The Department

Freedom of Information


This statement is provided in accordance with Section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982. The Act extends to the Australian community the right to obtain access to documents in the Government’s possession and 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. The Department holds guidelines for clearing documents containing foreign and shared information and also procedures for referring documents to other agencies for clearance. The guidelines are available to the public and the Department uses them to ascertain whether documents are suitable for release. Members of the public seeking access to documents should contact the Department. Written requests should be addressed to:

Freedom of Information Section

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

RG Casey Building

John McEwen Crescent

Barton ACT 0221

tel (02) 6261 2903 tel (02) 6261 1170

The Department’s state and territory offices also can be contacted for this purpose.

When a request for access to a document is sought under the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the SES officer responsible for the relevant work area decides whether or not to grant access to it. Documents less than 30 years old, including those relating to foreign government information, are also available for public access under the Archives Act 1983, unless they fall into an exempted category. In the case of documents involving potentially sensitive material, a charge will be levied for assessing their current classification level. The charge also includes administration costs. The relevant contact point for seeking access to documents that fall under the Archives Act 1983 is:

Historical Documents Unit

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

RG Casey Building

John McEwen Crescent

Barton ACT 0221

tel (02) 6261 2619 tel (02) 6261 2628

The Department publishes a comprehensive range of public information on its website (

Functions and Powers

The Department exercises, or participates in the exercise of the following functions and decisionmaking powers:

  • entering into multilateral and bilateral treaties and arrangements, and their administration including:
    • – implementing the WTO Agreement and its annexed agreements
    • – implementing bilateral trade agreements, such as the Australia New Zealand Closer Economic Relations- Trade Agreement, CER
    • – implementing Australia’s nuclear safeguards agreements and related multilateral arrangements
    • – implementing treaties and agreements relating to arms control and disarmament
    • – administering Australia’s bilateral cultural agreements
    • – fulfilling responsibilities under the Torres Strait and Timor Gap Treaties
    • – implementing the provisions of the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations
    • – negotiating commodity agreements
    • – fulfilling Australia’s obligations under the UN Charter and international conventions
    • – negotiating and implementing agreements to promote and protect human rights
    • – negotiating and implementing investment promotion and protection agreements
    • – negotiating and implementing environmental treaties
    • – implementing the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and associated maritime delimitation negotiations
    • – 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
  • 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 and repatriation of Australians in difficulties 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
    • – 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
  • granting territorial and extra- territorial asylum
  • performing duties overseas under the Shipping Registration Act 1981 and the Navigation Act 1912 under the direction of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority
  • processing full- time student applications on behalf of the Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs
  • issuing visas for entry into Australia where the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs is not represented
  • granting official financial assistance for holding international conferences in Australia
  • authorising official expenditure on cultural exchanges, tours, exhibitions, academic exchanges and visits
  • 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
    • – including trade and donations to Iraq and trade to Libya under UN sanctions regimes
  • representing the Australian Government in international litigation, including in the International Court of Justice.

Outside Participation

The Department is open to views from outside organisations and provides opportunities for community representatives to contribute to developing aspects of Australia’s international relations through:

  • bodies such as the Foreign Affairs Council, Australia International Cultural Council, AustraliaChina 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, National Consultative Committee on Peace and Disarmament, and NGO Consultative Forum on International Environmental Issues
  • regular exchange of views with organisations including Amnesty International and other human rights organisations, and the UN Association of Australia
  • consultations with the Australian Industries Development Association, Confederation of Australian Industries and various business cooperation committees which meet under the confederation’s aegis, and Australian industry, including the Australian Wheat Board, Australian Dairy Corporation, Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation and Ricegrowers Australia. These consultations consider priorities for multilateral trade negotiations and other negotiations to alleviate problems market- access restrictions cause
  • participation in Australian delegations to international meetings and/ or conferences, such as the Executive Committee meeting of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees or the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • formal arrangements for consultations with interested bodies on trade- related matters, including the Trade Policy Advisory Council, National Trade Consultations and various business councils
  • liaison with other departments and agencies with relevant technical competencies in areas such as quarantine, mining and air services
  • participation in consultations with the UN Sanctions Committee.

During the review period, the Department undertook to encourage broader and more informed discussion of foreign and trade policy in the media through the departmental senior spokesman. Regular senior spokesman briefings gave the media access to authoritative sources on a very broad range of issues, ranging from important trade policy advances to major unfolding news stories in Iraq and Indonesia. Frequently, a panel of officials with expert knowledge of the subject of the briefing accompanied the senior spokesman. The panel often included representatives of other government departments and agencies.

