Public diplomacy and advocacy handbook

August 2011

Part three: Making the most of PD events, visits and people-to-people links

6. Building relationships

Significant public diplomacy outcomes can be generated by cultural and other events, visits (both official and private) and by creatively engaging with potential advocates for Australia.

This section looks at how to use public diplomacy events and visits and expatriate and alumni networks to convey Australia’s messages.

Our culture defines our identity and a better international understanding of Australia’s unique cultural heritage can significantly influence how others view Australia and its standing in the world.

Cultural activities and events can provide a basis for the pursuit of Australia’s foreign and trade policy interests; not least by engaging the interest of decision-makers and opinion leaders in a way that more hard-edged activities may not.

Visits are also an important tool in shaping perceptions; and expatriates and former students who have studied in Australia can be valuable third party advocates for Australia.

Promoting Australia’s development assistance activities highlights Australia’s role as a global citizen and responsible neighbour.

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Visit programs

The department manages three major visit programs. PDB looks after two of the programs, International Media Visits (IMV) and International Cultural Visits (ICV). The third, Special Visits, is managed by individual divisions.

Bilateral and regional foundations, councils and institutes (FCIs) also fund significant visit programs and exchanges. In some cases, posts fund one-off visits from their own PD allocations.

To gain maximum value from the visit programs, posts should maintain contact with visitors once they have returned from Australia.

Another effective way of establishing close links with visitors is for A-based officers or LES to accompany them to Australia. Requests to accompany visitors to Australia are assessed by PDB on a case by case basis.

Posts should also look for PD opportunities arising from informal visits to the host country by significant Australians including business leaders, academics, scientists and other experts as well as visiting performers and cultural groups. As appropriate, posts could consider organising seminars or briefings by visiting experts to promote Australian excellence in areas such as science, technology, ICT, efficient agricultural practices and environmental protection.

Visits to Australia by influential opinion makers from the host country can also present valuable promotional opportunities.

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International Media Visits Program

The IMV program seeks to generate accurate and informed international media reporting on Australia by bringing influential media representatives to Australia to explore issues and policies first hand.

IMV programs are typically group visits comprising three or more participants. Each visit is organised around agreed policy themes following consultation between PDB and geographic and trade divisions.

Once a visit is agreed, relevant posts are invited to nominate possible participants, who must be senior and respected figures with strong professional reputations and proven track records, and who are employed by media organisations with large and/or influential audiences. Alternatively, they can be younger, mid-career journalists with growing professional reputations and strong future career prospects.

Where possible PDB will consider providing some financial or other assistance for ad hoc visits by well-regarded media representatives. However, it is important to notify PDB well in advance (up to two months ahead of the proposed visit).

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International Cultural Visits Program

The ICV program brings to Australia influential members of the international arts community who have the capacity to promote our cultural excellence and Australia’s image as a vibrant, sophisticated country. The program also seeks to improve commercial opportunities in overseas markets for our domestic arts industry by strengthening institutional links and professional networks.

The program targets people such as directors of major international performing arts, film festivals or venues and visual arts curators.

Nominations for the program are mainly sought from selected posts in high-priority regions. Where possible, PDB will consider high-quality unsolicited nominations from Heads of Mission outside identified regions, subject to funding availability.

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Special Visits Program

The SVP brings to Australia influential or potentially influential people who are likely to be future leaders in their field and who can contribute to increased international understanding of and support for Australia and our foreign and trade policy interests. They may be in business, government, academia or non-government organisations.

Eligible DFAT divisions are responsible for the selection, funding and management of visits. The visits are fully funded.

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Linking up with expatriate and alumni networks

Many posts disseminate key public diplomacy messages through networks of expatriate Australians working overseas and groups of former students who have graduated from Australian universities and other institutions.

Bilateral business chambers and alumni groups often provide excellent platforms for promotions, seminars or presentations about Australia, particularly on economic or international education issues.

Australian professionals, business leaders and other members of the diaspora and former students who have graduated from Australian educational institutions can be important allies and advocates for Australia.

All of them can potentially help dispel inaccurate or damaging reports or misconceptions about Australia through personal contacts, public speeches and via social media.

