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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

1.1.4 South Pacific, Middle East and Africa

On this page: Overview :: Iraq :: Middle East :: Africa :: South Pacific :: Papua New Guinea :: New Zealand


The department vigorously pursued Australia's substantial and diverse interests in the South Pacific, the Middle East and Africa, playing a leading role in building Australia's political, trade and security links with countries in these regions.

Iraq was a major pre-occupation for Mr Downer, Mr Vaile and the department during the year. We delivered extensive specialist policy advice and other support to the Government throughout the Iraq crisis, spearheading inter-agency coordination and advocacy through the Iraq Task Force.

Close engagement with Middle East countries was a priority for us to ensure they understood Australia's policies, including the basis for our intervention in Iraq and the objectives of our role in the war against international terrorism. We registered clear messages regarding Australia's concern about Iran's nuclear program and the possibility of it seeking to acquire a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capability.

The department continued to promote Australia's commercial relations with countries in the Middle East and worked to broaden the framework of Australia's trade relations with the region. We helped develop new market opportunities for Australian exports, and explored the prospects for a free trade agreement with the United Arab Emirates.

We remained at the forefront of the Government's efforts to advance stability and security in the South Pacific. This was particularly so in Solomon Islands, where it became clear that only significantly strengthened assistance would achieve progress in resolving severe security and economic problems. We established a Solomon Islands Task Force in June 2003 to coordinate this assistance, which was realised in the following month with the commencement of operations in Solomon Islands of a major regional assistance mission, coordinated by a senior departmental official.

Security cooperation was also a feature of our enhanced bilateral relations with Fiji and Vanuatu and of our engagement with the Pacific Islands Forum, whose leaders adopted the Nasonini Declaration on transnational crime and counter-terrorism in August 2002.

The department promoted Australia's interests to the new government in Papua New Guinea (PNG), including on security, economic and consular issues. Early visits by respective prime ministers to Port Moresby and Canberra, together with the convening of the Australia–Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum, provided timely opportunities to advocate a sustained PNG commitment to economic reform.

A significant focus for the department's work on Africa was the deteriorating domestic situation in Zimbabwe, including food shortages, worsening human rights abuses and a lack of progress on political reform. We supported the Prime Minister in his role as Chairman of the Troika—with the leaders of South Africa and Nigeria— responsible for determining the Commonwealth's response. See sub-output 1.1.7 for further information.


Iraq and Saddam Hussein's WMD programs were a major pre-occupation for the Government during the year. In the early stages of the crisis, the department coordinated the Government's advocacy efforts, which helped secure adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1441. This resolution put in place a robust UN weapons inspection regime and sought to maximise pressure on Iraq to discharge its WMD disarmament obligations provided for under a series of UN Security Council resolutions. The department engaged in an intensive diplomatic effort—which ultimately proved unsuccessful—to secure a follow-up resolution to 1441 seeking Iraqi compliance with its UN obligations through peaceful means. See sub-output 1.1.7 for further information.

The department played a central role in managing Australia's relationship with key allies on Iraq—the United States and the United Kingdom. We supported ministerial and other senior officials visits to these countries on several occasions, and maintained and managed intensive dialogue with Washington, London and other capitals on a range of Iraq-related issues. We also supported ministers in helping ensure Australia's positions were properly understood by our allies and other countries, including those in the Middle East and in the Asia-Pacific region.

We worked particularly closely with AusAID on humanitarian contingency planning to address Iraq's immediate post-conflict needs. We also coordinated closely with the UN, the United States and the United Kingdom to ensure swift resumption of the Oil-for-Food program, suspended when the conflict began. Following the end of hostilities, Australia strongly advocated an end to UN sanctions against Iraq, and was one of the first countries to enact the necessary domestic legislation to repeal all sanctions after the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1483.

In close concert with AusAID, the department mobilised quickly to develop and implement a carefully targeted Australian policy for Iraq's rehabilitation that focused on Iraq's needs as well as Australian strengths and interests. The Government decided early to contribute to the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance, which later became the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The department and AusAID facilitated the deployment of some 15 Australian experts, including a senior departmental officer, to the CPA to provide advice in key areas, including macroeconomic policy, humanitarian relief, water and sanitation, legal issues and the oil sector.

