to) the following:
- activities to promote economic relations between Australia and Arab countries, including the commissioning of publications and studies in areas such as commercial opportunities in Arab countries for Australian businesses, and a young business entrepreneur program;
- visits by high profile persons from Arab countries;
- visits by Council members and other high profile Australians to Arab countries;
- activities aimed at encouraging Australian media interest in Arab countries, and Arab country media interest in Australia;
- information distribution programs;
- educational and academic activities; and
- promoting the study of the Arabic language in Australia.
The annual business plan will be notified to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who may disallow or amend it at any time.