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The Australian diaspora

The Australian expatriate community is large and diverse. It includes senior, successful long-term residents and dual nationals, some of whom have a high profile in government, business, the arts, sport, the media and academia across the globe.

These Australian expatriates often have a range of skills, contacts and positions of influence which can be of considerable help in promoting Australian interests overseas by:

Advance — is a global network of Australians and alumni abroad. Established in 2002, Advance has a membership of more than 20 000 in 80 countries. Posts are encouraged to maintain contact with Advance and work together as appropriate to maximise public diplomacy opportunities.

Further information:

There are also large diasporas in Australia made up of migrants, refugees, students and long term residents from many different countries and these groups can also be very effective in sending accurate messages about Australia back to their former countries.

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Alumni groups

Many posts have achieved significant PD outcomes by working closely with alumni groups, comprising former students of the Australian education system. In some cases, posts have helped to establish the groups and continue to provide ongoing support.

Alumni groups can provide good platforms for bilateral activities and speeches by visiting Australian academics and experts and for reinforcing some of our key messages.

The groups often include people who have risen to positions of influence or power in their own countries. They often have an interest in maintaining their links with Australia and usually have a good understanding of Australian politics and society.

For further information: see Australia Awards

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Sports diplomacy

Sporting contacts and exchanges are an effective way of strengthening people-to-people links and achieving Australia’s public diplomacy objectives.

The Australian Sports Outreach Program (ASOP) is a discretionary grant program jointly managed by DFAT and the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) and funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID). The program promotes sports-related community development projects in mainly Commonwealth countries in the Pacific, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

Relevant posts are asked to help identify viable projects that meet the ASOP selection criteria and will produce measurable public diplomacy outcomes for Australia. Posts should be imaginative and proactive in leveraging off Australia’s sporting and lifestyle strengths in the identification of projects, and in linking public diplomacy outcomes to Australia’s foreign, trade and aid policy priorities.

Past initiatives have included the engagement of Surf Life Saving Australia to help deliver lifesaving training in Fiji in an effort to reduce the island’s unacceptably high instances of drowning.

Used correctly, the ASOP is a highly effective and valuable public diplomacy tool for posts in spreading goodwill towards Australia at the individual, community, and government level.

Further information: or

DFAT also promotes sporting events and sports collaboration as a means of highlighting Australian culture and lifestyle and underscoring Australia's credentials as a venue for major international sporting events.

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7. Using cultural and other events to communicate messages

Cultural activities provide important platforms for communicating some of Australia’s key messages, including to audiences that we may not otherwise be able to reach.

By showcasing Australia’s artistic and cultural assets, DFAT communicates positive messages about contemporary Australian society, including its democratic ideals, openness, tolerance, sophistication, creativity, and rich and diverse culture.

Post activities should highlight Australia’s reputation for cultural and artistic excellence and innovation, across artforms including theatre, dance, film, television, interactive multimedia, music, visual arts, literature, Indigenous art, cultural heritage and conservation services.

Posts are also encouraged to use events such as lecture tours, visits and exchanges and presentations/seminars to promote Australian excellence more broadly in fields such as science and technology and sport.

All events should be treated as an integral part of overall PD strategies. Wherever possible, posts should get maximum impact from events by linking them to other activities such as festivals, seminars or trade fairs; using them as a way of bringing together influential target audiences; and generating wide media coverage for them.

And all events should be linked to post policy objectives. Events should be viewed not as ends in themselves, but as potentially broader PD platforms, enabling key messages to be communicated through associated speeches, networking opportunities or media activities.

The messages can be broad, narrow or event specific. They can be disseminated by:

Specially chosen events can also carry powerful messages in themselves. For example:

The main contact point for posts on cultural issues is PDB.

PDB can provide guidance to posts on how to develop and implement effective cultural programs and advise on the standing of cultural groups in Australia. It can also provide advice on Indigenous cultural issues and sensitivities.

Posts that are interested in having Australian performers or artists tour their host countries at a particular time (for example, to coincide with a ministerial visit) should, in the first instance, approach PDB about any tours that may be going to the region. It might be possible to extend existing regional tours by Australian performers and artists.