Mr Downer's early visit to liberated Baghdad in May 2003 and the opening of the Australian Representative Office in Baghdad, one of the first such missions to open after the conflict, were strong signals of political support for post-Saddam Iraq. Operating in difficult circumstances, the post worked quickly to protect and promote Australia's interests in Iraq with both the CPA and key Iraqi contacts.

Working closely with Austrade, the department helped develop a post-sanctions commercial strategy for Iraq, and helped relevant Australian companies pursuing business opportunities in Iraq. Throughout the crisis we supported ministerial and officials-level lobbying to protect and promote Australia's substantial wheat trade with Iraq. The department supported Mr Vaile's visit to Washington in April 2003 leading an Australian business delegation. The visit raised the profile of Australian companies keen to secure commercial sub-contracting opportunities from major US corporations engaged by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Mr Vaile also promoted Australia's longstanding Iraq wheat trade with key US Administration and business interlocutors.

The department participated in international discussions on Iraq's debts to foreign creditors, including in the Paris Club of creditor nations, with the aim of protecting Australia's debt exposure. These discussions remained at a preliminary stage at the end of the year.

Iraq Task Force

The department took the early decision in September 2002 to establish an Iraq Task Force that grew as the crisis deepened in early 2003. The Government decided that the task force, in addition to being the central point of coordination within the department, would also spearhead inter-agency coordination and advocacy on Iraq, given the need for an effective whole-of-government response. Our crisis centre was activated and, during the conflict, operated on a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week basis to respond to urgent consular, post security and other matters, and to monitor developments.

The task force brought together a range of departments and agencies, including Prime Minister and Cabinet, Defence, the Office of National Assessments, AusAID, Austrade, Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and Attorney-General’s Department. The principal coordination mechanism was regular meetings of the inter-departmental task force, chaired by the department. The meetings were initially held three times a week, and increased to daily (including weekend) meetings during military operations. The task force secretariat produced concise situation reports for ministers and other agencies, initially three times a week, rising to a peak of twice-daily reports. By 30 June 2003, 185 such reports had been prepared.

Middle East

The department played a leading role in protecting and advancing Australia's economic and political interests in the countries of the Middle East before and after the hostilities in Iraq. We supported a visit by Mr Downer to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and Iran in May 2003 during which he raised issues of concern including terrorism, nuclear proliferation and the Middle East peace process, as well as bilateral issues.

Building on Australia's reputation as a reliable partner and supplier, we continued to help develop new markets for Australian manufactures and services. In 2002–03, we helped to secure a $90 million contract for the sale of patrol boats to Yemen, the prime consultancy for the Qatar 2006 Asian Games, and commodities contracts that included the first sale of wheat to Jordan since 1996.

We worked to broaden the framework of Australia's trade relations with the Middle East. We advanced Australia's commercial relations with Iran by supporting Mr Vaile's participation in a Joint Ministerial Commission meeting in Tehran in September 2002. Mr Vaile was accompanied by 54 Australian business representatives. We helped secure a United Arab Emirates undertaking to consider a free trade agreement. With the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, we supported Australia's trade interests by streamlining visa-issuing procedures for Gulf nationals.

The department consolidated constructive relations with the Arab world by establishing the Council for Australian–Arab Relations (see box on previous page) and facilitating a series of targeted speaking engagements in Australia by the Council Chair.

Council for Australian–Arab Relations

Mr Downer and Mr Vaile announced the establishment of the Council for Australian–Arab Relations (CAAR) in December 2002. The creation of the Council highlighted the depth and breadth of Australia’s relations with the Arab world and the Government’s commitment to strengthening all aspects of those ties. A senior departmental officer is a member of the Council and the department also provides secretariat support.

The CAAR promotes mutual interests between Australia and the Arab world. At launches in state capitals, the Council Chair and members addressed a range of community groups. The CAAR has been active since its first meeting held on 14 March 2003:

In numerous high-level exchanges with the government of Iran, we delivered clear messages registering Australia's concern about Iran's nuclear program and the possibility of it seeking to acquire a WMD capability. We made practical efforts to improve Iran's human rights environment by initiating one of the few bilateral human rights dialogues with that country.

Through policy advice and diplomatic representation, the department pursued Australia's interest in an early and just settlement of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, including by actively conveying the Government's support for the 'roadmap' for peace. We strengthened Australia's relations with Israel by promoting the Australia–Israel Cultural Exchange and its Council (the establishment of which Mr Downer welcomed with his Israeli counterpart) and by supporting the visit to Australia by the Israeli Transport Minister.


