Annual Report 2005-2006
 

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1. Overviews2. Performance3. Corporate4. Appendixes5. Financials6. Glossaries and Compliance Index

Your location: Performance > Outcome 3 > Output 3.1 > 3.1.1 Public information and media services on Australia's foreign and trade policy

OUTPUT 3.1: Public information services and public diplomacy

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

On this page: Overview :: Media services :: Website services :: Trade advocacy and outreach :: Other public information resources :: Economic analysis :: Commercial and statistical services :: Speeches :: Consultative activities :: Treaties :: Outlook

Overview

The department's work attracted significant public and media attention over the year, stemming largely from our management of crises involving Australians overseas. These included terrorist bombings in London, Bali, Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab and Amman and other high-profile consular cases. Significant foreign and trade policy developments, the challenges presented by the international security environment and the department's assistance to the Inquiry into certain Australian companies in relation to the UN Oil-for-Food Programme (the Cole Inquiry) received a high level of media attention.

We pursued a strategic approach to engaging the media, contributing to mostly informed and balanced media coverage of major foreign and trade policy initiatives. Examples included the launch of the Asia–Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate in Sydney in January 2006, the inaugural ministerial meeting of the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue in Sydney in March 2006, the launch of a Government paper on weapons of mass destruction counter-proliferation in October 2005 and ongoing negotiations for bilateral free trade agreements.

The department actively promoted the Government's foreign and trade policy agenda to domestic and international audiences through regular media briefings in Australia and overseas. We produced targeted public affairs material and distributed it through our websites and overseas posts. We continued to use the internet as our principal tool for communicating advice and information quickly to mass audiences in Australia and overseas.

Media services

The department's active and strategic engagement with Australian and international media, including through a 24-hour service, facilitated mostly informed and positive coverage of foreign and trade policy issues.

We responded to over 10 600 requests for information from Australian and international media, including rural, regional and online media, community radio, pay television and industry publications. More than 3350 requests were handled by the department's after-hours media liaison duty officer.

The department provided strategic media advice and event support to portfolio ministers and parliamentary secretaries, as well as the Prime Minister's office. We facilitated Australian media attendance at and coverage of a number of major international events to promote a greater public understanding and awareness of key portfolio issues. Major initiatives for which we provided media advice included: the Asia–Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate; the East Asia Summit; the 6th WTO ministerial meeting in Hong Kong; the APEC ministerial and leaders' meetings in South Korea; the Trilateral Strategic Dialogue involving ministers from Australia, Japan and the United States; the ASEAN Regional Forum; and the launch of a Government paper on measures to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Other portfolio issues to attract strong media interest included the Australian-led stabilisation mission to East Timor, nuclear safeguards agreement negotiations with China, the Inquiry into certain Australian companies in relation to the UN Oil-for-Food Programme, Mr Vaile's annual trade statement Trade 2006 and ongoing bilateral free trade agreement negotiations. On occasions where media reporting was inaccurate, the department sought corrections, submitted letters to editors and arranged background briefings for journalists to improve accuracy in subsequent articles.

The department's provision of consular assistance to Australians overseas attracted significant media interest. High-profile consular cases involving Australians included the London, Bali and Amman bombings, two hurricanes in the United States, two bus crashes in Cairo and a road accident involving the Australian women's cycling team in Germany. Drug cases involving Australians overseas were also a focus of media interest. We developed protocols for providing support to families to manage media interest in their consular circumstances. All consular officers received pre-posting training on how to deal with the media effectively and appropriately.

High-quality media monitoring allowed us to anticipate and respond to negative or incorrect reporting and provide timely corrections so that Australians were provided with balanced and comprehensive information.

The department maintained productive relations with local, national and international media. One-on-one interviews and briefings continued to be highly valued by journalists and were effective in providing balance to media reports. The department arranged more than 130 background briefings for individual journalists both in Canberra and at posts and 20 general media briefings, in addition to joint press conferences with portfolio ministers and their overseas counterparts.

We issued 283 media releases on behalf of portfolio ministers and parliamentary secretaries, 18 departmental media releases and 58 notes to the media. Our media releases were drawn on extensively by media outlets in their reporting.

Website services

The department's websites—covering online services, such as the consular travel advisory and registration systems and passports services, as well as issue-specific campaigns such as the free trade agreement site—continued to attract strong public interest.

The department improved its system hardware and website content. We increased the number of servers to handle peak demand following crises overseas, especially those involving Australians. Users benefited from significant enhancements to the presentation of the department's travel advisories. The new material, engineered for delivery over the web and on mobile devices, met all relevant accessibility standards. We finalised work to make client registration easier through our email travel advice subscription system.

We implemented a content management system for all overseas post websites to promote consistency of presentation and accuracy of content and to enable an audit trail of published material. Forty-three posts have been transferred to the new system, delivering cost savings, reduced risk, more efficient use of staff resources at post and significantly improved website management. We also continued the program of returning the hosting of post websites to a central location in Canberra, improving security and compliance with federal government standards.

The department developed an online registration system for the inaugural meeting of the Asia–Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, providing more efficient registration for delegates and the media.

Departmental website activity continued to increase, underscoring the importance of web-based information in our overall public diplomacy strategy. The department's main website provided an average of 25 gigabytes (GB) of data each week, compared to 19 GB of data per week in 2004–05. Average weekly access also rose significantly to over 979 000 page-views per week, an increase over the 785 000 page-views per week in 2004–05. The smartraveller website recorded an average of 322 000 page-views per week, compared to 217 000 in 2004–05.

Trade advocacy and outreach

The department conducts an extensive trade advocacy and outreach program to keep the Australian public and businesses informed about developments and opportunities in Australia's trade policy.

Outreach activity focused on the Government's active free trade agreement agenda, including ongoing negotiations with China, Malaysia and, together with New Zealand, with the ASEAN countries. Our outreach responded to growing public interest in the negotiations, especially with China. We ensured that information about Australia's position and progress in the WTO's Doha Round was current and accessible. The department collaborated efficiently with other government agencies in our trade advocacy activities. For example, we began distributing key trade publications to over 15 000 small and medium enterprises through the Office of Small Business in the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources. We are collaborating with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to produce and distribute trade and agriculture advocacy materials. We continue to work with Austrade on joint publications to promote Australia's trade agenda, especially FTAs.

The department maintained a steady flow of information to stakeholders through electronic and print media and extensive public consultations. We maintained up-to-date information about Australia's trade policy and free trade agreements on our website. With Austrade, we maintained the Government's FTA website at www.fta.gov.au. We placed opinion pieces in major newspapers, disseminated newsletters and fact sheets, and delivered speeches to promote and explain the Government's trade agenda.

Strong and effective people-to-people links with industry and community groups across all states and territories continue to be central to our trade advocacy, including through outreach by Mr Vaile, Mrs Kelly and senior departmental officials.

Other public information resources

The department's website provided a one-stop shop for domestic and international audiences to access a range of departmental publications with information about Australia's foreign and trade policies. These publications included recent policy white papers, past annual reports, the corporate plan, ministerial and departmental media releases and major speeches. The department's publications officer can be contacted through the website.

State and territory offices: a vital part of the department's trade advocacy and outreach program

The state and territory offices (STOs) are a central component of our whole of department approach to trade advocacy. The STOs are a direct point of contact with business interests in the regions. They perform a promotional role by representing the department at trade events across their regions and by organising industry or public consultations for senior departmental officials.

The STOs also host ministerial launches of key trade publications. For example, the Queensland state office hosted the Brisbane launch of Trade 2006 to coincide with the national launch in Canberra. With representation from Queensland business, government and academia, the event featured a live broadcast of Mr Vaile's speech at the National Press Club followed by a panel discussion about the importance of Australia's trade policy to the international activities of Queensland businesses. The panel was led by a number of prominent Queensland businesspeople.

The involvement of speakers drawn from the local business community helped reinforce Mr Vaile's message about the benefits of the Government's market-opening initiatives to Queensland's business sector. The event underscored the value of close public–private partnerships in developing Australia's trade policy agenda.

Similar events were hosted by each of the department's STOs to mark the launch of Trade 2006.

Economic analysis

Photo - See caption below for description
Minister for Trade Mr Mark Vaile launches the Economic Analytical Unit’s report ‘Unlocking China’s Services Sector’. The report analyses the opening of China’s services sector to foreign participation and the growing trade in services between Australia and China. Also pictured are Nicholas Coppel, then Executive Director of the Economic Analytical Unit and Dr Evanor Palac-McMiken, Director, Economic Analytical Unit. Photo: Jason McCormack
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

The department produced three new economic analytical reports on topics related to Australia's foreign and trade policy priorities.

More than oil: Economic developments in Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates examined recent economic developments and Australia's commercial relationship in these economies. It found that ambitious development plans financed by high oil and gas prices were spurring growth in tourism, financial services and construction, and that rapid population growth was making urgent the need for quality employment opportunities. Australia's trade with the region has grown rapidly and the report showed that Australian companies were well placed to access the emerging opportunities.

Education without borders: International trade in education analysed the major factors influencing the global education market and found that more than any other region, Asia continued to shape global demand. The report highlighted the way international trade negotiations are liberalising services trade and contributing to the emergence of a borderless market for international education. It examined the activities of Australia's institutions in taking increasing numbers of international students and establishing campuses offshore.

Unlocking China's Services Sector assessed China's commitment to a dramatic opening of its services sector. The report found that implementation of liberalisation measures was not yet complete and had not been without problems. China's regulatory process and overly burdensome licensing and operating requirements continued to frustrate foreign providers of services. It pointed to the need for further reform and noted that the free trade agreement currently being negotiated between China and Australia provided an opportunity to reduce barriers further and enhance trade in services. A Chinese translation was launched in Shanghai.

Commercial and statistical services

The department produces a wide range of statistical publications about Australia's international trade relationships. They assist policy-making and business decisions and contribute to community understanding of trade issues. In 2005–06, around 3900 publications were distributed to a wide range of users in the public and private sectors.

Much of the department's statistical information is available at either no charge or on a fee-for-service basis for Australian businesses and researchers interested in overseas markets. Our statistical consultancy service answered 15 113 such queries.

A set of country/economy fact sheets, including economic and demographic data for more than 170 of Australia's trading partners and summaries of their trade with Australia, is available on the department's website at www.dfat.gov.au/geo/fs. The fact sheets are regularly updated and are a valuable resource for Australian business people travelling overseas.

Speeches

The department's speechwriters, in consultation with ministers' offices and relevant areas of the department, prepared 138 speeches for ministers and the department's Senior Executive.

Consultative activities

The department continued to pursue opportunities to consult with Australian community groups in the development of foreign and trade policy. We supported several standing consultative bodies chaired by Mr Downer, Mr Vaile, Mrs Kelly and Ms Gambaro. They included the Foreign Affairs Council (Mr Downer), Australia International Cultural Council (Mr Downer), World Trade Organization Advisory Council (Mr Vaile) and Smartraveller Consultative Group (Ms Gambaro).

We conducted human rights consultations with non-government organisations (NGOs) on 9 November 2005 and 21 June 2006, and convened a one-off consultation on UN summit issues with NGOs on 19 August 2005. Mr Downer addressed the National Consultative Committee on International Security Issues when it met in November 2005. We continued to liaise with the Australian Network of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Treaties

The Australian Treaties Database lists the treaties signed or that entered into force each year. We maintain the database at www.info.dfat.gov.au/treaties. The department links the database to all government legislation and regulations passed or issued relevant to Australian treaty action since 1983.

Outlook

A major review of the department's websites will lay the framework for our electronic interface with the public in future years. Rapidly evolving digital and multi-media technologies, combined with a youth market that relies increasingly on electronic media for information and communication, create a challenge and new opportunities for the department to most effectively deliver its information services and public diplomacy program.

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