The Department frequently provided individual companies with briefings on trade and economic developments in relevant countries. In consultation with relevant business groups, the Department also organised trade missions where sufficient interest and justification existed.

The Department also met representatives of community groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and religious organisations, to ensure it understood community views on issues affecting Australia’s region. Such meetings also provided community groups with information on aspects of international affairs, including advice on Australia’s foreign and international trade policies.

The Department consulted industry, environment and development groups on international environment issues through NGO consultative arrangements. The Council of Australian Governments facilitated this communication with the states and territories.

The Department engaged in exchanges of views on current political, international legal and international development issues with universities, colleges and academic circles, and encouraged its officers to meet and speak with community groups.

Public Diplomacy

Under the umbrella of public diplomacy, the Department administered an overseas program of public affairs and cultural relations in support of Australian foreign and trade policy objectives. The program covered all aspects of Australian life, including science and technology, social and economic projects, the arts, Australian studies, a range of visits programs, and academic, media and sporting exchanges. The Department consulted a wide range of institutions, agencies and individuals in arranging public diplomacy programs, including the Australia Council, Australian Film Commission, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australian Vice- Chancellors’ Committee, International Development Program of Australian Universities and Colleges, Fulbright Commission, Australian Centre for American Studies, Australian Institute of International Affairs, Musica Viva, relevant state and commonwealth departments and agencies, business and industry organisations, and the media.

Program Evaluation

The Department’s outputs are a mix of policy advice, services and public advocacy. Programs are evaluated through a variety of mechanisms. In terms of periodic evaluation on the achievement and setting of objectives, key evaluation tools in the Department take the form of divisional evaluation reviews, post evaluation reports and in the case of the state and territory offices, office evaluation reports. These mechanisms provided an opportunity for the Department’s Senior Executive to examine carefully the key objectives for work areas in the forthcoming year and evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of work areas in meeting objectives in the past year. In making these evaluations, the process may entail extensive consultations with a range of stakeholders, both within and outside the Department. The Department also undertook a number of non- periodic evaluations or assessments of work unit performance, and sometimes, an identified element of a particular program through reviews, audits or evaluations. In addition, the Department occasionally sought consultants to assist in reviewing particular activities.

Categories of Documents

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

The Department has extensive documentary holdings:

  • cables, minutes, memorandums, file notes, and other documents concerning political, economic, human rights, refugees, disarmament, security, trade 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
  • computer disk storage of statistical and other information material
  • working files, including consular and passport case files, 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
  • briefs for Australian delegations and ministers visiting overseas
  • cabinet submissions and decisions
  • credentials of foreign heads of mission in Australia
  • series documents on Australian Foreign Policy 1937- 1949 and Documents on Australian Foreign Policy (post 1950 series)
  • the series Current Notes 1936- 1972 and Australian Foreign Affairs Record 1973- 1992
  • documents of international agencies
  • emergency task force papers
  • Executive Council minutes
  • annual post evaluation reports papers
  • divisional evaluation reviews
  • office evaluation reports
  • evaluation or audit reports
  • reports and working papers of the East Asia 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 MPs
  • briefs for and reports on post liaison visits
  • corporate planning documents, including the Corporate Plan 1997- 99 and portfolio budget 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 the funding of overseas property
  • documents relating to workplace bargaining
  • documents relating to the selection of experts, engagements of individual and institutional experts, advisory board members, project managers and policy responses, contracts for the engagement of consultants
  • documents on personnel planning, conditions of service, career development counselling, and discipline and grievance matters
  • reports of selection advisory committees and joint selection committees
  • 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 IT 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 DFAT state and territory offices
  • documents and database relating to foreign diplomatic and consular personnel in Australia
  • records of meetings and discussions
  • standard paragraphs for correspondence on a wide range of policy items
  • 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
  • magnetic storage and microfiche records of passport issue details
  • master sets of DFAT News, an internal departmental bulletin
  • organisation charts and related information
  • personal records of employees, including some data on their families and next of kin
  • 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 disk, slide and written forms
  • training material in various forms, such as film, video cassette and slides
  • annual forward IT procurement plans
  • a permit register under Nuclear Non- Proliferation (Safeguards) Act 1987
  • 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.

Registers of Australian Births Abroad

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

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

Documents for Sale and Free of Charge

Many documents are available for purchase or free from commonwealth government bookshops or the Department. All departmental publications currently stocked are listed in Appendix 7.

Freedom of Information AusAID

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This page last modified: Tuesday, 16-Sep-2003 13:10:39 EST

Local Date: Sunday, 21-Dec-2014 04:19:44 EST