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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 3.1:

Public information services and public diplomacy

3.1.1 Public information and media services on Australia's foreign and trade policy

Page Contents

Overview

The department developed and delivered public programs in Australia and internationally to increase awareness and understanding of Australia's foreign and trade policies. We provided information to Australian and international audiences through public affairs material, publications, personal briefings, the departmental website and liaison with international and domestic media.

The information we provided focused on the strong performance of Australia's economy at a time of global economic downturn; other trade and economic issues, including the impact of globalisation; Australia's involvement in the war against terrorism, including the decision to invoke the ANZUS Treaty in response to the 11 September 2001 attacks; perceptions of a subsequent backlash against Australia's Muslim and Arab communities; people smuggling and border protection issues; and other major regional and international events of foreign and trade policy interest.

Our posts drew heavily on this material in projecting Australia to audiences overseas, both government and private. We responded, through our posts, to negative or misleading reporting in the international media-for example, on Australia's immigration and refugee policies.

The department's website (www.dfat.gov.au) became more firmly established as a key platform for providing information and advice to Australian and international audiences. 'Hits' on the website increased by almost 400 per cent during the year. We also launched an online photographic library illustrating the department's diverse responsibilities.

We extended our efforts to explain the benefits of Australia's international economic engagement to domestic audiences by creating a trade advocacy and outreach unit. The unit reinforced the Government's messages about the impact of globalisation and the importance of trade for Australia's economic wellbeing-including through targeted publications, speaking opportunities and other public affairs initiatives.

Portfolio ministers commented favourably on our public diplomacy and information activities. We also received positive feedback from the public, as well as from business, the media, state governments, other Commonwealth agencies, and foreign diplomatic missions in Australia (see quality and quantity information on page 172 for further detail).

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Media services Click to view related information - opens in new window

The department maintained its high media profile, and continued to deliver positive coverage of portfolio issues. This reflected the high standards of our media relations program. We introduced innovations aimed at broadening and deepening coverage. We sought, in a strategic manner, to involve media more closely at early stages in the policy development process and on key priority events, and to target media as appropriate to improve coverage and counter inaccurate reporting. We also maintained a round-the-clock media duty roster.

We responded to over 8250 requests for information from a variety of media outlets, including online, community radio, pay television and industry publications. Consular cases and services, particularly in the aftermath of 11 September 2001, accounted for around 60 per cent of all media enquiries.

Foreign and trade policy issues attracting significant media attention included the war on terrorism; regional security issues (with particular focus on Fiji, Bougainville and Solomon Islands); East Timor's independence; developments in North Asia; the International Criminal Court; WTO negotiations; the APEC Leaders' Meeting; and free trade agreements.

The department supported portfolio ministers and the Parliamentary Secretary in conveying messages to the media on new and continuing initiatives and activities. These included major events such as the ASEAN Regional Forum; the Pacific Islands Forum; the Australia-US Ministerial Meeting (AUSMIN); the WTO Ministerial Meeting (Doha); the Regional Ministerial Meeting on People Smuggling (Bali); the APEC Ministerial Meeting and APEC Leaders' Meeting; the APEC Business Advisory Council meeting; and East Timor's independence celebrations.

We introduced new technology that significantly improved our ability to monitor trends in coverage of portfolio-related issues and to develop a more systematic approach to managing media and outreach initiatives.

We held 13 general media briefings on key foreign and trade policy topics and ministerial visits. At the request of media representatives, we introduced more targeted briefings for individuals or small groups of specialist writers. We arranged 815 such briefings, equally divided between foreign and trade policy issues. This resulted in an increase in informed coverage of portfolio issues.

Electronic distribution of media releases proved increasingly popular. We developed regional email lists of television, radio and newspaper outlets, and this has facilitated more targeted coverage, particularly of trade issues. We now distribute to 1817 contacts-including 794 with a trade focus-on our media contact database. About 85 per cent of the 324 ministerial media statements and 18 departmental media releases issued resulted in media coverage. Outreach with technical and industry publications secured more opportunities to promote our messages among a wider audience.

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Internet

The department increasingly used the Internet as a major platform for providing information and advice to Australian and international audiences. Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the collapse of Ansett Airlines and the establishment of the US-led coalition against terrorism, we experienced a dramatic increase in web traffic. 'Hits' on our website peaked at 3.99 million for the week beginning 7 October 2001, and total 'hits' for the year increased by almost 400 per cent compared to 2000-01. We added extra web server capacity to ensure all foreseeable loads could be met.

Following the terrorist attacks, we established a special area on the website that included travel advice notices, information about the attacks and details of hotline inquiry numbers in Australia and the United States for people wanting to inquire about missing relatives. We also established a special area on the website to provide information about Australia's involvement in the international coalition against terrorism. Another area was established to provide information about Australia's position on border protection and illegal immigration.

