3.1 Services to Parliament, the Media and the Public
In 1997-98, the objectives of sub-program 3.1 were to:
The Parliamentary and Media Branch of the Public Affairs and Consular Division administers the sub-program. In February, responsibility for administering the Departments responsibilities under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and the Privacy Act 1982 was transferred to sub-program 1.9, Information and Cultural Relations, administered by the Overseas Promotion and Olympics Branch. Responsibility for ministerial and cabinet liaison was transferred from sub-program 5.1, Executive Direction, administered by the Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch.
The sub-program pursues strategies designed to help achieve two of the Departments corporate goals: to promote public understanding of Australias foreign and trade policy; and to provide clients with highly professional, efficient and effective services. These strategies include coordinating parliamentary travel and briefings, policy submissions to ministers and replies to ministerial correspondence; drafting and distributing speeches for portfolio ministers; and managing comprehensive question time briefing. The Departments media operations include compiling a daily media summary and providing a 24-hour media inquiry service, a comprehensive website and an ongoing series of media briefings.
In 1997-98, the Department indicated that it would evaluate its performance using:
The Department provided a high level of service to ministers and parliament through preparing comprehensive question time briefs, briefing and planning assistance for parliamentarians travelling overseas, and providing briefings in response to requests from committees. Ministers were satisfied that timely briefing material and speeches made national and international audiences more aware of policy directions.
Ministers offices and domestic and international media provided feedback indicating a high degree of satisfaction with the Departments media operations; this continued a trend toward better informed and more positive media coverage of portfolio issues. In its first full year, the senior spokesman initiative provided an ongoing series of media briefings, produced more than 50 briefings on a broad range of foreign and trade policy issues, and thereby increased the Departments effectiveness in promoting better understanding of policy issues in the broader community. Journalists and the Prime Ministers office acknowledged the Departments contribution to media arrangements and its effective handling of them at the APEC summit in Vancouver, and during prime ministerial visits to Thailand and the United Kingdom, and guest of government visits to Australia including by the Argentine President, Carlos Menem, and the Hong Kong Chief Executive, Tung Chee Hwa.
The Departments efforts advanced the management of media aspects of crisis issues, including Iraq and the assisted departure of Australians from Phnom Penh and Jakarta. The Department followed a three-tier strategy by delivering media briefings in Canberra, arranging forward placement of a media officer to assist media on the ground and establishing a Hot Issues page on the Departments Internet website (http://www.dfat.gov.au/hot/index.html) to provide hourly updates on changing circumstances. In the case of Indonesia, for example, this helped to provide balanced and authoritative reporting of the events as they occurred and enhanced the Departments capacity to deliver clear messages to Australians considering travel to Indonesia.
The Department prepared some 200 ministerial speeches promoting Australias foreign and trade policy. Important themes included the East Asian economic crisis and Australias continued commitment to the region, the importance of continued domestic economic reform to Australias international trade performance and the need to promote further trade liberalisation. The Department prepared Mr Downers speeches used to address Australias Foreign Policy Priorities in August; these set out the Governments general foreign policy principles and future action plan. The Department also prepared speeches for Mr Fischer addressing public interest in the Governments trade policies. These speeches explained how a multi-layered strategy combining bilateral relationships, regional trade initiatives and activities in multilateral forums, such as the WTO, advances Australias economic and trade interests.
Through its International Media Centre in Sydney, the Department continued to promote close contact with foreign correspondents, arranging some 150 functions, including media briefings, conferences and addresses by ministers to foster effective communication and provide access to portfolio information. It encouraged a trend for international media organisations to establish bureaus in Australia. These efforts contributed to the London Daily Telegraph, Germanys Handelsblatt and several Chinese and Japanese groups establishing permanent representatives in Sydney. Also the Overseas Media Visitors program hosted 53 senior journalists, including important groups from China and Japan.
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