As Australia's commercial interests in North Africa continued to grow, particularly in the hydrocarbon sector, the department provided targeted political and economic advice to a range of Australian businesses and other interested groups. We supported the visit to Libya by Mr Vaile with a 20-person trade delegation. In other parts of Africa, we continued our advocacy on behalf of Australian companies through representations to host governments and local business entities. Notable successes included the increased acceptance of Australian wine in Nigeria and Ghana.

The department supported the Government's response to a further deterioration in the political and economic circumstances in Zimbabwe. Our support for the Prime Minister's visit to Nigeria in September 2002 for Commonwealth Troika discussions on Zimbabwe (involving the leaders of Nigeria and South Africa) formed a key part of this strategy. The department supported Mr Downer's participation in meetings of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, including to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe. At the same time, we worked to ensure that neighbouring African countries understood Australia's position on Zimbabwe's continued suspension from the councils of the Commonwealth.

The department organised and supported a visit by an Australian parliamentary delegation to South Africa and Nigeria in October 2002 that enhanced links with those countries at the parliamentary, governmental and non-governmental levels.

South Pacific

The department played a leading role in advancing the Government's objective of greater stability and security for countries in the South Pacific, particularly in Solomon Islands, where we devoted substantial effort to tackling lawlessness and economic decline.

Throughout the year we supported positive local efforts to prevent a return to widespread ethnic conflict in Solomon Islands, including through the valuable work of the National Peace Council, civil society and churches. We encouraged programs to reform and rebuild the police force. We advised the Government on the development of a policy of strengthened assistance, in close cooperation with the Solomon Islands Government and other regional countries, particularly New Zealand. A meeting of Pacific Islands Forum foreign ministers, which we organised, endorsed a framework for the policy. We established a Solomon Islands Task Force in June 2003 to coordinate the Government's implementation of strengthened assistance, to be provided at the direct request of Solomon Islands. In July 2003, a major regional assistance mission, coordinated by a senior departmental official, began operations in Solomon Islands.

Security cooperation was also a feature of our enhanced bilateral relationship with Fiji. The department supported productive visits to Australia by the Prime Minister, Mr Qarase, in October 2002 and the Foreign Minister, Mr Tavola, in April 2003. Mr Tavola and Mr Downer signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on counter-terrorism, which we negotiated—the first counter-terrorism MOU signed with any Pacific country. We also advanced the nomination of a senior Australian police officer as Fiji's new Police Commissioner.

The department supported Vanuatu's efforts to maintain respect for the rule of law, following instability in the police force in August 2002. We sponsored and organised a visit to Australia by the Vanuatu Agriculture Minister in March 2003 that strengthened cooperation with Australia on agriculture issues. We hosted inaugural bilateral trade talks with New Caledonia in September 2002, which successfully addressed market access issues. Our regular liaison with key ministers and officials in the Government of Nauru facilitated cordial bilateral relations and mutual cooperation on asylum-seeker processing.

The department supported the Prime Minister's participation in the 2002 Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' Meeting in Suva, where leaders adopted the Nasonini Declaration, committing island nations to take stronger action on transnational crime and counter-terrorism. We followed up by encouraging regional partners to implement the declaration, including through provision of in-country assistance with legislative drafting. We helped promote best use and sustainable management of highly migratory fish stocks in the region through our participation, with other key Australian Government agencies, in two preparatory conferences for the establishment of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission.

Our input to the Government's high-level engagement in the South Pacific included:

Table 9. Australia’s trade in goods and services with the South Pacific, Middle East and Africa
  Exports Imports
Trend growth
1997 to 2002
Trend growth
1997 to 2002
New Zealand and Territories 9 351 10 109 5.5 6 360 6 540 6.1
Papua New Guinea 1 344 1 226 –2.9 1 399 1 381 7.4
Other Pacific Islands 1 766 1 826 4.8 913 1 100 4.1
Middle East (a) 7 045 6 458 18.1 3 513 2 933 11.9
South Africa 1 479 1 475 5.3 1 046 1 135 12.0
Other Africa (b) 2 037 2 017 13.2 549 799 13.2
Total 23 022 23 111 8.3 13 778 13 888 8.0
Source: DFAT Stars database and ABS International trade in services by partner country 2002.
(a) Excluding Egypt
(b) Including Egypt

Papua New Guinea

The department provided strong support for Australia's security, economic and consular interests with Papua New Guinea (PNG), particularly for the reforms needed to reverse the country's worrying economic decline. We implemented the Government's plan for early high-level engagement with the new government of Sir Michael Somare, including through facilitation of visits by the Prime Minister to PNG in August 2002 and by Sir Michael Somare to Canberra in December 2002.

The Australia–Papua New Guinea Ministerial Forum, which we organised in November 2002, provided a broad platform for advocating the reform of PNG's economy and public sector. We were strong advocates to the PNG Government of improved expenditure controls, transparency in decision-making and deeper public sector reforms, including as a means of encouraging new investment into PNG. The technical and financial contribution to assist the smooth conduct of the supplementary South Highlands elections, which we coordinated with the high commission, demonstrated Australia's practical commitment to democracy in PNG. We helped sustain the momentum of PNG Defence Force restructuring, with extensive bilateral consultation leading to the full utilisation of funds under the first $20 million tranche of an assistance package.

We successfully advanced Australia's objective of sustaining peace on Bougainville by promoting further implementation of the Bougainville Peace Agreement. The department's leadership role in the Australian-led Peace Monitoring Group (PMG) on Bougainville, coupled with our strong advocacy for a renewed focus on weapons-disposal outcomes, ensured the peace process was sufficiently robust to allow for the withdrawal of the PMG after 30 June 2003.

Responding to requests for a continued international presence on Bougainville, the Government agreed to establish a smaller civilian Bougainville Transition Team (BTT) from 1 July 2003. The department played a major role in ensuring that the BTT was ready for deployment on that date. Our agenda on Bougainville will now shift to developmental issues, including in the law and justice sectors, as moves towards the establishment of an autonomous Bougainville government are advanced.

The department facilitated the renewal of the agreement with PNG to maintain, until October 2003, the operation of an asylum-seeker processing centre at the Lombrum naval base in Manus Province. We negotiated PNG Government agreement to a five-year extension of the memorandum of understanding prohibiting mining and drilling in the Torres Strait Protected Zone. We also gained PNG's agreement to enhance bilateral cooperation on border security and illegal migration. We have begun discussions on a proposed agreement on cooperation on counter-terrorism.

New Zealand

Photo - See caption below for description
Minister for Trade, Mr Mark Vaile, led the Australian delegation to the Australia–New Zealand Trade Ministers’ Meeting in Christchurch in August 2002. From left: then First Assistant Secretary, South Pacific, Africa and Middle East Division, James Wise, Bob Cotton, then Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand, Mr Vaile, Mr Sutton, New Zealand Minister for Trade Negotiations, Mr Dick Grant, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), Mr Peter Kennedy, Director, Australia Division, MFAT. (Photo: New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade)
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

The department's organisation of events to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations Agreement (CER) allowed the Government to emphasise that the two countries share a special relationship as allies and close economic partners. We organised several high-level discussions—including the biannual Foreign Ministers' talks and annual Trade Ministers' talks—which reinforced the value of extensive cooperation across a range of shared economic and regional security interests.

We worked to deepen the CER, one of the world's most successful bilateral trade agreements. We supported visits to New Zealand by the Prime Minister in May 2003 and by the Treasurer, Mr Costello, in February 2003. The latter produced agreement to hold annual talks with the Treasurer's New Zealand counterpart, including on the advancement of important financial and regulatory initiatives as part of the CER forward agenda.

We contributed to the draft report evaluating the Trans–Tasman Mutual Recognition Arrangement, which contributes significantly to the advancement of our economic partnership. The establishment of a joint therapeutic products agency is now well advanced. The department advocated strongly on behalf of industry the resolution of disputes involving the rules of origin that apply to exports. We liaised extensively with New Zealand in developing a common agenda within multilateral trading forums, particularly in pursuit of agricultural reforms and in promoting cooperation with ASEAN through the AFTA–CER Closer Economic Partnership.

We facilitated the Government's valuable cooperation with New Zealand on a range of security and defence issues, including regional peacekeeping activities, Closer Defence Relations, efforts to combat people-smuggling, counter-terrorism initiatives and cooperation within South Pacific regional forums.

Figure 12. Australia's trade in goods and services with New Zealand

Figure 12. Australia's trade in goods and services with New Zealand

View text description of above chart


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