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Annual Report 1999-2000Annual Report 1999-2000 home page

ContentsContents > Overviews > Outcome 1: National Interests > Outcome 2: Consular & Passports > Outcome 3: Public Diplomacy > Management > Financial Statements > Appendixes > Glossaries

YOU ARE CURRENTLY AT: Outcome 1 > Outputs 1.1 and 1.2 > International organisations, legal and environment

OUTCOME 1: Australia's national interests protected and advanced through contributions to international security, national economic and trade performance and global cooperation

Output 1.1:
Protection and advancement of Australia’s international interests through the diplomatic network and Canberra-based activity

Output 1.2:
Provision of policy advice and analysis to portfolio ministers



  • Australian interests in the United Nations and other international organisations advanced through successful Australian candidatures in multilateral elections and other candidates supported by Australia.
  • Level and value of Australia’s financial contributions to international organisations protected by encouraging improved administrative efficiency and effectiveness, including fiscal discipline in the United Nations and specialised agencies; and Australian interests in reform of the Commonwealth advanced in the lead-up to Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2001 (also relates to administered item on international organisations).
  • Australian interests in the UN human rights system protected, and contribution made to the further establishment of national human rights institutions, especially in the region.
  • Report reviewing the Government’s reforms of the treaty-making process completed and tabled in Parliament, to ensure that intended treaty action continues to be in line with national interest considerations.
  • Rules of Procedure and Elements of Crimes stage of the International Criminal Court Preparatory Commission’s work concluded, so as to ensure an effectively functioning Court, that, when established, will be a strong deterrent to potential perpetrators of serious international crimes.
  • Australia’s leading role in developing effective mechanisms to combat illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean consolidated, and our interests in sustainably managed fisheries protected.
  • Bilateral tuna dispute with Japan settled, and the efficacy of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna restored.
  • Australia’s permanent maritime boundaries with New Zealand established to provide Australia with security of jurisdiction over its offshore resources and to benefit resources industries, which require certainty for investment decisions.
  • Directions set in post-Kyoto climate change negotiations that advance our trade, economic and environmental interests; positions in other key international environmental negotiations achieved that do not impede trade while addressing Australia’s health and environmental concerns.
  • Contribution made to a successful conclusion of World Heritage Committee consideration of Kakadu National Park.


The department pursued the Government’s international policy objectives by promoting Australian aims and values within the global system, including by integrating and servicing Australian participation in the United Nations and the Commonwealth. Achievements during the year included:

Our most difficult policy challenge was to protect Australian interests in a multilateral system that is struggling to adapt to post-cold war change and is under increasing strain. Australia is a significant player in multilateral institutions and has taken a lead in efforts to reform them. Ultimately, however, we rely on building coalitions to secure the outcomes we want. In East Timor, for instance, the department, in support of the Government, succeeded in ensuring that international action conformed with Australian interests. International environmental issues—particularly climate change—also became increasingly complex and are still evolving. The department is working with domestic agencies to raise the level of public understanding in Australia of our national interests in environmental issues.

The United Nations

Mr Downer and Mr Kofi Annan

Mr Downer greets the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Kofi Annan, at Parliament House, Canberra, on 21 February 2000. UN/DPI Photo by Eskinder Debebe.


An effective United Nations is central to the functioning of the global multilateral system. The department therefore attached high significance to the visit to Australia in February 2000 of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The visit provided the opportunity for the UN system to recognise Australia’s leading role in helping stabilise the situation in East Timor after the August ballot. Departmental briefing also supported ministerial exchanges with Mr Annan on UN reform.

We coordinated Australia’s participation in the UN system, in particular the 54th regular session of the General Assembly, the session of the Economic and Social Council and the session of the Commission for Human Rights. From the Australian perspective, key achievements were:

The department managed and provided the policy-underpinning for Australia’s participation in two special sessions of the UN General Assembly: the World Summit for Social Development Plus 5 meeting; and Women 2000: Gender, Equality, Development and Peace for the Twenty-first Century. These meetings raised some difficult and contentious issues. However, the outcomes generally reflected Australian perspectives.

Australia was elected to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Executive Board with 143 votes, the second highest ever in our Asia-Pacific regional group and one of the highest votes Australia has received in such an election. Our success will enable us to play a leading role in the reform of the organisation under the new Director-General, Koichiro Matsuura. Our election to the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, the International Maritime Organization Council, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and the Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific, the Council of Administration of the Universal Postal Union and re-election to its Postal Operations Council means we can protect Australia’s interests in the governance of these organisations. The department, particularly through our overseas network, supported Australia’s unsuccessful candidature of Mr Gareth Evans for the Director-General of UNESCO.

