The work of the department was central to Australia's leadership role in promoting sustainable economic development, stability and security in the Pacific region.
An intensive program of high-level visits highlighted Australia's strong engagement in the region. The department supported visits by the Governor-General, Prime Minister, Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defence, and Parliamentary Secretaries for Pacific Island Affairs and Foreign Affairs and Defence. The Global Ambassador for Women and Girls focused her international engagement on gender issues in the Pacific (also see Advancing Gender Equality).
The department contributed to further progress in implementing the economic integration agenda with New Zealand. We led Australia's close cooperation in the region with New Zealand during its year as chair of the Pacific Islands Forum.
The department steered Australia's relations with Papua New Guinea through a year of political volatility, with a focus on support for the national elections in mid-2012. In cooperation with regional and international partners, the department led Australia's efforts to encourage and build on initial steps towards Fiji's return to democracy. We coordinated development of a transition strategy for the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI).
Advancing regional economic integration was a priority for the department. We led Australia's participation in the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER) Plus negotiations, contributed to the expansion and transition to a permanent program of the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (PSWPS), and made progress towards concluding a new treaty to protect Pacific fisheries.
The department contributed to the participation of Prime Minister Gillard in the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' meeting in Auckland in September 2011, which marked the 40th anniversary of the Forum. We also supported attendance by the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Marles, who represented Australia at the Post-Forum Dialogue.
In support of the Forum's theme of sustainable economic development, we worked with other departments to facilitate the Prime Minister's announcement at the Forum of the expansion of the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme (PSWPS) to include Samoa, Solomon Islands, Nauru, Tuvalu and Timor-Leste. More than 1350 workers have participated in the Scheme since its inception. The department also helped ensure a smooth transition to the permanent Seasonal Worker Program, which was announced in December 2011 and will replace the PSWPS on 1 July 2012.
Forum Leaders agreed that progress in the PACER Plus negotiations was a priority. The negotiations were advanced by the department's chairing of an officials' meeting in Australia in March 2012. This progress was built on at the Pacific Islands Forum Trade Ministers' Meeting (FTMM) in May 2012. With support from the department, Mr Marles represented Australia at the FTMM and reached agreement with regional counterparts on a work program to intensify the PACER Plus negotiations.
Forum Leaders also reaffirmed the importance of effective management and protection of the region's fisheries. The department worked with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to achieve further progress in the negotiation of a regional treaty to strengthen maritime surveillance and other mechanisms to protect and develop Pacific fisheries. A substantial amount of the draft treaty text has been negotiated, in order to meet the completion date of late 2012 set by Forum Leaders.
The department coordinated Australia's contribution to the development of effective regional responses to climate change, environmental issues and natural disasters. The Pacific Islands Leaders Meeting (PALM 6) in Japan in May 2012, attended by Mr Marles, reached agreement to enhance cooperation with Japan on these issues.
Mr Bob Carr, shortly before his swearing-in as Minister for Foreign Affairs, with New Zealand Foreign Minister, Mr Murray McCully, in Auckland, March 2012. Photo: Emma Voerman
Australia's close cooperation with New Zealand in the Pacific was further strengthened during New Zealand's year as chair of the Pacific Islands Forum. The department supported Foreign Ministers' talks on the Pacific in July 2011 and a visit to New Zealand by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Carr, in March 2012, during which our shared interests in the Pacific were discussed and collaborative action agreed.
The department contributed to the implementation of outcomes to advance trans-Tasman cooperation from the annual Australia–New Zealand leaders' meeting between Prime Ministers Gillard and Key in January 2012, including further action to deepen economic integration and enhance security cooperation.
The department worked with other agencies to implement amendments to the Closer Economic Relations Agreement's rules of origin and contributed to progress in delivering results from the Single Economic Market agenda.
In collaboration with the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, the department promoted Australia and New Zealand's successful joint bid to host the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, with hosting to be shared with South Africa.
