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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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Appendix 6
Freedom of Information

Page Contents

This statement is provided in accordance with section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and is correct to 30 June 2002.

Access to records under the Freedom of Information Act 1982

The Freedom of Information Act 1982 extends the right to obtain access to documents in the Government's possession. Access is limited only by exemptions that protect essential public interests and the private and business affairs of people about whom departments and statutory authorities collect and hold information. During the year, we met our obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, processing 56 requests.

Members of the public seeking access to documents should lodge a formal Freedom of Information request. This must be made in writing, be accompanied by a $30 application fee, and include a telephone number, a fax number (if available) and an address within Australia to which notifications are to be addressed. Requests should be sent to:

Freedom of Information Unit
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
R G Casey Building
John McEwen Crescent
Barton ACT 0221
Tel: (02) 6261 2903
Tel: (02) 6261 1170

The department's state and territory offices can also be contacted for this purpose (see inside back cover of this annual report for a list of addresses).

Decisions on granting access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 are generally made by the departmental Senior Executive Service member responsible for the work area to which the request relates.

The department levies the applicable fees and charges imposed under the Freedom of Information Regulations (Fees and Charges). Such fees and charges may be remitted, reduced or not imposed for any reason, including if grounds of financial hardship or general public interest can be established. Further advice regarding fees and charges may be directed to the department's Freedom of Information Unit.

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Access to records under the Archives Act 1983

Records more than 30 years old are available for public access under the Archives Act 1983, except for information that falls into an exempted category. Archival records are not subject to the Privacy Act 1988 and most exemptions in departmental records relate to intelligence, security, defence or international relations sensitivities. Records are mostly held by the National Archives of Australia. Applications for access under the Archives Act 1983 should be addressed to:

Director, Access and Information Services
National Archives of Australia
PO Box 7425
Canberra Mail Centre ACT 2610
Tel: (02) 6212 3600

The Archives Act 1983 also allows the department to grant approved individuals special access to records not generally available to the public. Where the records contain potentially exempt material, a charge will be levied to cover the actual cost of assessment and administration. Inquiries about eligibility for special access or information on departmental history should be addressed to:

Director, Historical Research and Access
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
R G Casey Building
John McEwen Crescent
Barton ACT 0221
Tel: (02) 6261 2619
Tel: (02) 6261 2628

We also publish a comprehensive range of public information on our website (www.dfat.gov.au).

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Functions and powers

The department exercises, or participates in the exercise of, the following functions and decision-making powers:

  • entering into multilateral and bilateral treaties and arrangements, and their administration, including:
    • implementing the World Trade Organization Agreement and its annexed agreements, including World Trade Organization formal dispute settlement processes
    • negotiating amendments to the WTO Agreement
    • negotiating bilateral trade agreements, such as the Australia-Singapore Free Trade Agreement and the Australia-Thailand Closer Economic Relations Agreement
    • implementing bilateral trade agreements, such as the Australia-New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement
    • negotiating and implementing investment promotion and protection agreements
    • negotiating commodity agreements
    • fulfilling responsibilities under the Torres Strait Treaty and Timor Gap Exchange of Notes
    • implementing the provisions of the Vienna conventions on diplomatic and consular relations
    • fulfilling Australia's obligations under the United Nations Charter and international conventions
    • implementing Australia's nuclear safeguards agreements and related multilateral arrangements
    • implementing treaties and agreements relating to arms control and disarmament
    • negotiating and implementing agreements to promote and protect human rights
    • negotiating and implementing the Statute of the International Criminal Court
    • monitoring the implementation of Australia's extradition treaties and similar arrangements with Commonwealth and other countries and treaties of mutual assistance on criminal matters, and the negotiation of further treaties
    • negotiating and implementing environmental treaties
    • implementing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and associated maritime delimitation and fisheries agreements
    • implementing the Antarctic Treaty, associated conventions and protocols and negotiating related instruments
    • administering Australia's bilateral cultural agreements
  • assisting Australian citizens travelling and residing overseas, including:
    • providing welfare assistance in cases such as death, arrest, hospitalisation, war, civil unrest and disaster
    • granting relief to, and assisting with repatriation of, Australians in difficulty overseas, where appropriate
    • registering Australian citizens
    • performing notarial acts
    • registering children born overseas to Australian parents as Australian citizens, as provided for under the Citizenship Act 1948, where the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs is not represented
    • taking evidence overseas on the authority of an Australian court order
  • providing postal voting facilities overseas under the direction of the Australian Electoral Commission and state electoral authorities
  • issuing passports and other travel documents under the Passports Act 1938 and reviewing decisions under the Act
  • granting territorial and extra-territorial asylum
  • processing full-time student applications on behalf of the Department of Education, Science and Training
  • issuing visas for entry into Australia in countries where the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs is not represented
  • undertaking and publishing analyses of economic and political developments affecting Australia, with a view to encouraging informed debate on their implications
  • providing advice and export permits to Australian Government agencies and the private sector with regard to Australia's obligations under UN sanctions regimes
  • certifying that countries have acceded to relevant international agreements in respect of international arbitration
  • representing the Australian Government in international litigation, including in the International Court of Justice
  • assisting Australian exporters through the provision of advice to the Minister for Trade on trade finance issues, including the operations of the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation, and Australia's obligations under the OECD Arrangement on Guidelines for Officially Supported Export Credits
  • representing the Australian Government at meetings of the Paris Club group of official creditors to consider the coordinated treatment of debts owed by developing countries
  • granting official financial assistance for holding international conferences in Australia
  • authorising official expenditure on cultural exchanges, tours, exhibitions, academic exchanges and visits
  • overseas property management, including acquisition, ownership and disposal of real property
  • performing duties overseas under the Shipping Registration Act 1981 and the Navigation Act 1912 under the direction of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