The department created new websites for the Foreign and Trade Ministers (www.foreignminister.gov.au and www.trademinister.gov.au). We also created new websites for Passports Australia, our Asialine publication, and our posts in Denmark, Lebanon, Portugal, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

We created a Spanish language portal, Australia en el Mundo, to deliver public diplomacy messages in Spanish-speaking countries. These can be accessed through five sites, reflecting the Spanish-speaking countries where we have posts-Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Spain and Venezuela (for example, www.argentina.embassy.gov.au, and likewise for the other four). We placed greater emphasis on foreign language presentations on the departmental website, with online versions of our Australia in Brief publication available in six languages (www.dfat.gov.au/aib2001/index.html).

We continued to improve the design and content of our central website, to make it more accessible to all Australians, including those with disabilities and those living in rural and remote communities. This was done through improved navigation, rationalisation of material to allow faster downloading and strict adherence to international accessibility standards.

All of our posts now have an online presence through separate websites hosted either in-country, centrally in Canberra or through dedicated pages on the central website. The design and content of these sites have also continued to improve.

All of the department's publications Click to view related information - opens in new window are available for viewing (main features and contents) or sale on our website. Copies of free publications can be downloaded from the website.

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Trade publications Click to view related information - opens in new window

The department produced a variety of publications aimed at conveying to Australians the importance of trade for Australia's economic wellbeing and the Government's efforts to maximise the potential of trade and economic globalisation for Australia. Our report titled The Big End of Town and Australia's Trading Interests highlighted the importance of large enterprises, including foreign-owned companies, for the Australian economy and for our trade and foreign investment interests. Other shorter publications containing focused messages were distributed very widely and included Exploding the Myths: Facts about Trade and International Investment and Why Trade Matters: 10 Facts about Trade and its Importance for Australia.

Mr Vaile launched a departmental publication titled Export EU: A Guide to the European Union for Australian business.

Image of the cover of the Changing Corporate Asia reportA report by the department's Economic Analytical Unit, Changing Corporate Asia: What Business Needs to Know, indicates that Asia's traditional relationship-driven business environment may be giving way to one shaped more by rules and the market. Economic downturn, and government efforts to develop laws and regulations to protect against risk, are increasing reliance on rules to do business. This offers greater safety and consistency of treatment for Australian business when trading with or investing in Asia.

"This report is an invaluable aid to any Australian company seeking to commence or expand its interests in East Asia. It highlights the reforms to corporate governance which recently have been taken by our East Asian neighbours and provides practical guidance to assist Australian business respond to these changes."

John Hall, CEO, Australian Institute of Company Directors

A copy of the report can be ordered from www.dfat.gov.au/eau

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Economic analysis Click to view related information - opens in new window
The department's Economic Analytical Unit produced three reports. All were launched by Mr Downer. They included: Investing in Latin American Growth: Unlocking Opportunities in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile, on economic prospects and potential trade and investment opportunities in these economies and the implications of regional integration; India: New Economy, Old Economy, that analysed India's economic reforms and developments in several fast growing sectors and states which provide increasing opportunities for Australian traders and investors; and Changing Corporate Asia: What Business Needs to Know, on how Asia's business environment is changing from a relationship-based model towards a more rules-based system.

Together with the Treasury and the Centre for International Economics, the department prepared an APEC publication Globalisation and Poverty: Turning the Corner, which argued that the best progress in eradicating poverty has taken place in developing countries that have been open to the influence of globalisation, and provided evidence of reductions in international income inequality as a consequence of globalisation.

The department also prepared a volume of research work on agrifood globalisation and Asia, as the first part of a major information resource for food-exporters under the Government's National Food Industry Strategy. Mr Vaile launched this volume in December 2001.

Asialine

The department published the final hard copy edition of Asialine and completed the move to an 'online-only' service in March 2002. The new service has free email-based registration which significantly increases its readership potential. Asialine Online's target readership has been expanded to include not only Australian businesses, but also any organisation or individual with an interest in the Asia region, such as educational institutions and non-government organisations. Asialine Online has been marketed widely to this expanded target group and currently has an online readership of about 800.

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Commercial and statistical services
The department produces a wide range of statistical publications, dealing with Australia's international trade relationships, on both a financial year and calendar year basis. These publications contribute to policy making, business decisions and community understanding of trade issues. They cover the composition and direction of trade in goods and services, and include data based on the department's own classification system, which is designed to distinguish export commodities according to their level of processing.

Some of the statistical information and advice held by the department is available on a fee-for-consultancy service basis, for Australian businesses and researchers interested in overseas markets (see output 1.3 at page 112 for further detail on services provided to business).

A set of country/economy fact sheets is maintained on the department's website at www.dfat.gov.au/geo/fs/index.html. The fact sheets provide demographic and economic information for over 160 of Australia's trading partners, and summaries of trade relations with Australia.

Early in each month, details of Australia's most recent trade outcomes are also placed on the website. Graphs and written material explain trends and other movements in Australia's exports to and imports from the ten major economies of East Asia.

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Trade advocacy and outreach

The department strengthened its efforts to engage both business and the community to project a positive image of trade and investment liberalisation by establishing a trade advocacy and outreach unit in November 2001. This has assisted the Government in promoting the benefits of trade and investment and in building support for Australia's trade policy objectives.

Through this unit, we undertook research into Australian attitudes towards Australia's international economic engagement; identified speaking opportunities on the benefits of trade for ministers, visiting heads of mission and other senior officials; and developed a number of other public affairs initiatives to sharpen and strengthen the Government's message about the significance of international trade and investment for Australia's economic future. We also worked closely with the department's state and territory offices to strengthen their community trade advocacy and outreach programs. A Newspoll conducted for the department and Austrade in May 2002 revealed greater community awareness of the WTO and the contribution exports make to the Australian economy and to personal living standards.

The department participated in a trade expo in Darwin in July 2001 and in a promotional event with Austrade at Parliament House in Canberra in June 2002. In addition to fostering greater public understanding of the importance of trade to the Australian economy, these activities promoted the passport, consular, statistical and other services that we provide for the public.

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State and territory offices

Our state and territory offices provided a continuing important link between the operations of the department in Canberra, and industry, business and community groups based throughout Australia. Their extensive contacts on a wide range of trade and investment issues was consolidated through work to launch new trade initiatives, by arranging briefings by visiting Australian heads of mission, and by representing the department at trade and investment briefings and market access seminars. The offices also provided information on overseas countries to Australian companies.

State and territory offices continued to liaise extensively with state governments. They played a valuable role in facilitating contact between government representatives, business, community groups and visiting international dignitaries and officials, and facilitating overseas visits by premiers, chief ministers and state and territory ministers (see output 1.3 at page 115 for further detail on services provided by our state and territory offices, and services to state and territory governments).

In 2001-02 a review of state and territory offices consolidated their effectiveness. Key outcomes included:

  • clearer priorities and focus in trade advocacy/outreach and business liaison strategies
  • closer collaboration with Austrade on state and regional trade issues producing collaborative activities
  • a streamlining of consular activities, especially notarial acts.

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Other public information activities

Speeches Click to view related information - opens in new window
Speeches provided by the departmental speechwriters, in consultation with ministers' offices and relevant areas of the department, were well received by ministers and helped to increase awareness and understanding of Australia's foreign and trade policies. We prepared 134 ministerial and senior executive speeches.

Material for schools Click to view related information - opens in new window
The department continued to meet a demand for educating young Australians on trade and globalisation issues. We worked with a specialist educational group to produce a study guide on globalisation and poverty which was distributed to Australia's 3100 secondary schools, with the aim of encouraging a more informed debate on globalisation issues. The study guide was based on an APEC report on globalisation and poverty (mentioned above under 'Trade publications'). We also produced curriculum material on CHOGM which was posted in the student section of the department's website.

International security issues
The department demonstrated its commitment to public outreach on international security, arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation issues through regular exchanges with interested community representatives and NGOs. We staged a meeting of the National Consultative Committee on Peace and Disarmament to discuss relevant policy issues and developments with a broad range of community representatives.

To encourage informed public debate on strategic policy and related arms control issues, we published a series of pamphlets on issues of current international interest.

Human rights Click to view related information - opens in new window
We published a newsletter to keep readers informed of the Government's human rights policies and action taken by the department. The newsletter was sent to interested NGOs and also made available on the department's website.

Treaties
The department took initiatives to raise awareness of our whole-of-government role coordinating treaty policy and practice; to strengthen links with key client groups, including the Parliament and other departments and agencies; and to improve the quality of public treaties information.

We hosted over 100 lawyers, academics, business and NGO representatives at a seminar in March 2002 on 'Treaties in the global environment'. Mr Downer gave the keynote address. At the seminar, we launched an updated officials' handbook on the practicalities of treaty making.

The department consolidated thousands of manually stored Australian treaty action records on our DFAT Treaties Database (DTD) developed during the year. Although conceived as an internal management tool, we decided during testing to link the DTD to the existing online Australian Treaties Library to provide an enhanced, fully searchable, 'one-stop shop' for treaty information. We also updated and re-issued our public information handbook on treaties and treaty making.

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Photographic library Click to view related information - opens in new window

The department developed a photographic library to help demonstrate our work and how our programs benefit Australia and Australians. In addition to an extensive range of archived holdings, photographs collected from departmental officers and professional sources have been included in an online database available through the department's intranet. A selection of images can be accessed by the public through an image gallery linked to our website. Images in both the online library and the gallery can be downloaded for reproduction in publications, websites, displays and media articles. The online image library contains more than 230 contemporary images of the department at work around the world, and some 90 historic images dating back to Federation.

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