With support from the department, the business-led Australia–New Zealand Leadership Forum was held in Sydney in April 2012. The Forum discussed ways to further liberalise trans-Tasman investment and identified opportunities for Pacific development.
Papua New Guinea
In a year marked by political volatility and constitutional tensions, the department was at the forefront of Australia's broad and intensive engagement with Papua New Guinea, including in response to political and security developments and in support of elections scheduled for mid-2012.
Following a visit to Papua New Guinea in September 2011 by the then Foreign Minister, Mr Rudd, we organised the bilateral Ministerial Forum in Canberra in October 2011, which was held at the same time as a Guest-of-Government visit by Prime Minister O'Neill.
The department coordinated key policy and practical outcomes from the Forum, including commencement of negotiations on an economic cooperation treaty, further assistance for the establishment of the PNG Sovereign Wealth Fund, endorsement of the reshaping of the aid program, and increased cooperation to build the capacity of the PNG security forces.
The High Commission in Port Moresby was effective in Australia's advocacy of timely elections and coordinated the successful delivery of Australia's substantial practical assistance for the preparation and conduct of the elections.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Rudd, greets people in the village of Moreguina, Abau District, Papua New Guinea, in October 2011. Photo: AusAID
The department supported visits to Papua New Guinea by Mr Marles in October 2011 and March 2012. These visits followed up outcomes of the Ministerial Forum, supported stronger business ties, deepened people-to-people links through education and sport, and promoted adherence to constitutional and electoral processes.
The department helped deliver Mr Marles' initiative to build the profile of Papua New Guinea in Australia. We organised the inaugural PNG Independence Day Oration by former Prime Minister Namaliu at Parliament House in September 2011 and worked with AusAID to support Mr Marles in hosting, with Deakin University, the second PNG Symposium in April 2012.
Strengthening Australia's bilateral relationship with Solomon Islands was a priority for the department, including after the election of Prime Minister Lilo in November 2011.
The visit of the Governor-General, accompanied by Mr Marles, in April 2012 was warmly welcomed in Solomon Islands as an expression of the importance Australia attaches to the relationship. We also facilitated three other visits by Mr Marles and visits by the Defence Minister, Mr Smith, the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Senator Feeney, and two parliamentary delegations.
The department supported initiatives to increase trade links between Australia and Solomon Islands. We facilitated participation by the Parliamentary Secretary for Trade, Mrs Elliot, in the Australia–Solomon Islands Business Forum in October 2011. We worked with Austrade to assist the visit of an Australian trade delegation to Solomon Islands in February 2012.
The department negotiated with Solomon Islands a memorandum of understanding on its participation in the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme. Mr Marles signed the memorandum during his visit in December 2011 as leader of a bipartisan group of Australian parliamentarians.
The Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Mr Marles, with Solomon Islands Police Minister, Mr David Tome, in Fouia Village, Malaita Province, Solomon Islands, May 2012.
In consultation with the Solomon Islands Government, regional partners and other Australian agencies, the department coordinated Australia's leadership of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and initiated a consultation process for the development of a transition strategy for RAMSI.
The department supported Mr Marles' participation in the Forum Ministerial Standing Committee meeting on RAMSI in May 2012. The main outcome of the meeting was agreement on the foreshadowed withdrawal in the second half of 2013 of RAMSI's military component and planning for transitioning civilian programs to bilateral donors in 2013.
We supported Mr Marles' visit to Solomon Islands in September 2011, accompanying UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The visit enabled Mr Ban to see RAMSI's work in restoring stability and achieving a more prosperous future for Solomon Islands. It also strengthened Australia's cooperation with the United Nations in the Pacific.
The department continued to lead Australia's efforts to encourage Fiji's return to democracy.
Following some initial positive steps by the Fiji interim government in early 2012, the department supported Senator Carr's participation in the Pacific Islands Forum Ministerial Contact Group (MCG) visit to Fiji in May 2012. The MCG was encouraged by the steps taken towards elections in 2014, including the constitutional consultation process. The department coordinated practical assistance provided by Australia to the constitutional and electoral processes.
