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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - Annual Report 2000-2001
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Protection and advancement of Australia’s international interests through the diplomatic network and Canberra-based activity

Provision of policy advice and analysis to Portfolio Ministers

1.1.7 and 1.2.7: International organisations, legal and environment

Effectiveness indicators

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The department promoted a number of important Australian interests through targeted and effective participation in the United Nations (UN) Click to view related information - opens in new window and other international organisations Click to view related information - opens in new window. Reflecting ongoing concern about organisational weaknesses in parts of the multilateral system, we continued our efforts to promote practical reform of the UN, notably the human rights treaty body system and in administrative and budgetary areas. Protecting our interests in a fluid and increasingly combative multilateral environment will continue to be a significant challenge for the department.

A major outcome was the conclusion with the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) of the Timor Sea Arrangement, providing a fair and equitable basis for development of the oil and gas resources of the Timor Sea.

We gave considerable priority to negotiations on international environment issues, where the department plays a lead role as part of a whole-of-government effort. Climate change negotiations were complicated by the incoming US Administration’s announced opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. We worked to build support for an inclusive global climate change regime.

Significant outcomes during the year included:

See description below - click image for a larger version

Michael Bliss, Antarctic specialist in the department’s Legal Branch, photographed near Casey Station, Antarctica during a resupply and research mission on the Polar Bird in January 2001.

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The United Nations Click to view related information - opens in new window

The Prime Minister’s attendance at the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York in September 2000 provided an opportunity for advocacy at the highest level in pursuit of Australia’s objective of UN reform. The department supported the Prime Minister’s attendance and ensured that the text of the Millennium Summit Declaration reflected our interests.

A significant reform in which we were closely involved was the agreement by the 55th Regular Session of the General Assembly (UNGA 55) on a revised scale of assessments for determining financial contributions to the UN. This opened the way for the payment of US arrears, putting the UN on a sounder financial footing, and spread the burden of contributions. While Australia’s contribution increased under the new scale, this reflected the strong growth in our economy relative to many others. Accompanying this was the UN Secretariat’s adoption of results-based budgeting—an important accountability mechanism and a long-standing Australian objective. Some other reform initiatives including Security Council reform made little, if any, progress.

The department continued to coordinate Australia’s participation across the UN system, providing policy advice and support at UNGA 55, the Economic and Social Council, the Commission on Human Rights and the Special Session on HIV/AIDS. We achieved positive outcomes on international legal issues, human rights, development, the environment and HIV/AIDS. In meetings of UN Specialised Agencies, we helped ensure that activities and outcomes generally reflected Australian perspectives and priorities.

We worked closely and effectively with the UN Secretariat to ensure that its management of the UN Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) took account of Australian concerns, including in planning for the UN’s post-independence role. Building on the experience of our lead peacekeeping role in East Timor, we worked with the Department of Defence to help strengthen the UN’s peacekeeping capacity in response to the Brahimi Report on UN peace operations.

The department gave considerable priority to supporting key Australian candidatures in multilateral elections. We secured the election of Professor Ivan Shearer to the Human Rights Committee and the re-election of Justice David Hunt to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Australia was re-elected to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which will help us pursue and protect our interests in international narcotics control.

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The Commonwealth Click to view related information - opens in new window

The department worked hard and effectively to support Australia’s senior official in the High Level Review Group of the Commonwealth, mandated at the Durban Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 1999. Our efforts produced a sharper focus in the Review’s draft outcome on support for democratic good governance, and innovations to streamline and make more coherent the internal governance of Commonwealth institutions. Mr Downer’s participation in two meetings of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was supported strongly by the department in Canberra and at posts. Through its work, CMAG provides the clearest test of the Commonwealth commitment to democracy. We provided support for preparations for the forthcoming CHOGM to be held in Brisbane.

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Human rights Click to view related information - opens in new window

Strengthening the UN human rights treaty body system

Following its review of Australia’s interaction with the UN human rights treaty body system, the Government in August 2000 charged the department with developing a high-level diplomatic initiative to improve the effectiveness of the treaty bodies.

Announced in April 2001, the initiative, which we developed in collaboration with the Attorney-General’s Department and the Departments of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, focused on achieving practical measures that would strengthen the treaty committee system and advance the cause of international human rights. Its key elements included:

We hosted the first of the workshops in Geneva in June 2001, bringing together key stakeholders including 22 reform-oriented states, to discuss measures to streamline the process of reporting by states to the six UN treaty committees.

Other human rights issues

The department continued to work closely with non-government organisations (NGOs), holding two rounds of consultations that enabled us to brief them and listen to community views on Australia’s interactions on human rights with China, Burma, Fiji and Solomon Islands. The consultations enabled NGOs to provide input to human rights policy development and our participation in key international meetings, notably the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, in August– September 2001.

Our missions overseas continued to make regular representations to host governments on human rights abuses. As part of our continuing engagement with the UN human rights system on racism issues, we worked closely with other government agencies to facilitate the visit to Australia by the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism.

Our support for the development of national human rights institutions continued, including through policy and financial support to the Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF) and its activities. Bilaterally, we expanded engagement on human rights issues with a growing number of countries, including Vietnam, Indonesia, Burma, Iran and China.

The department continued its lead sponsorship of resolutions in the Commission on Human Rights on the establishment of national human rights institutions and on good governance. The Commission adopted both resolutions by consensus, an important recognition of the Government’s focus on institution-building and good governance as essential elements for promoting development and human rights.

Transnational issues

In close cooperation with other government agencies, in particular the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, and international organisations, we gave priority to implementing the Government’s Unauthorised Arrivals Strategy, which aims to stem the flow of unauthorised arrivals in Australia. Our overseas missions fostered cooperation with a range of key transit countries and countries of first asylum in South and South-East Asia and the Middle East. Our posts also facilitated the interception of illegal migrants in transit to Australia, the return of nationals and failed asylum-seekers, and increased humantiarian relief support to countries of origin and first asylum. Much work remains to be done in all these areas to combat effectively the global problem of people smuggling.

With departmental support, Mr Downer pursued Australia’s agenda on refugees, irregular migration and people-smuggling with the European Union and governments in the Middle East and South East Asia, and in regional forums such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference. We also discussed these issues at senior officials level in the region.

The department pursued Australia’s agenda for the reform of the international refugee protection system and resolution of the long-standing Afghan and Iraqi refugee problems. These efforts focused on bilateral contacts and coalition-building through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Inter-governmental Consultations on Asylum, Refugee and Migration Policies in Europe, North America and Australia and the Afghanistan Support Group.

The increasing sophistication and impact of transnational organised crime poses a serious challenge for governments. We coordinated Australia’s participation in international efforts to reduce the production of, and trafficking in, narcotic drugs, working with other major donors to ensure that the activities of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) were effective. The department also supported global and regional efforts to combat money-laundering.

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International legal issues

The department ensured Australian interests were advanced through negotiation and conclusion of bilateral and multilateral treaties and arrangements covering a range of international issues.

Timor Sea

Cooperating with the Department of Industry, Science and Resources and the Attorney-General’s Department, we played a central role in negotiating with UNTAET East Timorese representatives the text of a Timor Sea Arrangement to provide a fair and equitable basis for development of the oil and gas resources of the Timor Sea. This will result in considerable investment and employment in Australia, promote stability and economic development in East Timor and provide a secure basis for development of the oil and gas resources of the Timor Sea to proceed. We are committed to achieving the incorporation of the Arrangement’s terms into a new treaty upon East Timor’s independence.

Fishing and marine issues

The department coordinated the involvement of a number of Australian agencies with the South African Government to apprehend the fishing vessel South Tomi, which had been detected fishing illegally in Australian waters off Heard Island in late March.

After four years of concerted negotiations, we secured the adoption by a range of regional coastal states, as well as fishing nations, of a new treaty to manage more effectively valuable highly migratory fish species in the central and western Pacific. These resources are crucial to the development prospects of Pacific island countries. We also made a key contribution to Australia’s leading role in the development of an International Plan of Action on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing under the auspices of the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The southern bluefin tuna dispute with Japan was resolved in May 2001, following negotiations in which our advice contributed to the protection of Australia’s rights and interests. We also played a key role in encouraging major fishing states to participate in the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.

The department continued coordinating the Government’s activities in preparing Australia’s submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. We also played a leading role in securing a decision by States Parties to the Law of the Sea Convention to defer the deadline for such submissions (from 2004 to 2009 for Australia), a decision which greatly helps our efforts to comply with our obligations under international law in respect of areas off the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Following extensive preparations involving acquisition and interpretation of seabed data, Australia and New Zealand began negotiations aimed at delimiting permanent maritime boundaries. The first round took place in November 2000, with the department playing a lead role.