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Outside participation

The department is open to the views of outside organisations and provides opportunities for members of the community to contribute to developing aspects of Australia's international relations through:

  • representation on bodies such as the Foreign Affairs Council, Australia International Cultural Council, Australia-China Council, Australia-France Foundation (whose director is located in the Australian Embassy in Paris), Australia-India Council, Australia-Indonesia Institute, Australia-Japan Foundation (whose director is located in the Australian Embassy in Tokyo), Australia-Korea Foundation, the Council on Australia Latin America Relations, Australian National Commission for UNESCO, and the National Consultative Committee on Peace and Disarmament
  • consultations with the Australian Industries Development Association, the Confederation of Australian Industries (and the various business cooperation committees that meet under the Confederation's aegis), and Australian industry, including AWB Ltd, Australian Dairy Corporation, Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Services Network, Australian Ricegrowers' Cooperative Limited, Sheepmeat Council of Australia, Horticulture Australia, National Farmers' Federation and Queensland Sugar Ltd. These consultations consider market access priorities for multilateral trade negotiations and other negotiations
  • consultations with firms, industry organisations and other groups in the development and prosecution of Australia's approach to dispute settlement cases and issues in the World Trade Organization, including through the department's WTO disputes enquiry point
  • broad-based community consultations on Australia's position on multilateral trade negotiations in the World Trade Organization, including through the WTO Advisory Group, calls for public submissions, consultations with industry, non-government organisations, community groups and state and territory governments
  • consultations with the business community, state and territory governments, and non-government organisations, on Australia's interests in negotiating bilateral free trade agreements or developing new bilateral trade and economic arrangements, including with Singapore, the United States, Thailand, Japan and China
  • formal arrangements for consultations with interested bodies on trade-related matters, including the Trade Policy Advisory Council, National Trade Consultations Agricultural Trade Consultative Group
  • liaison with industry in the preparation of the annual Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement
  • consultation with industry in preparation of Economic Analytical Unit reports
  • business relations programs operated by the department's state and territory offices, which provide briefings and organise seminars on trade policy and development issues, and conduct other regular consultations with business.
  • liaison with the business and academic community to shape Australia's position in the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) through our representatives to the Indian Ocean Rim Business Forum (IORBF) and Indian Ocean Rim Academic Group (IORAG)
  • liaison with other departments and agencies with relevant technical competencies in areas such as quarantine, mining and air services
  • consultations with state and territory governments, industry and environmental organisations in respect of negotiations affecting specific multilateral environment treaties, such as the Biosafety Protocol and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants
  • consultations with the National Consultative Group on Biological Weapons
  • liaison with the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) and its Australian Member Committee (AUS-CSCAP)
  • regular exchanges of views with organisations including Amnesty International and other human rights organisations, and the UN Association of Australia
  • participation in consultations with the UN Sanctions Committee
  • participation in Australian delegations to certain international meetings and/or conferences

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Categories of documents

Documents more than five years old are transferred into archival custody or destroyed in accordance with a disposal schedule. Australia's overseas posts have documentary holdings of their own, which may parallel those the department holds in Canberra and in state and territory offices.

The department has extensive documentary holdings, including:

  • cables, minutes, memorandums, file notes, and other documents concerning political and economic matters, human rights, refugees, disarmament, security, trade, environment and other issues in foreign countries and international organisations
  • submissions to portfolio ministers and senior officers
  • electronic records of departmental file titles
  • storage of texts of inwards and outwards cablegrams and email
  • computer disc storage of statistical and other material
  • working files, including passport case files, consular case files and case management databases, and correspondence
  • documents received from foreign governments, including notes verbale and aides memoire
  • Australian and foreign intelligence community documents
  • documents prepared for use in legal proceedings
  • texts of speeches and press statements on foreign affairs and trade
  • documents prepared to brief the business community on the economic/business environment of overseas countries
  • ministerial correspondence
  • the Australian treaty collection and the collection of agreements of less-than-treaty status
  • National Interest Analysis on treaties submitted to Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties
  • briefs for Australian delegations and ministers visiting overseas
  • programs for ministers visiting overseas
  • cabinet submissions and decisions
  • series Documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937-1949 and Documents on Australian Foreign Policy (post-1950 series)
  • series Current Notes 1936-1972, Australian Foreign Affairs Record 1973-1988, Australian Foreign Affairs and Trade Record 1989-1992, Backgrounder journal 1992-1993, Insight 1993-1996 and Australian Foreign Affairs and Trade Record 1997-2000
  • documents of international agencies
  • emergency task force papers
  • Executive Council minutes and accompanying documentation
  • annual post evaluation report papers
  • divisional evaluation reviews
  • office evaluation reports
  • evaluation and audit reports and audit plans
  • reports and working papers of the Economic Analytical Unit
  • directives to, instructions to, and briefings for overseas posts
  • reports on meetings and conferences
  • reports to UN treaty bodies
  • briefings for ministers on possible parliamentary questions, records of appearances by departmental officers before the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, and other parliamentary committees
  • ad hoc reports on overseas official travel by federal and state members of Parliament
  • briefs for, and reports on, post liaison visits
  • policy planning documents, including In the National Interest, Australia's Foreign and Trade Policy White Paper and Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statements
  • corporate planning documents, including the Corporate Plan 2000-2002, Portfolio Budget Statements and Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements
  • documents and databases relating to budget and human resources management
  • documents on office supplies and equipment, motor vehicles, telephones and general office services matters
  • documents on property and accommodation matters within Australia
  • documents relating to overseas property
  • documents relating to agreement making
  • documents relating to the selection of experts, engagements of individual and institutional experts, advisory board members, project managers and contracts for the engagement of consultants
  • documents on personnel planning, conditions of service, career development counselling, and discipline and review of action matters
  • reports of selection advisory committees and independent selection advisory committees
  • information on individual graduate trainee applications
  • documents on average staffing levels
  • documents and databases relating to staff employed overseas (locally engaged staff), their salaries, conditions, classifications and numbers
  • documents and databases relating to the design, implementation and operation of the department's computer-based information handling, storage, retrieval and control systems serving the areas of communications, accounting, records management, consular, passports, freedom of information, training, management, aid projects and training awards
  • documents on fraud investigations
  • documents on personnel security, physical and protective security, funding of protective security measures, post inspection reports, technical and information technology security, and contingency plans in relation to the department's operations abroad and in Australia
  • a database on incidents affecting security overseas
  • a database of business clients in the department's state and territory offices
  • documents and a database relating to foreign diplomatic and consular personnel in Australia
  • documents relating to funding, financial operations, debtors and payment of claims in Australia and overseas
  • documents relating to claims under the Scheme for Compensation Due to Defective Administration
  • compiled information on employment histories and biographical details (the Statement of Service Appointments and Biographies 2000)
  • magnetic storage and microfiche records of passport issue details
  • electronic record of passport applications and relevant attachments
  • master sets of DFATNEWS, an internal departmental bulletin
  • organisation charts and related information
  • documents and databases relating to staff employed in Canberra, state and territory offices and overseas, their salaries, conditions, classifications and numbers
  • staff medical and compensation information
  • documents and databases relating to former staff of the department
  • personal security files on security-cleared personnel
  • records of travel, removals and storage
  • sets of administrative circulars
  • sets of current and discontinued information papers
  • public information materials projecting Australia and its policies overseas on film, video cassette, radio tape, compact disc, slide and written forms
  • documents relating to cultural promotion activities and visits programs
  • training material in various forms
  • documents and database records related to implementation of the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1994
  • survey returns relating to the identification of companies and organisations subject to permit and notification requirements of the Chemical Weapons (Prohibition) Act 1994
  • documents and records related to implementation of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty
  • documents and database records related to policy and transactional issues under the Export Finance and Insurance Corporation Act 1991 (note: EFIC's activities under parts 4 and 5 of the Act are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act 1982)
  • documents presented in electronic form on the publicly accessible websites maintained by the department at www.dfat.gov.au and www.dfat.gov.au/tw/.

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Registers of Australian births overseas

The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs records details of Australians born overseas. People may seek extracts from the registers through that department. Consular officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade performing functions under the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 at Australian overseas posts also maintain registers of Australians born overseas.

Although data entered in our registers is regularly notified to the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, the registers themselves are held at the posts concerned. People may request and obtain extracts from the relevant posts.

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Documents for sale and free of charge

A range of documents, including the department's annual report, are available either for purchase or for free from Government Info Shops or the department. Many are also accessible on the department's website. A list of departmental publications produced or updated during the year in review is provided in the online version of this report. (View list of publications)

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