Within the United Nations, including through the Geneva Group (the group of the 14 largest contributors) and through our chairmanship of the Fifth Committee, we worked to ensure the successful application of zero nominal growth budget levels across the UN system, and to promote changes to the UN scale of contributions. Our advocacy improved understanding and acceptance of the principles of results-based budgeting, although there is more work to do. Positive outcomes included zero nominal growth budgets for 2000–01 for the United Nations, International Telecommunications Union, World Health Organization and International Labour Organization.

The department, through Australia’s membership of the reform-based Group of 16, succeeded in influencing the format and agenda of the UN Millennium Summit, to be held in September 2000, to reflect Australian interests in achieving concrete outcomes on reform of the United Nations.

The Commonwealth

Australia will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane in October 2001. The department is supporting the Government’s preparations for the meeting, in particular through assisting the Prime Minister as Australia’s representative in the Commonwealth’s High Level Review Group, which is charged with reviewing the role of the Commonwealth and advising on how best it could respond to the challenges of the new century.

By supporting Mr Downer’s participation in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, we have helped Australia play a leading role in the Commonwealth’s action on Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Fiji and Solomon Islands to encourage the restoration of democracy and observance of democratic processes.

We worked with other like-minded states to ensure substantial progress on the Commonwealth reform process initiated in 1997 within the Commonwealth Secretariat. This progress was reflected in the secretariat’s report to the meeting of the Steering Committee of Senior Commonwealth Officials held in London in June 2000.

Human rights

The UN human rights system

Australia is strongly committed to the UN human rights system, and we contribute actively to its work. However, there have been concerns about trends in the treaty committee system, including a mounting backlog in workloads exacerbating systemic inefficiencies, committees’ growing reliance on non-government organisation (NGO) views rather than government reports, and the tendency of some committee members to exceed their mandates. The unsatisfactory consideration of Australia’s report in March by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination led to the Government’s decision on 30 March to establish a whole-of-government review of the UN human rights treaty committee system as it affects Australia. The department was charged with coordinating the review and has worked on it closely with other agencies, including the Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. The Government announced the outcomes of the review in August 2000.

Other human rights issues

The department worked with NGOs on human rights issues in multilateral, regional and bilateral contexts. We held two formal consultations to enable input to the Government’s approach to the two key annual UN human rights meetings—the Commission on Human Rights and the General Assembly. We also covered other issues in the consultations, including our interaction with East Timor, Burma and China on human rights and our reporting to UN human rights bodies. Australia made approximately 500 representations to foreign governments on the basis of information about human rights abuses provided by our missions abroad and NGOs such as Amnesty International. The Middle East was an increasing focus of our human rights representations during the period. Many of the representations internationally related to use of capital punishment.

The department continued our successful work for wider acceptance of national institutions as valuable mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights. Co-sponsorship of relevant resolutions in UN forums continues to grow, and Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea have now established national human rights institutions or are about to do so. We expanded engagement on human rights with a number of states, including Vietnam, Iran and Burma, and further consolidated the formal bilateral dialogue with China, the third round of which was held in Beijing in August 1999 (see also sub-outputs 1.1.1 and 1.2.1).

Through co-sponsoring a new resolution in the UN Commission on Human Rights, the department supported the Government’s focus on good governance as an essential underpinning for development and human rights in both foreign and aid policy. The resolution was adopted with almost unanimous support from all regions.


The department attached high priority to completing the report reviewing the Government’s reforms of the treaty-making process. The report was positively received when tabled in Parliament in August 1999. It will play an important role in ensuring that intended treaty action is consistent with Australia’s national interests.

Forty-three treaties came into force for Australia during the period (compared to 17 in 1998–99), of which 34 were bilateral and nine multilateral. The Government’s efforts to expand its network of extradition and mutual legal assistance agreements saw a number of treaties signed and entered into force. Other significant treaties to enter into force for Australia were the Convention Banning Anti-Personnel Mines and the Bribery Convention.

For further information on treaties, see output 3.1, page 161.

International legal issues

International Criminal Court

In close coordination with the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Defence, we continued to play a key role in Australia’s contribution to the establishment of the International Criminal Court. With the aim of ensuring the court deters serious international crimes, we led the Australian delegation and chaired the Like-Minded Group negotiating caucus (made up of over 60 countries) in the court’s Preparatory Commission. Our goal was met—the elaboration of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence and the Elements of Crimes were concluded by the end of June 2000 (the deadline established by the 1998 Rome Diplomatic Conference) without the content of those rules undermining the substance of the Statute of the International Criminal Court.