Treaties Click to view external web site - opens in new window

Fifteen treaties came into force for Australia during the year, 13 of which were bilateral. Australia also took final treaty action on several other multilateral treaties that have not yet come into force. The Government increased its network of bilateral double taxation and social security agreements through signature or entry into force of six additional agreements. The two multilateral treaties to enter into force for Australia were the Convention on the Safety of UN and Associated Personnel and extension of the International Tropical Timber Agreement.

The department tabled 27 National Impact Analyses with the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT). An officer from the department’s Treaties Secretariat assisted at JSCOT hearings and departmental witnesses provided specific information on many proposed treaties.

For further information on treaties see output 3.1, page 168.

International Criminal Court Click to view related information - opens in new window

The department continued to lead Australia’s participation in the Preparatory Commission for the International Criminal Court (ICC) and to chair the Like-Minded Group of over 60 countries that strongly support the establishment of the Court. We participated in inquiries into the ICC by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. We also assisted the Attorney-General’s Department in the preparation of the draft legislation necessary for Australia to ratify the Statute of the ICC.

United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime

UNGA’s adoption during the year of the Convention on Transnational Organized Crime, and its three protocols concerning trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants and trafficking in firearms, reflected Australia’s fundamental goals for these instruments.

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

The department presented Australia’s periodic report to the ICESCR Committee. The Committee’s conclusions provided a balanced assessment of the observance of economic, social and cultural rights in Australia.

Protection of Australian personnel deployed overseas

We worked to put in place legal arrangements with the Solomon Islands Government for the safety and effective operation of the International Peace Monitoring Team in Solomon Islands. We also worked closely with the Department of Defence to put in place appropriate legal protections for other Australian personnel deployed overseas, including to Sierra Leone and East Timor.

Space cooperation with Russia

Supporting the development of a commercial space launch industry in Australia, we played a key role in negotiations with Russia that led to the signature in May 2001 of an Inter-governmental Agreement on Space Cooperation. We also began negotiations on a related agreement for the safeguarding of space technology.

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Environment Click to view related information - opens in new window

Climate change

The department leads a whole-of-government approach to the pursuit of Australia’s interest in a global regime to address climate change effectively. This approach seeks to respond to climate change and to minimise the cost to the Australian economy and the impact it has on our trade competitiveness. We were disappointed that the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 6), held in The Hague in November 2000 and intended to settle the outstanding issues necessary to implement the Kyoto Protocol, was suspended without agreement. The negotiations were scheduled to resume in Bonn in July 2001. The United States’ decision to oppose the Protocol, announced in March 2001, created uncertainty about how negotiations would proceed. We continued to argue Australia’s view that, to be effective, a global climate change regime needs to include all major emitters, including the United States and key developing countries. We saw active participation in the Bonn negotiations as contributing to that objective.

Persistent organic pollutants

Discussions on an international Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) concluded in December 2000, after a negotiating period of two-and-a-half years. The department worked to ensure that the Convention meets Australia’s environmental and health concerns yet does not impede Australia’s interests as a net importer of agricultural and industrial chemicals. The Convention, signed by Australia on 23 May 2001, initially will eliminate or reduce releases of 12 toxic chemicals, including DDT, which do not break down readily, move through air and water over large distances and have adverse effects on human health and the environment. Australia’s approach during the negotiations was informed by the department’s consultations with relevant industry and environmental groups and State and Territory Governments.


The department is coordinating assessment of the implications of the Biosafety Protocol for Australia’s trade, economic and environmental objectives. The protocol, which we expect to enter into force in 2002 or 2003, focuses on the environmental impact of trade in living (genetically) modified organisms, such as grains, seeds, animals and plants. Over 100 countries have signed the protocol; the Government has not yet decided whether to do so. The department is working to ensure that the protocol’s implementation is WTO-consistent and does not create burdensome requirements for Australian exporters and regulators. Irrespective of whether Australia signs, there will be implications for Australian exporters if they trade with countries that are signatories.

Kakadu National Park

Further to continued factual assurances from Australia to the World Heritage Commission that Kakadu National Park remains well protected, the Commission has endorsed the finding of an independent international scientific panel that any threats to the natural values of the Park are small or insignificant. The Commission reconfirmed its decision that the Park should not be listed ‘World Heritage in Danger’.

Reporting against quality and quantity indicators and administered items begins on page 103. The financial and staffing resources summary for outcome 1 is at Appendix 2.

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  1. Preparatory Commission on the Crime of Aggression’ appears incorrectly in Portfolio Budget Statements 2000–01

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