The department worked with Australia's regional and international partners to maintain solidarity in support of Fiji's return to democracy. The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders' meeting in September 2011 reconfirmed Fiji's suspension from the Forum. The department supported participation by Mr Rudd and Senator Carr in Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meetings in September 2011 and April 2012 respectively, which maintained Fiji's suspension from the Commonwealth.
We also continued to draw attention to the economic, social and human rights situation in Fiji, including through statements at the UN Human Rights Council and the International Labour Organization.
In line with Australia's continuing support for the people of Fiji, the department coordinated the Government's decision to extend until 31 December 2014 the South Pacific Regional Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement – Textile, Clothing and Footwear scheme (SPARTECA-TCF). The scheme provides duty free access to Australia for certain textile, clothing and footwear products from Fiji and underpins the livelihood of thousands of Fiji's workers.
As Second Secretary at the Australian High Commission, Port Moresby, Sarah Linton reports on domestic politics, human rights and constitutional issues in Papua New Guinea, and contributes to promoting bilateral ties between the two countries. She also served on the Head of Mission Direct Aid Program committee, which administers funds for small-scale community projects in PNG. In June 2012, Sarah also worked on Australia's assistance package to PNG's national elections.
"It has been a privilege to work in Papua New Guinea during a period of considerable change, both domestically and in terms of the bilateral relationship. Papua New Guinea's rich and diverse cultures, robust democracy and rapidly developing economy make it truly unique in the Pacific and the world. Observing Papua New Guinea's 2012 national elections has been the highlight of my career to date."
Sarah joined the department as a graduate trainee in 2009. She did six-month rotations in the Consular Information Section, Pacific Division and APEC Branch prior to taking up her posting to Papua New Guinea in 2010.
Ms Sarah Linton, Second Secretary at the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby, on election observing duties for Papua New Guinea's national elections in 2012.
The Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Mr Marles, Ms Sala Robert, Caretaker, and Australian High Commissioner, Mr Jeff Roach, at the Melanie Jewson Memorial Chapel in Vanu atu, February 2012.
The chapel was built to honour 18 year old Melanie Jewson who was killed in a car accident near Geelong in 2004. A year before her death, Melanie had visited Vanuatu with her mother and the country and its people had a huge impact on the teenager. After Melanie's death, her parents established the Melanie Jewson Foundation, raising funds to build the chapel in the hospital grounds and provide continuing support to the hospital and local schools.
Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Nauru
The department worked with other agencies in using bilateral development partnership and security meetings to advance Australia's interests in Vanuatu. We supported two visits to Vanuatu by Mr Marles, including a visit in February 2012 that resulted in the establishment of a regular high-level dialogue to advance development priorities. The department helped Vanuatu establish its High Commission in Canberra in March 2012.
The department managed Australia's response to the decision by the Vanuatu Government in May 2012 to cease Australian Federal Police capacity building for the Vanuatu Police Force and cooperation on law enforcement.
We worked with other agencies and the Tongan Government to advance bilateral priorities, including through a visit to Australia by Prime Minister Lord Tu'ivakano. Tonga's continued active participation in the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme was a particular highlight. The department supported the visit of the Governor-General to represent Australia at the funeral of the late King George Tupou V in March 2012.
In Samoa's 50th year of independence, the department supported a visit to Samoa by the Governor-General, accompanied by Mr Marles, in March 2012 and Mr Marles' attendance at independence anniversary celebrations in May 2012. We also supported visits by a bipartisan group of parliamentarians led by Mr Marles in December 2011 and a Commonwealth parliamentary delegation.
We deepened the bilateral relationship by negotiating a memorandum of understanding to enable the participation of Samoan workers in the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme, which Mr Marles signed during his visit in December 2011. The department led Australia's delegation at inaugural security partnership talks in August 2011.
The department supported high-level engagement with Nauru, including visits by the Governor-General and Mr Marles. We concluded negotiations for Nauru's participation in the Seasonal Worker Program and participated in Partnership for Development talks in May 2012.
