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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade :: 2001-2002 Annual Report
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Output 1.1:

Protection and advocacy of Australia's international interests through the provision of policy advice to ministers and overseas diplomatic activity

1.1.7 International organisations, legal and environment

Page Contents

Overview

The department was centrally involved in the UN's Click to view related information - opens in new window multilateral response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Domestically, we also took a key coordinating and advisory role as the Government assumed its obligations to the United States under the ANZUS Treaty.

We supported the Government in galvanising international and regional cooperation to combat people smuggling, notably through the organisation of a Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime held in Bali in February 2002.

We were closely involved in treaty action to ratify the Statute of Rome, which established an International Criminal Court. We led negotiations and supported signing of the Timor Sea Treaty, which provides a legal framework to facilitate the development of a major Australian economic resource.

We worked to advance Australia's human rights objectives. Bilateral dialogues began with Vietnam and Iran. Progress was made in improving the operation of the UN treaty body machinery, to enable preparation of more balanced and useful reports. We also secured Australia's election to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights for a three-year term from 2003.

The department contributed to the successful hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in March 2002 and supported Mr Downer's participation in a number of other Commonwealth meetings, including his role as vice-chair of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group.

We continued to support ministers and lead a whole-of-government effort to protect and advance Australia's international environment interests. The complex links between international environment and other policy areas, particularly trade and development, made negotiations increasingly politicised. These links were particularly evident in the negotiations on the relationship between the WTO and multilateral environmental agreements mandated by the Doha Ministerial Meeting.

We advanced and protected Australia's interests in international environment negotiations, including in preparatory meetings for the World Summit on Sustainable Development and meetings on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol, the Biosafety Protocol and the Convention on Biological Diversity. We also contributed to establishing a bilateral partnership with the US on climate change.

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The international response to terrorism

The department actively supported Australia's involvement in multilateral cooperation in the war against terrorism, particularly through the United Nations (see under sub-output 1.8.8. at page 89 for further detail on Australia's response to terrorism). As well as participating in UN discussions on a comprehensive anti-terrorism convention-on which there was not as much progress as we would have liked-we played coordinating and advisory roles in Australia's domestic implementation of several specific UN conventions and resolutions, particularly those aimed at suppressing the financing of terrorism. Legislative and regulatory provisions were made under the Charter of the United Nations Act to allow the freezing and seizure of terrorist assets. The department ensured interested parties in the Australian financial sector were informed and consulted on these matters.

The department also supported Australia's deployment of forces to assist the US-led war against terror, working closely with Defence, Attorney-General's and other departments in advising on the invocation of Australia's treaty obligations under the ANZUS alliance as well as international legal arrangements to protect the status of our forces on the ground.

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People smuggling

The department was closely involved in the Government's efforts during the year to combat people smuggling. We played an important role in implementing new elements of the Government's border protection strategy, although primary carriage of the issues rested with other portfolios. We helped to coordinate the Government's response to the MV Tampa incident-including by activating the departmental Crisis Centre to coordinate efforts in the initial stages of the incident. We also promoted regional and international cooperation to combat people smuggling and advised on the establishment of offshore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

The department's advocacy, including through our network of posts overseas, contributed to heightened international attention and cooperation on combating people smuggling and illegal migration. Key posts worked closely with host government authorities in disrupting people smuggling operations and in securing legal cooperation to ensure that suspected people smugglers were apprehended and brought before the courts.

A significant initiative was the Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime in Bali from 26 to 28 February 2002. Working closely with Indonesia and with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, the department was responsible for all aspects of the organisation and management of the conference. We also supported Mr Downer in his role as co-chair.

At the Bali conference, Mr Downer announced the Government's decision to appoint an Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues. The ambassador, who is based in the department, is charged with taking forward in a practical way regional cooperation against people smuggling and assisting in the negotiation of return, readmission and resettlement arrangements.

The department helped negotiate a memorandum of understanding with the Afghan Interim Authority (as it then was) to accept the return of Afghans who do not have a protection need from Australia, including those in the offshore processing centres.

We also worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to promote cooperation to strengthen the international refugee protection system, including by addressing the issue of 'secondary movements' (the onward movement of asylum seekers from countries of first asylum to third countries) in our region.

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The Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime

The Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime was a joint initiative of Australia and Indonesia. The conference, co-chaired by Mr Downer and his Indonesian counterpart, Dr Hassan Wirajuda, was a landmark event attended by 38 ministers or ministerial-level representatives representing 36 countries from the Asia-Pacific region. It created a clear sense of shared purpose in tackling the threat posed by people smuggling and trafficking and related transnational crime, reflecting recognition of the regional nature of the problem and the strong commitment of participating countries to a regional response.

Participating ministers agreed their countries needed to act to combat people smuggling and recognised the importance of adopting and strengthening legislation to criminalise people smuggling and trafficking. They agreed on cooperative action in a number of practical fields, such as information and intelligence sharing, law enforcement, border management and return arrangements. The conference established two expert groups to implement its conclusions and take forward practical programs of action. Ministers agreed to meet in 2003 to review progress.

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International legal issues

The Government secured a longstanding human rights objective when Australia ratified the Statute of Rome establishing the International Criminal Court. The department supported the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Government in the public consultation and parliamentary processes leading up to ratification. This included considerable work liaising with the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. We also played a significant part in the international negotiations leading up to the establishment of the court, particularly through our role as chair of the Like-Minded Group.

During the year, Australia signed 28 treaties, 23 of which were bilateral. Prominent among these was the Timor Sea Treaty, signed by the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, and his East Timorese counterpart, Dr Mari Alkatiri, on 20 May 2002. The department led negotiation of this treaty, cooperating with the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources, the Attorney-General's Department and the Treasury. The treaty, which built on the transitional Timor Sea Arrangement signed in 2001, provides an equitable basis for developing the significant oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. It will encourage investment, employment and export income for Australia as well as promoting stability and economic development in the new state of East Timor.

Image - see caption below

Departmental officers at the sealing of the Timor Sea Treaty in May 2002. The treaty covers the development of petroleum resources in the seabed between Australia and East Timor. From left: Tony von Brandenstein, Emma Kerslake, Edward Sellars, Constance Johnson, Cynthia Dearin, Richard Rowe, Deputy Secretary Peter Grey (sealing the treaty), and Dr Geoff Raby.

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

The department, including though our mission to the UN in New York, worked closely and successfully with the UN Secretary-General and the UN Security Council in shaping and in ensuring a sound funding base for the UN Mission in Support of East Timor (UNMISET) that replaced the UN transitional administration in East Timor. We also worked with the UN on the continued implementation of the Brahimi report on UN peace operations to strengthen UN peacekeeping capacity, and on election observer missions in Fiji and Solomon Islands.

We continued to advocate reform of the UN to increase efficiencies, including through negotiations on the UN biennial budget (for 2002 and 2003). While these negotiations resulted in a small nominal increase in the UN's overall budget, despite our efforts to see zero nominal growth maintained, we succeeded in securing increased funds for areas of priority for Australia-particularly human rights and peacekeeping-and agreement to efficiency reviews of parts of the UN Secretariat.

We coordinated Australia's engagement with a range of UN programs and agencies, arguing in particular for greater focus on the development needs of the Asia-Pacific region. We directed Australian efforts in major UN conferences, including the World Conference against Racism, the Conference on Financing for Development and the General Assembly Special Session on Children, ensuring that key Australian interests were protected and promoting practical outcomes. Australia was elected to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), a key UN oversight body.

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

Australia was elected to the UN Commission on Human Rights for a three-year term from 2003. This was a key outcome for the Government in its efforts to reform the UN human rights treaty bodies and to strengthen the credibility of the human rights machinery. The department's advocacy and support for this initiative-including hosting a second workshop in Geneva in June 2002 on implementation of best-practice reporting procedures for the treaty bodies-helped to give real momentum to the reform process.

The department continued its lead sponsorship of resolutions within the Commission on the role of national human rights institutions and on good governance. The adoption of both resolutions by consensus and with increased co-sponsorship reflected growing international recognition of the intrinsic link between institution-building, good governance and the observance of human rights. We remained engaged with national human rights institutions, particularly in our region, including through policy and advocacy support for the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions.

In May 2002 the department led the inaugural Australia-Vietnam bilateral dialogue on human rights. This was a new element in the Government's practical advocacy of human rights internationally. We also agreed with Iran to begin a similar bilateral dialogue on human rights. A further round of our bilateral human rights dialogue with China was held in Beijing in October 2001. The dialogue continues to contribute in important if modest ways to the promotion of international human rights standards in China, including through an associated technical cooperation program (see sub-output 1.1.1 at page 33 for further detail on this dialogue with China).

Australian missions overseas again made representations on individual human rights cases throughout the year.

The department continued its regular human rights consultations with non-government organisations and worked closely with key civil and community groups in preparing for the World Conference against Racism and other UN conferences.

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

The department was centrally involved in the hosting of the CHOGM in March 2002 at Coolum in Queensland. At this meeting, Commonwealth leaders approved key recommendations arising from a High Level Review Group that should ensure the Commonwealth remains focused on activities important to Australia, including targeted development assistance, election observance and good offices work.

We supported the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, in his role as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office. CHOGM charged the leaders of Australia, South Africa and Nigeria with responsibility for determining the Commonwealth's response to the deteriorating political situation in Zimbabwe. We worked closely with South Africa and Nigeria to this end. In March 2002, following a decision by the Prime Minister and his South African and Nigerian counterparts, Zimbabwe was suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth for one year.

Through Australia's membership of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), of which Mr Downer was elected vice-chair, we maintained a focus on important regional issues such as political developments in Fiji and the peace process in Solomon Islands. We supported Mr Downer in his role as CMAG vice-chair as well as in his participation in other Commonwealth meetings.

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Marine resources and Antarctic issues

The department coordinated a successful campaign for the election of an Australian official to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The Commission will have a central role in assessing Australia's submission to secure sovereign rights and jurisdiction covering Australia's extended continental shelf. We also led an inter-departmental team in the first substantive discussions on delimiting permanent maritime boundaries between Australia and New Zealand.

The department continued to play an active role in promoting international cooperation against illegal and unauthorised fishing. Coordinated international action led to the apprehension of two vessels fishing illegally in Australian waters off Heard Island. We also facilitated Taiwan's participation in the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna. This will contribute to better and more sustainable management of this valuable and depleted marine resource.

In cooperation with Environment Australia, we played a key role in achieving consensus among Antarctic Treaty consultative parties for the establishment of a permanent secretariat in Buenos Aires. This will improve the efficiency and coordination of the Antarctic Treaty system, in which Australia, as an Antarctic claimant state, has crucial interests.

In the International Whaling Commission (IWC) we developed and proposed a successful strategy to prevent erosion of the moratorium on commercial whaling. We were also active in securing increased support in the IWC for a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary, although the required three-quarters majority was not reached.

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Environment Click to view related information - opens in new window

Climate change
Leading a whole-of-government approach, the department argued strenuously for development of a global regime that addresses climate change effectively, while minimising the cost to the economy and preserving our international competitiveness. The Seventh Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP7) in Marrakech in November 2001 adopted rules and procedures for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol that reflected Australia's objectives on a range of important issues. Progress was not made, however, on participation in emission reduction by major developing countries. In these circumstances, and given the decision by the United States not to ratify the protocol, the Government decided that it would not be in Australia's national interests to ratify it. We pursued practical ways to address climate change through cooperation at the regional and bilateral levels, including with the United States.

Biosafety
In inter-governmental and experts' meetings on the Biosafety Protocol, the department worked successfully against proposals that would create unnecessary impediments to trade, including Australian exports, without contributing to the protocol's environmental objective. We supported Mr Vaile in raising with a number of countries trade concerns posed by the proposed changes to the protocol. The protocol, which might enter into force in 2003, is concerned with protection of biological diversity and focused on trade in living genetically modified organisms such as grains, seeds, animals and plants. Australia has extensive domestic regulations in this area. Australia is not a signatory to the protocol and there is no timetable for consideration of membership. In recognition that the protocol has potential to affect adversely Australian exports should trading partners become parties, we alerted Australian industry representatives to some practical implications of its entry-into-force.

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World Summit on Sustainable Development

The department was closely involved in developing Australia's policy position in preparation for the recently concluded World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa-focusing particularly on the importance of mobilising domestic resources (including trade and foreign direct investment) to reduce poverty, and of creating an enabling environment for trade and investment through the promotion of good governance.

Reporting against quality and quantity indicators and administered items begins on page 96.

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