Department Foreign Affairs & Trade  
Annual Report - Contents
DFAT Annual Report 1998-99

International Legal Interests : Sub-program 1.8


The International Organisations and Legal Division administers this sub-program through the Legal Branch. The division’s area of responsibility also includes one Australian overseas post: New York UN.

Table 25 International Legal Interests (1.8) Resources Summary


1997-98 Actual ($’000)

1998-99 Budget ($’000)

1998-99 Budget and Additional Estimates ($’000)

1998-99 Actual ($’000)



Running costs

6 006

9 391

9 481

7 344

Other program costs





Total appropriations

6 155

9 702

10 151

7 931

Less adjustments


2 129

1 654


Total outlays

5 156

7 573

8 497

7 029

Staff years





n.a.: Not applicable.

Objectives, Performance Indicators and Results


To advise the Government on public international law, and to ensure that the Government is kept fully informed of Australia’s international legal rights and obligations.


The extent to which legal advice is delivered in a timely and relevant manner.

Throughout the year, the department sought to ensure that the Government was provided with timely legal advice relevant to Australia’s foreign and trade priorities, and kept fully informed of its international legal rights and obligations. Some of the most significant issues are detailed below.

Against the background of the dispute with Japan over unilateral fishing in contravention of the Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna, the department delivered timely advice on that convention, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and customary international law. This advice led to compulsory proceedings against Japan in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. We also made a significant contribution to the Government’s development of international regimes to promote the sustainable management of valuable Patagonian toothfish and orange roughy stocks, and to direct protection of these stocks where they were either within, or straddling, the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone. Regular advice was also provided to Australian negotiators on legal aspects of 21 bilateral air service agreements and other ongoing negotiations related to social security, film, status of forces and space.


Figure 30 International Legal Interests (1.8) Organisational Chart

Figure 30

We gave urgent advice on a number of occasions to federal and State police authorities on issues of consular and diplomatic privileges and immunities affecting foreign missions and their personnel in Australia. We also provided urgent advice on various aspects of the arrest and trial of CARE Australia workers, Mr Steve Pratt and Mr Peter Wallace. In addition, the department advised the Government on the possible establishment of an international criminal tribunal for former members of the Khmer Rouge, to ensure that the Government was informed of relevant legal considerations.


Domestic implementation and compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions on sanctions.

The department monitored the regulatory regimes required to implement UN sanctions, and provided legal advice to business and Government agencies on compliance with UN sanctions, including on the suspension of sanctions against Libya.


To promote and develop global and regional respect for international legal regimes, and to promote and protect Australian interests through these regimes.


Achievement of positions that advance or safeguard Australian interests in ongoing legal negotiations in multilateral forums on matters such as fisheries management and enforcement, peaceful use of nuclear technology, human rights, refugee law, criminal law (including the International Criminal Court) and environmental protection.

We made an effective and influential contribution to negotiations on the establishment of an International Criminal Court, culminating in the adoption of a statute at the diplomatic conference held in Rome in July 1998, at which Mr Downer delivered the opening address. Australia, through the department, chaired a like-minded group of countries with the specific purpose of strengthening the international humanitarian law regime. The adoption of the statute fulfilled one of the Government’s prime multilateral and human rights objectives. We are continuing to play an active role in the follow-up to the Rome Conference in the Preparatory Commission, which is mandated to work on the practical arrangements for the establishment of the court.

The department contributed to the UN negotiations for the development of Conventions for the Suppression of Terrorist Financing and Nuclear Terrorism, and sponsored specific provisions to address particular regional concerns. While the text on Nuclear Terrorism is not yet finalised, Australia’s proposals have received substantial support and influenced the negotiating process.

We undertook extensive public consultations pursuant to our reporting obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The report on this matter will be lodged with the convention committee in July 1999.

The development of stronger protective mechanisms to prevent the involvement of children in armed conflict and the sexual exploitation of children have also been a focus of the department. Negotiations on two optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on these issues are currently deadlocked. During the year, we played a leading role in seeking a resolution of outstanding issues with the aim of concluding negotiations by 2000. We also participated in the development of an Australian Action Plan to ensure national implementation of global standards agreed at the World Congress Against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.

Australian delegation members

  • During the year, we were involved in long and complex negotiations to finalise the statute to set up an International Criminal Court. The photo shows Australian delegation members (from left) Attorney-General’s Department representative Ms Indira Rosenthal, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade representative Ms Cate Steains and NSW State Representative Ms Helen Brady at the Diplomatic Conference on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court in Rome in July 1998. This was one of the many international legal negotiations we undertook in close collaboration with key stakeholders, including State and Territory governments and other government agencies.