Other countries and entities
The department supported the Governor-General's visits, accompanied by Mr Marles, to Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Tuvalu and New Caledonia in March and April 2012.
The department also supported separate visits by Mr Marles to the Republic of Marshall Islands, Wallis and Futuna, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia and Tuvalu. These visits reinforced Australia's strong engagement throughout the region. Gender issues, maritime surveillance and protection of the region's fisheries resources were key themes in many of the discussions.
The Governor-General, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC, with Mr Martin Quinn, Ambassador to Federated States of Micronesia (to her left), and embassy staff.
We worked with AusAID to conduct inaugural Partnership for Development talks with Palau, Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of Marshall Islands. The talks integrated the North Pacific countries more strongly into Australia's regional engagement.
The department led inaugural whole-of-government security partnership talks with Kiribati in July 2011. We supported the visit to Kiribati in September 2011 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, accompanied by Mr Marles, which enabled Mr Ban to witness first-hand the vulnerability to climate change of a small Pacific atoll state.
We concluded a memorandum of understanding with Tuvalu on its participation in the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme.
The department's bilateral and regional efforts will continue to focus on ensuring a strong Australian contribution to the region's stability, security and prosperity. The Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting in Cook Islands in August 2012 is a priority.
The department will lead and coordinate Australia's engagement with the newly elected government in Papua New Guinea, including through assisting the government in implementing accountable and transparent management of Papua New Guinea's resources wealth and improving services to the people.
The department will continue to work with New Zealand and other regional partners and the international community to encourage and provide assistance for a return to democracy in Fiji.
In Solomon Islands, we will steer the continuing drawdown of RAMSI and the transition of civilian elements to donors.
The department will focus on regional economic growth and integration through intensified negotiations towards a PACER Plus agreement and assisting implementation of the Seasonal Worker Program. The department will also contribute to Australia's efforts to strengthen gender equality in the region and the conclusion of negotiations on the treaty to strengthen fisheries protection by late 2012.
Advancing Gender Equality
The department gave new focus to its work to promote gender equality in 2011–12.
Global Ambassador for Women and Girls
In September 2011, the Government appointed Australia's first Global Ambassador for Women and Girls. The Ambassador is responsible for high-level promotion of Australian Government policies and programs to advance the political, economic and social empowerment of women and girls, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. Operating as a focal point within the department for Australia's international advocacy on behalf of women and girls, the ambassador works closely with AusAID and the Australian Government Office for Women.
Ambassador for Women and Girls, Ms Penny Williams, addressing the Australia–US Pacific Women's Empowerment Policy Dialogue, Canberra, November 2011.
The department initiated programs to expand Australia's partnerships in the Asia-Pacific region to promote gender equality, and high-level visits ensured sustained advocacy. Supported by the department, the Governor-General visited eight Pacific countries in March–April 2012, promoting the role of women in national development. Visits to nine countries in the region enabled the Global Ambassador for Women and Girls to meet with senior officials and civil society and development agency representatives to advance cooperation on gender issues.
Improving the lives of Afghan women and girls remained a major priority for Australia's civilian engagement in Afghanistan with positive results achieved in health, education and community development sectors in 2011–12. The department monitored human rights developments closely and made representations on Afghan women's legal, social and economic rights. In May 2012, Australia and Afghanistan signed a Long Term Comprehensive Partnership in which both governments committed to promoting and protecting the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan.
The department's engagement with China on gender issues encouraged Chinese partner agencies to pursue major legislative and policy reform programs, including new draft domestic violence legislation and pilot programs on reform of China's family planning system. We continued to promote women's rights through our annual human rights dialogues with China, Vietnam and Laos.
Multilateral and regional advocacy
The department supported whole-of-government and civil society engagement in a range of multilateral and regional gender policy conferences. With other senior representatives, the Global Ambassador for Women and Girls participated in international forums to advocate for gender equality and demonstrate the importance Australia attaches to women's empowerment.