Wherever possible, posts should prepare a report with photographs on events they organise, for posting on their website or the DFAT website. PMB can provide advice on digital communications strategies.

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Music and visual arts programs

DFAT contracts Asialink to develop and tour visual arts exhibitions in Asia. A similar arrangement exists with Musica Viva to tour Australian fine music in Asia. Posts should contact PDB for information about these tours.

Further information:

The department is Artbank’s major client and most prolific borrower, promoting Australian contemporary art internationally by displaying approximately 1300 Artbank works in many of its overseas missions.

Further information:

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8. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program

DFAT’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program promotes international understanding and awareness of Australia’s Indigenous cultures and an accurate picture of government policies.

The program:

For more information on the program’s activities, including support provided to posts for Reconciliation Week (May-June) and NAIDOC Week (July) and our touring Indigenous art exhibition, visit

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Advice on Indigenous protocols and authenticity

Posts should contact PDB in the first instance for guidance, advice or talking points on all issues relating to Australia’s Indigenous peoples and their cultures, including protocol matters.

Occasionally, people from non-Indigenous backgrounds who copy and perform Australian Indigenous styles of music and art approach posts seeking assistance or offering to stage performances. There have also been cases where missions have been approached by people who purport to be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders, but whose identity is in question, or by people who may have unethical work practices when dealing with Indigenous artists.

Posts should be aware that matters of Indigenous cultural misappropriation are sensitive and great care should be exercised to ensure the authenticity of persons and organisations. The use or reproduction of images, designs and visual symbols or their close equivalents without permission is not acceptable. Nor is the reproduction of any form of Indigenous culture and music by non-Indigenous Australians.

In line with the Indigenous Australian Art Commercial Code of Conduct, the Australian Government should endorse and support only authentic Indigenous products and performers, unless it is clear there is a genuine cooperative venture between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people. More information on the code can be found at

Note: Media representatives, including visiting international media, may need to obtain permits to enter some Aboriginal lands. Approval to film must be negotiated with relevant Aboriginal councils and this can sometimes be a lengthy and delicate procedure.

Further information:

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9. Australia International Cultural Council

The Public Diplomacy and Information Branch provides administrative support for the Australia International Cultural Council (AICC).

The AICC is the Australian Government’s key consultative group on cultural diplomacy. It draws together leaders from government, business and the arts and cultural community with a common interest in projecting a positive and contemporary image of Australia internationally and strengthening long-term cultural relationships with key regional partners.

The AICC identifies priority countries several years in advance for major multi-faceted cultural programs in support of overall bilateral relationships.

The council also provides grants to Australian artists, groups or professional arts and culture workers to participate in international projects that support the council’s public diplomacy objectives. The grants program focuses on six priority regions: Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East, Africa, the Americas and Western Europe. Funding is generally capped at $40 000 per application.

Further information:

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Embassy Roadshow

DFAT contracts Screen Australia to manage the Embassy Roadshowa package of contemporary Australian feature and short films that enable posts to create their own film events or participate in festivals. This program is funded by the AICC.

The Embassy Roadshow manual, which provides details about the program, can be accessed through Satin Low: Corporate information/Roadshow.

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10. Promoting Australia’s overseas development assistance program

The Australian development assistance program helps developing countries to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, in line with Australia’s national interest.

The program is delivered by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), an executive agency within the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio.

Promoting Australia’s development assistance program, including in countries that do not receive assistance, demonstrates Australia’s role as a global citizen and responsible neighbour.

Posts, particularly in the Asia–Pacific region, are encouraged to highlight Australia’s development assistance program through targeted public diplomacy and media activities.

PD officers at all posts where there are AusAID representatives are expected to work closely with them to identify appropriate projects and the best ways of publicising them, and to encourage a greater awareness of Australia’s overall effort. AusAID has representatives in over 30 Australian missions overseas.

As appropriate, Heads of Mission are encouraged to take part in events to mark the initiation, completion or handover of projects.

AusAID’s Communications and Media Branch can provide advice on public diplomacy activities that relate to the aid program. The Director, Communications Section can be contacted on +61 2 6206 4707, or on +61 417 680 590 (after hours) or by email at

Further information: