Annual Report 2008-2009

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Your location: Performance > Outcome 1 > Output 1.1 > 1.1.2 South-East Asia

OUTPUT 1.1: Protection and advocacy of Australia's international interests through the provision of policy advice to ministers and overseas diplomatic activity

1.1.2 South-East Asia

On this page: Overview :: Indonesia :: Thailand :: Singapore :: Malaysia :: The Philippines :: Vietnam :: East Timor :: ASEAN and regional issues :: Outlook


Strengthening Australia’s relationships and fostering closer practical engagement with key regional partners in South-East Asia were high priorities for the department in 2008–09.

The department intensified engagement with Indonesia, including in regional and multilateral forums, on a range of areas including the G20, World Trade Organization (WTO), counter-terrorism, combating people smuggling and illegal fishing and promoting democratic development in the region. We deepened relations with Malaysia, pursuing new areas of cooperation identified during a visit by the Prime Minister in 2008. Continuing high-level contact with Singapore reinforced an already strong agenda of engagement across the breadth of security, trade and foreign policy issues. Commemorating 35 years of diplomatic relations with Vietnam, the department laid the groundwork and developed initiatives for new areas of bilateral cooperation.

Visits to the Philippines by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Trade emphasised Australia’s commitment to the peace process in Mindanao and highlighted potential for increased commercial contacts. Political unrest in Thailand saw the department focus on protecting Australia’s extensive interests and assisting Australian travellers caught up in developments. We maintained pressure on the regime in Burma in the face of the continued repression of the Burmese people and an increased number of displaced persons.

The department focused on initiatives to strengthen existing regional architecture and on possible future developments, including promoting the concept of an Asia Pacific community. We coordinated increased Australian cooperation with the Association of South-East Asian Nations, the highlight of which was the conclusion of the ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand free trade agreement (AANZFTA) in February 2009. We also sought to strengthen regional forums, including the East Asia Summit. The department led a campaign to secure Australia’s membership of the Asia–Europe Meeting process of dialogue and cooperation.


The department worked to reinforce Australia’s important relationship with Indonesia with a strong focus on advancing further cooperation on security and trade issues and building people-to-people links. We facilitated a large number of successful high-level exchanges including visits by 15 Australian and 15 Indonesian ministers. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, made two visits. The department coordinated the ninth Australia–Indonesia Ministerial Forum (AIMF) in November 2008 in Canberra which involved the participation of eight Indonesian ministers. We took the lead in implementing initiatives emerging from the AIMF including to expand trade and investment. We also supported the Minister for Trade, Mr Crean in his role as chair of the 33rd WTO Cairns Group Ministerial Meeting in Bali in June 2009 (see sub-output 1.1.8).


  Exports Exports     Imports Imports  
Goods and services (a) 2007
Trend growth 2003–2008
Trend growth 2003–2008
Indonesia 4,801 5,293 6.7   5,518 6,212 5.8
Malaysia 4,479 5,488 10.6   8,317 9,967 13.5
Philippines 1,369 1,824 9.8   1,102 1,082 1.5
Singapore 7,248 10,054 11.6   14,652 20,954 22.5
Thailand 5,222 6,297 15.5   9,452 11,972 24.1
Vietnam 1,806 2,200 29.1   5,037 5,755 19.1
Other 305 277 11.5   1,338 1,493 18.3
Total ASEAN 25,230 31,433 11.9   45,416 57,435 17.4
East Timor (b) 37 35 –5.5   2 11 23.8
Total South-East Asia 25,267 31,468 11.9   45,418 57,446 17.4

(a) Goods data on a recorded trade basis, services data on a balance of payments basis
(b) Goods data only. Services data is not published by the ABS for this country
Sources: DFAT Stars database and ABS Catalogue 5368.0

The department advanced Australia’s security interests through implementing the Australia–Indonesia Agreement on the Framework for Security Cooperation (the Lombok Treaty) which came into force in February 2008. We coordinated development of the Lombok Treaty plan of action adopted at the inaugural meeting of the officials-level Security Cooperation Consultation Group in November 2008. The plan of action outlines an ambitious agenda to enhance cooperation in a range of fields covering defence, law enforcement, counter-terrorism and disaster response. The department continued close cooperation with partners in Indonesian national and regional governments and civil society organisations to counter terrorism (see sub-output 1.1.10).

Photo - See caption below for description
The Minister for Trade, Mr Crean, and Indonesian Minister for Trade, Dr Mari Pangestu, share a lighter moment before they address the Australia–Indonesia Conference business lunch in Sydney on 20 February 2009.
Photo: Benjamin Townsend Photography
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

We advanced Australia’s interests through working closely with Indonesia in regional and multilateral forums. The Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, co-chaired the inaugural Bali Democracy Forum in December 2008, with Indonesia’s President, Mr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The Australian and Indonesian foreign ministers, Mr Smith and Dr Wirajuda, co-chaired the Third Bali Regional Ministerial Conference on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime in April 2009 (see sub-output 1.1.9). In response to the global economic crisis, we worked closely with Indonesia to mobilise support for the G20.

We also increased cooperation with Indonesia in regional and multilateral environmental and other forums. The department worked with the Department of Climate Change to facilitate cooperation on climate change with Indonesia. This work included implementing the Indonesia–Australia Forest Carbon Partnership (signed in June 2008) and the development of joint Australia–Indonesia submissions for international negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Following a rise in unauthorised boat arrivals, the department coordinated increased cooperation with the Indonesian Government to prevent and deter people smugglers from using Indonesia as a transit country to reach Australia. We also continued to cooperate with Indonesia on measures to address illegal fishing in Australia’s northern waters, partly by conducting a public information campaign. Sightings and apprehensions of illegal Indonesian fishing boats decreased compared with 2007–08 (see sub-output 1.1.9).

We concluded a joint feasibility study for a possible free trade agreement (FTA) with Indonesia, which was welcomed by the Australian and Indonesian trade ministers, Mr Crean and Dr Pangestu, at the eighth Australia–Indonesia Trade Ministers Meeting (TMM) in February 2009 (see sub-output 1.1.7). The department worked closely with Australian industry and the Indonesian Government to strengthen the bilateral trade and investment relationship. We implemented key recommendations of the Trade and Investment Framework Experts Group, which presented its final report to ministers at the TMM in February 2009.

The department initiated and hosted a major conference in Sydney in February 2009, which focused on developing a vigorous and practical bilateral partnership. The Prime Minister delivered the keynote address at the conference, while Mr Smith and his Indonesian counterpart also addressed the conference. Three Indonesian ministers attended as part of a 70-strong Indonesian delegation of political, religious, community, youth and business leaders. We are pursuing several initiatives that emerged from the conference, with a focus on fostering people-to-people links and promoting Indonesian studies in Australia. Visits by filmmaker Ms Mira Lesmana and women’s rights advocate Ms Kamala Chandrakirana under the Special Visits Program helped to strengthen people-to-people networks in underdeveloped areas and highlighted new directions for potential cooperation.

The department supported the Australia–Indonesia Institute in building stronger links between the peoples of Australia and Indonesia. We designed and delivered the Australia International Cultural Council’s first major cultural diplomacy program in Indonesia for many years (see sub-output 3.1.2).


Photo - See caption below for description
The Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Bangkok, Ms Bronte Moules, distributing blankets to residents of the Klong Toey slum area in Bangkok during her visit to Sister Joan’s milk run project, which was supported by the Australian Embassy Discretionary Fund in January 2009. Sister Joan is from the Western Australian Congregation of Presentation Sisters and has been working in the area since 1991.
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

The department coordinated the inaugural Australia–Thailand Joint Commission on Bilateral Cooperation chaired by Mr Smith and his Thai counterpart, Mr Kasit, in May 2009 in Perth. The Joint Commission provided a venue for ministers to discuss the full range of bilateral and broader strategic issues and was also the first visit to Australia by a Thai Foreign Minister since the 2006 coup in Thailand. The department supported the visit by Mr Crean to Thailand in February 2009 in conjunction with the signing of the AANZFTA (see sub-output 1.1.7). Our facilitation of visits by Thai parliamentary and community delegations promoted increased understanding of Australia and Australian life across a wide range of areas.

Advocacy of the Government’s pursuit of broader economic ties between Thailand and Australia saw the department focus on securing Thai agreement to begin negotiations on further trade and investment liberalisation under the Thailand–Australia FTA. These negotiations would cover services, investment, business mobility, competition and government procurement. We are discussing with Thailand the commencement of these negotiations.

The department led Australia’s response to the uncertain political environment in Thailand, which included unrest and demonstrations in November–December 2008 and the cancellation of the East Asia Summit in Pattaya in April 2009.

We supported the Australia–Thailand Institute in its work to strengthen people-to-people and institutional links (see sub-output 3.1.2).


The department pursued a busy program of high-level exchange with Singapore, reflecting close bilateral ties and cooperation on a range of regional and other issues. This included three visits to Singapore by the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and a visit by the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Gillard. Mr Smith and Mr Crean attended ASEAN-related meetings during Singapore’s term as ASEAN Chair. We also supported a visit by the Governor-General in November 2008.

We maintained close and regular dialogue with Singapore on a wide range of regional issues including the East Asia Summit and Australia’s interest in participating in the Asia-Europe Meeting.

The department undertook two rounds of negotiations with Singapore on the second review of the Singapore–Australia FTA, during which we reached in-principle agreement on enhanced text in relation to investment and intellectual property (see sub-output 1.1.7).


Photo - See caption below for description
The Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, with Malaysia’s then Minister of Education, Mr Hishammuddin Hussein, and students of Aminuddin Baki Secondary School, in Kuala Lumpur on 10 July 2008. The school is one of six Malaysian schools participating in the DFAT-funded Australia–Malaysia Sister Schools Project. Mr Rudd launched the project on his first official visit to Malaysia.
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

We advanced the bilateral relationship with Malaysia, supporting the visit by the Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, in July 2008, and working with other agencies to implement a program of cooperative activities agreed by the Malaysian and Australian prime ministers. These included the Malaysia-Australia Education Project for Afghanistan and a pilot sister-schools project involving 12 schools from the state of Victoria and Malaysia.

The department coordinated Australian involvement in the bilateral Joint Trade Committee meeting, which took place in Malaysia in October 2008. Industry round-tables on financial services and legal services, initiated by the department, brought together Australian and Malaysian representatives in Kuala Lumpur. The round-tables contributed to discussion of the roadmap for liberalisation in Malaysia and the potential for Australian business involvement. We recommenced discussions with Malaysia on the proposed Malaysia–Australia FTA (see sub-output 1.1.7).

Through our High Commission in Malaysia, we hosted ‘Australia Month’ in April 2009, which promoted Australian food and beverage exports to Malaysia and resulted in considerable positive coverage of Australia in the Malaysian media. Participation in June 2009 in the inaugural Young Diplomats’ Round-table—a bilateral initiative—laid the foundations for enhanced engagement with the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We supported the Australia–Malaysia Institute in its role of promoting greater understanding between Australians and Malaysians (see sub-output 3.1.2).

The Philippines

The department supported participation by Mr Smith and Mr Crean in a successful Philippines–Australia Ministerial Meeting in Manila in October 2008, enhancing engagement across the spectrum of the bilateral relationship. In particular, ministers agreed to initiatives to support sustainable mining practices and regulation, offering prospects for greater Australian business participation in Philippine economic development.

The department played a coordinating role in Australia’s support for security and stability in the Philippines. Australia’s support included development assistance, defence and counter-terrorism cooperation, advocacy of adherence to international human rights norms, and, since the breakdown in the Mindanao peace process in August 2008, calls for a return to negotiations and a renewed commitment by all parties to achieving a lasting peace settlement.

Under the Special Visits Program, we hosted Senator Francis Escudero, a potential candidate for Philippine President in 2010, to promote understanding of Australian policy settings and provide opportunities to engage with senior political, community and business leaders (see sub-output 3.1.2).


Photo - See caption below for description
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, meeting Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Mr Nguyen Tan Dung, during celebrations to mark 35 years of diplomatic relations between Australia and Vietnam, in Hanoi in July 2008.
Photo: Le Gia Thang
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

Australia and Vietnam commemorated the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2008. We worked to expand the bilateral relationship, including through high-level exchanges. A visit to Vietnam by Mr Smith in July 2008 generated new areas of cooperation including a commitment to assist Vietnam with anti-corruption training and to reinvigorate a strategic dialogue.

The department contributed to the visit to Australia by the Vietnamese Prime Minister, Mr Nguyen Tan Dung, in October 2008. The visit outcomes included the granting of clemency for two Australians sentenced to death for drug trafficking; signature of a prisoner transfer agreement; and an offer of Australian assistance on a major infrastructure project in Vietnam, subject to the outcome of a feasibility study.

Our promotion of trade and investment by Australian companies contributed to successful commercial outcomes. At the prime ministers’ press conference after bilateral discussions, Mr Rudd welcomed Mr Dung’s announcement of the grant of a fully foreign-owned bank licence to ANZ Bank.

We hosted the Australia–Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in Canberra in August 2008 (see sub-output 1.1.9).

East Timor

The department continued to coordinate Australia’s whole-of-government efforts to build a stable and more prosperous East Timor. These efforts focused on Australia’s contribution to the Australia-led International Stabilisation Force; the bilateral development cooperation program; and strengthening of East Timor’s domestic security capacity through major bilateral police and defence development programs. As a result of improved security, we were able to encourage the development of greater trade and investment linkages with East Timor including through support for a number of trade delegations from Australia.

We assisted high-level exchanges including a visit by the Governor-General to East Timor in December 2008, and visits to Australia by the East Timorese Prime Minister, Mr Xanana Gusmao, in August 2008 and the Foreign Minister, Mr Zacarias da Costa, in February 2009. We supported the fourth Australia–East Timor–Indonesia trilateral meeting that took place at foreign ministers’ level in Bali in April 2009.

Other bilateral relationships

The department backed efforts by the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Burma and worked closely with partners in the region to encourage political reform in Burma. The department made strong representations to the regime over the detention of over 2000 political prisoners, increased numbers of displaced persons and the trial and ongoing detention of opposition leader Ms Aung San Suu Kyi. The department advanced the Government’s policy of maintaining pressure on the Burmese regime through financial sanctions and travel restrictions. We conducted the first-year review of the financial sanctions list announced by Mr Smith in Parliament in October 2008.

We continued our assistance for the judicial process to bring to trial former Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia, which saw the trial of first defendant, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch. The department supported a visit by Dr Hang Chuon Naron, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

We continued to develop our bilateral relationship with Laos, including by sponsoring a visit to Australia in May 2009 of the newly appointed Lao Minister for Planning and Investment, Dr Sinlavong Khoutphaytoune. We coordinated the Australia–Laos Human Rights Dialogue in Vientiane on 6–9 April 2009 (see sub-output 1.1.9).

The department supported Australian foreign policy, security and commercial interests in Brunei and promoted Australia as an education destination. We worked closely with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to manage the construction of a memorial at Pantai Muara in Brunei to commemorate Australian operations in 1945, as well as the formal dedication of the memorial by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Mr Alan Griffin, in December 2008.

ASEAN and regional issues

Photo - See caption below for description
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, with the Singaporean Minister for Foreign Affairs,
Mr George Yeo, at the ASEAN–Australia Ministerial Meeting in Singapore in July 2008.
Photo: Courtesy of Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

The department coordinated the international consultations of the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on the Asia Pacific community (APc) initiative, Mr Richard Woolcott AC, and assisted in the production of the Special Envoy’s report. We worked to advance the initiative, which underlined Australia’s determination to play an active and constructive regional role, both through initial scoping for the one-and-a-half track APc conference announced by the Prime Minister and by dialogue with officials from regional governments in Canberra and overseas.

The department coordinated Australian participation in the East Asian Summit (EAS). Despite the postponement of the 2008 EAS until October 2009, we were instrumental in securing an EAS leaders’ statement in June 2009 on the global economic crisis. Working with other agencies, we made a substantial contribution to the EAS agenda, including facilitating Australian involvement in a second-track study of possible enhanced economic integration, through a Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia.

A significant outcome that advanced Australia’s trade interests in the region was the conclusion of the ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand FTA (AANZFTA), signed by Mr Crean in Thailand in February 2009 (see sub-output 1.1.7). The department also coordinated the renewed plan of action to implement the ASEAN–Australia Comprehensive Partnership, identifying priority areas for cooperation in political, security, economic, development and socio-cultural areas.

The department led a campaign to secure Australia’s membership of the Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM) process of dialogue and cooperation. Australia’s application to join the ASEM process was welcomed by Asian and European Foreign Ministers at the ASEM Hanoi Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (25–26 May 2009). ASEM brings together 16 Asian nations and the ASEAN Secretariat, along with the 27 European Union nations and the European Commission.

FIGURE 9. Australia’s trade in goods and services with ASEAN

FIGURE 9. Australia’s trade in goods and services with ASEAN


Strengthening our relationships and fostering closer practical engagement with the countries of South-East Asia will remain a priority for the department, particularly in cooperation on regional security and transnational crime. The department will work to open new markets, reduce barriers to trade and improve access for Australian business. We will seek early implementation of AANZFTA and maintain the momentum of our FTA agenda. The department will focus on initiatives to strengthen existing regional forums and new options for enhanced regional cooperation. Advancing the Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia will be a priority.

In consultation with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, we will coordinate and take forward the Government’s discussions with countries in the region to promote an APc, including through mounting a major one-and-a-half track conference in Australia in late 2009 to discuss the initiative. We will work with ASEM members in the lead-up to Australia taking up its seat in ASEM at the next summit to be held in Brussels in 2010.

We will expand cooperation with Indonesia, broadening already strong links in defence and law enforcement to combat terrorism, people smuggling and illegal fishing, and to manage natural disasters. We will deepen cooperation on climate change, the promotion of democracy in the region and the strengthening of people-to-people links.

In the second half of 2009, the department will host and co-sponsor the fifth Regional Interfaith Dialogue. Participants are drawn from the major religious groups in the region, including ASEAN countries, New Zealand, East Timor, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. The dialogue will enable religious leaders to share information and ideas with a view to increasing regional understanding and tolerance.

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