These events included: the APEC Women and the Economy Forum (September 2011); side events on women at the United Nations General Assembly (September 2011); the October 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting side event on women's empowerment; the 56th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 56) (February–March 2012); and the Rio+20 Women Leaders' Forum (June 2012). The department began engaging with ASEAN on gender issues through the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights and the ASEAN Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC).
The department supported AusAID in organising the Australia–US Pacific Women's Empowerment Policy Dialogue: Stopping Violence Against Women, in Canberra in November 2011 attended by 130 representatives from the Pacific.
Australia co-sponsored and gave strong support to resolutions on women's rights in the UN Security Council, the UN Third Committee and the Human Rights Council. Sexual violence in armed conflict was a focus. The department participated in a study tour to Australia in March 2012 by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.
We contributed to the work of the UN Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Global Sustainability and engaged with APEC and the OECD to improve women's access to markets, finance and technical assistance. Our involvement in whole-of-government efforts assisted in securing references throughout the Rio+20 outcomes document to gender equity as an essential cross-cutting issue in sustainable development.
The department cooperated extensively with the Office for Women to develop the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security on implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and related resolutions to protect and empower women and girls in fragile, conflict and post-conflict situations. Launched in March 2012, the Plan is a major step forward in Australia's contribution to the UN agenda on women, peace and security.
We initiated closer cooperation with civil society to promote partnership on issues such as the eradication of violence against women, early and forced marriage and trafficking and servitude. In Australia and overseas, we supported the following campaigns: White Ribbon Day; the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence; and International Women's Day (IWD).
Visits by the Global Ambassador for Women and Girls to Papua New Guinea for White Ribbon Day and Fiji for IWD, and by the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs to PNG for IWD, assisted in focusing attention on the elimination of violence against women, and on women's political and economic empowerment in the Pacific. The appointment of all Australian male heads of mission posted to the Pacific as White Ribbon Ambassadors (in the lead up to White Ribbon Day on 25 November 2011) underscored Australia's commitment to engaging men and boys in the elimination of domestic violence. In Canberra and at our overseas missions, the department actively promoted IWD using the event to focus attention on women in diplomacy, rural women's economic empowerment, elimination of discrimination, and strengthening girls' rights.
Consistent with the department's work to further integrate gender considerations across its programs, we updated guidelines for the Direct Aid Program (DAP) administered by posts and the International Relations Grants Program administered by Foundations, Councils and Institutes (FCIs) to encourage particular consideration of activities that address gender equality and women's empowerment.
In 2011–12, the department funded around 360 DAP projects that supported gender equality (to a combined value of $4.2 million of the total DAP budget of $10 million). Projects to improve women's health included: a cervical and breast cancer screening program in Nepal; a mobile medical clinic for women in Iraq; and obstetric emergency care in Bangladesh. Women's economic empowerment was a focus with funding of community-based beekeeping and piggery projects in Nigeria and Solomon Islands respectively. In Jericho, we provided security infrastructure at a women's centre for women seeking shelter from family violence. In Kenya, the department supported a campaign against sexual and gender-based violence. Under the Human Rights Grants Scheme, we funded the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, providing women's shelters in locations across the country.
Reflecting stronger engagement by FCIs on gender issues, in 2011–12, the Australia–Thailand Institute supported bilateral cooperation on women's leadership through a study tour of Australia by young Thai female members of parliament. The Australia–India Council supported a high-level forum on Women in Agriculture in New Delhi and ensured representation by women in the Council's Authors Tour and Young Media Fellowships. The Council for Australian–Arab Relations supported a breast cancer symposium in Saudi Arabia in February 2012. The department provided women and girls in China, Japan and Korea with development opportunities through projects run by the Australia–Japan Foundation, the Australia–Korea Foundation and the Australia–China Council. These projects included Media Interns Programs, Next Generation Leaders Programs, Scholarships Programs, Internship programs, and the Australia–China School Teacher Development Program and Youth Dialogue.
The department updated its consular case management systems to provide more targeted support for victims of forced marriage.