The degree of effectiveness in supporting Australian bilateral trade and investment, and the negotiation of investment promotion and protection agreements and other relevant legal instruments.

On behalf of the Government, the department concluded the negotiation of investment promotion and protection agreements with Slovakia, Lithuania and India. We are also involved in the negotiation of 14 bilateral double tax agreements, and have provided advice on the formation of the Government’s forward program of double tax agreements.


Outcomes of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Narcotic Drugs, the UN Crimes Commission and other relevant international forums that advance Australia’s interests in drugs, people trafficking, money laundering and other organised crime issues.

We have continued to play an influential role in the development of a Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and, in particular, its associated protocols on migrant smuggling, trafficking in persons (with a special focus on women and children) and illicit trafficking in and manufacturing of firearms. We expect that negotiations on the convention and protocols will be finalised by late 2000.

The department has used multilateral forums to establish mechanisms for the development of an international consensus to broaden legal cooperation on money laundering beyond the proceeds of drug-related crimes to all serious crimes.


The degree to which the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea are accepted internationally and to which the institutions established under it (the International Seabed Authority, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf) are cost-effective and reflect Australian interests.

The department is the chair of the Interdepartmental Committee on the Law of the Sea. In this function we played a key coordinating, negotiating and representational role in the development of international and regional institutions relevant to the definition and protection of Australia’s extensive maritime rights and interests. These interests include sustainable exploitation, conservation and management of the mineral and living resources of the sea and seabed. In the May 1999 meeting of State parties and at other meetings, we argued successfully for limits on budgetary increases for institutions established under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.


The extent to which outcomes acceptable to Australia are reached on the designation of Indonesia’s archipelagic sealanes in the International Maritime Organization, and from discussions with Indonesia on enhanced procedures to control illegal fishing in the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone.

Recognition of Australia’s transit rights through Indonesian archipelagic sealanes has been strengthened in keeping with Australia’s commercial and security interests, and the implementation of measures to protect Australia’s sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone enhanced.


To promote Australia’s bilateral and multilateral interests through treaties, and to provide the Government, Parliament, States and Territories and the wider Australian community with comprehensive information and advice on Australia’s treaty network.


Client satisfaction with the quality of advice provided on treaty issues, including transparency, consultative arrangements and flow of information on treaty action to the Government, Parliament, the States and Territories and the wider Australian public (including through seminars, publications and the Internet).

The Government’s commitment to maintain transparent consultative arrangements for treaty action was supported by the department through public consultations and through assistance for the work of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT). Five presentations on the treaty-making process were given to groups of senior State government officials and private sector representatives. We also provided key speakers for the JSCOT Treaties Seminar of June 1999, attended by 80 members of the public. Outcomes from the treaties process included the tabling of 16 treaties through the Parliament, resulting in 11 hearings and seven reports by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.

In conjunction with the Attorney-General’s Department, we conducted a review of the reformed treaty-making process introduced in 1996. We received 66 submissions in relation to this review. The overwhelming majority of these submissions concluded that the reforms had been well implemented and effective in enhancing both the openness and the transparency of the process.

In conjunction with the Australasian Law Information Institute, we continued the development of a treaties Internet database (constituting the Australian Treaties Library). This database is now the world’s most advanced online national treaty information system, already containing the equivalent of more than 26 000 pages of treaty texts. It has been enthusiastically endorsed by users, including State governments, members of Parliament, the legal profession, libraries, academics and the general public.


To provide advice on domestic and administrative law relevant to the operation and management of overseas posts and of the portfolio domestically.


Smooth transition by the portfolio to the new public service administrative law regime, as measured by the degree of awareness of its requirements throughout the organisation and reduced risk of grievances and litigation.

Through the Workplace Relations Committee, the department has ensured that employees are informed of legal issues relevant to their employment, including aspects of the Certified Agreement, Australian Workplace Agreements and issues relating to fixed and short-term employment.


Client feedback on legal advice provided to the portfolio on administrative and domestic law matters, including matters arising from the implementation of the DFAT Certified Agreement 1998–2000, new public sector employment legislation and regulations, and general contractual responsibilities.

The department implemented Government competition policy through the selection of a panel of private legal service providers. Positive feedback has been received via panel members on its commercial focus and timeliness.

We responded to over 50 requests from law firms seeking information on the taking of evidence overseas for legal proceedings. We also handled more than 280 cases in relation to private legal proceedings involving arrangements for service of legal documents through diplomatic channels.

The legislation process for all portfolio-related bills has also been managed effectively. The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Act 1998 was assented to on 2 July 1998. The Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention Act was assented to on 14 January 1999 and has been proclaimed to commence on 1 July 1999.

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