East Timor

In cooperation with the Department of Industry, Science and Resources and the Attorney-General’s Department, we were instrumental in achieving the smooth transition of the treaty regime for the Timor Gap Zone of Cooperation from Indonesia to the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor, in addition to securing Indonesia’s legal disengagement from the treaty system. This ensured that investor confidence was maintained and that a major off-shore oil and gas project would proceed. We also facilitated the provision of forensic services to East Timor.

For further information on Australia’s role in East Timor, see sub-outputs 1.1.2 and 1.2.2.

Fishing and marine issues

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources adopted an Australian-driven WTO-compatible catch documentation scheme for Patagonian toothfish, effective from 7 May 2000. We made an important contribution to this initiative, in cooperation with other government agencies. We also played a key role in Australian delegations to regional fisheries management organisations; in the continuing negotiations for a management regime for highly migratory species in the central and western Pacific; and in negotiating and drafting the long-term memorandum of understanding that broke the two-year impasse with New Zealand over the orange roughy stock on the South Tasman Rise.

We were central to the negotiation with Japan and New Zealand of a trade information scheme for southern bluefin tuna, which came into effect on 1 June 2000. This was an important step towards restoring the effectiveness of the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna. We also pursued legal remedies through the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, securing provisional measures that, by preserving Australia’s and New Zealand’s rights in their dispute with Japan, were the impetus for the progress made within the commission.

Australia’s submission on the delineation of the outer limit of its continental shelf where it extends beyond 200 nautical miles from the territorial sea baseline must be made by November 2004 to the relevant international commission. The department, through the interdepartmental law of the sea committee it chairs, and in consultation with the Australian Antarctic Division and technical agencies, prepared the basis for the submission. Preparations for a seabed survey of the shelf adjacent to the Australian Antarctic Territory are now well under way.

The department has played a lead role in preparations for negotiations to delimit Australia’s permanent maritime boundaries with New Zealand. The aim is to secure Australia’s jurisdiction over its offshore resources and provide certainty to resources industries looking to make investment decisions. Preparations continue with the acquisition and analysis of new seabed data in an area east of Norfolk Island, but the negotiations themselves were not begun because both Australia and New Zealand gave priority to prosecuting the southern bluefin tuna litigation.


Climate change

Australia’s objectives in the climate change negotiations are to achieve the environmental goals in the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, while minimising cost to the Australian economy and preserving the international competitiveness of Australian industry. The November 2000 Sixth Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP–6) is scheduled to make major decisions on the rules for implementing the Kyoto Protocol. The department has been central to developing Australia’s strategy for these negotiations and will lead the Australian delegation. Australia has been active in the ‘Umbrella Group’ (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, Norway, Iceland, Russia and the Ukraine), a valuable coalition to advance our interest in cost-effective implementation of the protocol. COP–5 agreed in November 1999 to intensify negotiations on key issues; Australia helped shape that agreement to improve the prospects for an outcome in line with our interests at COP–6.


The department led the Australian delegation to the final negotiating session in January 2000 that adopted the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. The protocol is the first international instrument to focus on the environmental impact of trade in living genetically modified organisms, such as animals, seeds and agricultural commodities. We participated in a coalition of major agricultural producers, the Miami Group, to promote a protocol that met environmental objectives without distorting agricultural trade. The protocol, as adopted, should contribute to greater confidence in biotechnology. The Government is assessing the implications of the protocol, in consultation with the States and Territories, industry and other stakeholders (see also sub-output 1.1.5).

Consulting extensively with domestic stakeholders, the department coordinated the Government’s submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties on Australia’s ratification of the Convention to Combat Desertification. Australia subsequently ratified the convention in May 2000.

World heritage

The department played a major role in presenting the Government’s position in the consideration of the Kakadu World Heritage Area’s status by the World Heritage Committee in July 1999, given perceived threats from the proposed Jabiluka uranium mine. The Committee’s favourable decision justified Australia’s claims that the mine posed no threat to the Kakadu World Heritage Area and preserved Australia’s excellent World Heritage Area management reputation.

Protection of children

After six years of negotiations, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was agreed. The department, in close cooperation with the Department of Defence and the Attorney-General’s Department, was involved in achieving this positive outcome. The optional protocol establishes a new international legal standard for the protection of children and reflects fully Australia’s preferred position on defence recruitment practices. The department received expressions of gratitude for its role from the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF).

Reporting against quality and quantity indicators and administered items commences on page 100.

YOU ARE CURRENTLY AT: Outcome 1 > Outputs 1.1 and 1.2 > International organisations, legal and environment

Annual Report 1999-2000Annual Report 1999-2000 home page

ContentsContents > Overviews > Outcome 1: National Interests > Outcome 2: Consular & Passports > Outcome 3: Public Diplomacy > Management > Financial Statements > Appendixes > Glossaries


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