The Department


The portfolio operates under the direction of two ministers with separate but related responsibilities for Foreign Affairs and Trade. Two parliamentary secretaries assist the ministers (Figure 2: Portfolio Structure Program Structure as at 30 June 1998).

The portfolio comprises the following eight programs:

  • 1. International Relations, Trade and Business Liaison
  • 2. Passport and Consular Services
  • 3. Services for Other Agencies
  • 4. Secure Government Communications and Security Services
  • 5. Executive and DFAT Corporate Services
  • 6. Development Cooperation
  • 7. Austrade
  • 8. Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, DFAT, administers the first five programs. The Australian Agency for International Development, AusAID, an autonomous body within the Department, administers the sixth program. These six programs are the subject of this report.

In Program 1 (sub- program 1.7), the same statutory officer heads the Australian Safeguards Office and the Chemical Weapons Convention Office; he produces a separate annual report to present to the Parliament.

In Program 1 (sub- program 1.9) is a statutory authority, the Australia- Japan Foundation; it produces a separate annual report to present to the Parliament. In Program 6 (sub- program 6.4) is a statutory body, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research; it also produces a separate annual report to present to the Parliament.

A statutory body, the Australian Trade Commission, Austrade, administers Program 7; it produces a separate annual report to present to the Parliament.

The Australian Secret Intelligence Service, ASIS, administers Program 8. Because ASIS’s capacity to serve Australia’s national interests depends on its activities being fully protected by secrecy, the Government adheres strictly to the practice of not providing details of ASIS’s activities.

The Year in Review

DFAT’s corporate directions are set out in the 1997- 99 Corporate Plan, which articulates the Department’s long- term aim: to advance the interests of Australia and Australians internationally.

The six corporate goals of the Department, also defined in the Corporate Plan, are:

  • to enhance Australia’s security
  • to promote Australia’s economic growth, jobs and standard of living
  • to help Australian travellers and Australians overseas
  • to strengthen global cooperation in ways which advance Australia’s interests
  • to promote public understanding of Australia’s foreign and trade policy
  • to provide clients with highly professional, efficient and effective services.

AusAID’s corporate directions in 1997- 98 were guided by the outcomes of the 1997 Corporate Review of the Agency, analysing the state of the organisation, its operating environment, its performance and methods to improve performance. The review produced a clear statement of AusAID’s core business: AusAID serves the Government by advising on development issues and delivering Australia’s development cooperation program with excellence.

The Foreign and Trade Policy White Paper

Australia’s first White Paper on Foreign and Trade Policy, In the National Interest, was released on 28 August by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer, and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Tim Fischer. An advisory panel of eminent Australians from the fields of business, foreign, trade and security policy assisted the Ministers in preparing the White Paper, together with the Department.

The White Paper set out the principles and priorities of the Government’s foreign affairs and trade policy, and as such is an important framework document guiding the work of the Department.

The White Paper also examined the key international challenges Australia will face over the next fifteen years. It identified globalisation and the continuing economic rise of East Asia as the two most profound influences on Australian foreign and trade policy over that period. Notwithstanding the economic difficulties already being experienced in East Asia when the White Paper was tabled, the judgment was that the underlying strengths of East Asia would see strong growth over the period to 2010. The White Paper emphasised that Australia faces an increasingly competitive global trading and investment environment, a changing strategic environment, as well as uncertainties in some key regional countries, and addressed the implications of this for Australia’s security and relative economic standing in the region.

Representing a significant rearticulation and rebalancing of Australian foreign and trade policy, the White Paper set out the broad framework for Australia to meet these challenges. Its key elements included:

  • a declaration of commitment to the Asia Pacific, and particularly East Asia, as the Government’s highest foreign and trade policy priority
  • an emphasis on bilateral relationships as a means of advancing Australian interests and as the basic building block of the Government’s foreign and trade policy strategies
  • a more selective approach to Australia’s involvement in multilateral issues, concentrating on areas where Australia’s national interests are closely engaged
  • a recognition of the contribution that trade liberalisation makes to Australia’s standard of living, and the Government’s commitment to a jobs- focused foreign and trade policy
  • strong support for practical measures which advance Australia’s trade interests, including through the WTO and the free trade and investment objectives of APEC
  • the importance of security policies which embrace a strong national defence capability, the alliance with the United States, expanding bilateral defence and security relationships with countries of the Asia Pacific, strengthening multilateral links in the region, especially the ARF, and support for global regimes against weapons of mass destruction
  • the adoption of a whole- of- nation framework that recognises Australia’s international competitiveness in a global economy will be closely linked to a more flexible labour market, investment in research and development, strong education and training systems, good infrastructure and effective savings and taxation policies.

The White Paper also examined the broad linkages between Australia’s development cooperation program and Australia’s foreign and trade policy objectives, noting that a high- quality aid program focused on the Asia Pacific contributes to Australia’s own prosperity and security.

Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade released the 1998 Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement in March. The second such statement the Government has issued, it identified the Government’s key trade policy objectives for 1998- 2000, as well as detailing significant achievements in the preceding period. The 1998 Trade Outcomes and Objectives Statement reaffirmed the importance of bilateral and sectoral trade initiatives to the Government’s trade policy strategy, in which the Department’s Market Development Task Force continued to play a key role. These bilateral initiatives formed part of an integrated approach, which included targeted regional and multilateral efforts to achieve the best possible market access outcomes for Australian business and advance Australia’s commercial interests.

Better Aid for a Better Future

In November 1997, the Minister for Foreign Affairs released Better Aid for a Better Future, a major statement announcing the future directions for Australia’s aid program and the Government’s response to the Report of the Committee of Review, One Clear Objective: Poverty Reduction through Sustainable Development.

Better Aid for a Better Future provided a clear objective for the aid program: ‘to advance Australia’s national interest by assisting developing countries to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development’. This objective is consistent with the course set in the White Paper.

Six key principles were identified to underpin Australia’s aid program. These included a focus on partnerships, a commitment to be responsive to urgent needs, and an undertaking that Australia’s aid will be practical, targeted, outward- looking and identifiably Australian. Each principle supports a more relevant, higher quality aid program. The principles and new objective were used as a guide to develop a set of core priorities for Australia’s aid program.

Australia’s aid program will focus on the Asia Pacific, with Papua New Guinea, Pacific island countries and the poorest regions of East Asia the areas of highest priority. The program will also respond selectively to development needs in South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Australian aid will concentrate on five key sectors— health, education, infrastructure, rural development and governance— identified as crucial for sustainable development. In addition to focusing on specific sectors, Australia’s aid program takes account of the critical issues that cut across the development process: gender and the environment.

The aid program places high priority on effective partnerships with countries it seeks to assist. Much of Australia’s aid is designed, delivered and assessed jointly with the governments and people of partner countries. Country programs are tailored to meet their most pressing development needs, with detailed country strategies prepared for all major country programs.

While country programs delivered directly by Australia in partner countries will remain the backbone of Australia’s aid program, AusAID will play a key role in fostering links between Australian community organisations and the peoples of developing countries. AusAID will also be involved in multilateral efforts to reduce poverty. The aid program will respond promptly and appropriately to humanitarian and emergency relief situations wherever they arise, but with a particular focus on countries with which Australia has an ongoing and substantial development partnership.

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