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History of Australian diplomacy

History of Australian diplomacy

We regularly publish foreign and trade policy historical material and provide selected access to departmental records.

Documents on Australian foreign policy

Historical documents online

Latest publications

Portraits & Mirrors Exhibition

The DFAT Portraits & Mirrors Exhibition showcases the first female Heads of Mission or Post across Australia’s overseas network. They are exemplars of determination and courage, paving the way for Australia’s female diplomats today and into the future. The mirrors in the physical exhibition, which can be seen in the RG Casey Building, Canberra, reflect the posts where we have not yet had a female Head of Mission or Post. As female Heads of Mission or Post commence at their missions, the mirrors will be replaced with their portraits. Until then, let this exhibition inspire more DFAT officers, to aim higher and seek to represent Australia at the highest levels overseas.


Australia and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty 1945–1974

Non-Proliferation Treaty

This volume in the Documents on Australian Foreign Policy series draws on unpublished records from the National Archives of Australia to document the negotiation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) from an Australian perspective. Commencing with early post-war efforts to control nuclear energy following the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the volumes traces Australia's changing attitude to the issue of nuclear arms control and disarmament during the Cold War years of the 1950s and 1960s and its ambiguous approach to the acquisition of nuclear weapons in the subsequent negotiation of the NPT. Signed by the Gorton government in 1970 after considerable debate in the policymaking community in Canberra, the treaty was ratified by the Whitlam government in 1973 and has since formed a fundamental plank in Australian attitudes and policies towards international efforts to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons.

Australia and the United Nations

Australia & United Nations

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Carr launched a departmental history of Australia and the United Nations at Parliament House on 7 February.

Australia and the United Nations is an authoritative, single volume appraisal of Australia's engagement with the United Nations. The book brings together distinguished academics and historians in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in an account of the part that Australia has played in the United Nations from its involvement in the League of Nations and the foundation of the United Nations to the second decade of the twenty-first century.

Chapter authors examine Australia's contribution to the UN's roles in international security, peacekeeping, and disarmament; its evolving policy to UN efforts to promote self-rule and independence for dependent territories; its contribution to the work of the UN specialised agencies and the efforts of the wider UN family to promote development; and its engagement with the United Nations on environmental matters, human rights and international law.

The final chapter critically examines Australia's efforts to reform the United Nations. Appendixes include descriptions of the Australian Permanent Missions to the United Nations and biographies of the Australian Permanent Representatives in New York.

Australia and the United Kingdom 1960-1975

Historical Images

This volume of documents on Australian Foreign Policy draws on unpublished records from Australian and United Kingdom archives to document Australia's relations with the United Kingdom from 1960 to 1975. At the outset of the period covered, Australia's diplomatic ties were largely conceived of in terms of a global continuum of British culture, interests and peoples notwithstanding earlier crises in the relationship during the Depression, the Pacific War and the era of post-war reconstruction. By the end of the volume, into the mid-1970s, these deeply held assumptions about Anglo-Australian community had been replaced by a more hard-headed conception of Australia's distinct national identity and new regional priorities.

The High Commissioners: Australia's Representatives in the United Kingdom, 1910–2010

High Commissioners

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, launched the latest departmental historical publication in London on 18 February 2010.

The High Commissioners: Australia's Representatives in the United Kingdom, 1910 2010 marks the centenary of the posting of the first Australian High Commissioner in London, so beginning what is today Australia's oldest diplomatic mission.

Great White Fleet to Coral Sea: Naval Strategy and the Development of Australia - United States Relations, 1900-1945

great white fleet cover

Great White Fleet to Coral Sea: Naval Strategy and the Development of Australia - United States Relations, 1900-1945 is a detailed historical account of the influence of naval issues on the development of Australia-United States relations from the visit of the Great White Fleet in 1908 to the Second World War. The book was compiled by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as part of its contribution to the centenary of the visit of the 'Great White Fleet' to Australia.

Emissaries of Trade: A History of the Australian Trade Commissioner Service


Emissaries of Trade: A History of the Australian Trade Commissioner Service by Boris Schedvin traces the history of Australia's trade commissioner service from pre-federation to the formation of the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) in 1986. Over this period, Australian trade promotion evolved from the appointment of trade envoys by individual colonies, and later the states, to a geographically diverse and enduring service coordinated by the Commonwealth government.

Full Circle: Australia and Papua New Guinea 1883-1970

Full Circle

Full Circle: Australia and Papua New Guinea 1883–1970, examines the bilateral relationship and contains previously unpublished photographs.

Full Circle provides an absorbing account of the relationship between Australia and PNG from the late nineteenth century to 1970 with a particular focus on the post-Second World War period and the gradual acceptance in both Australia and PNG of the need to move towards decolonisation.

Full Circle was launched on 16 September 2007 to coincide with PNG's 32nd anniversary of Independence. It was produced with assistance from the PNG National Archives and Public Records Service. Many of the photographs in the book come from the PNG National Archives collection and several are being published for the first time.

This publication is a companion to the reference work, Australia and Papua New Guinea 1966-1969, launched in Port Moresby earlier this year. It is the fifth in the series, Australia in the World. The series is designed to increase understanding of Australia's role in international relations.

Women with a mission: personal perspectives

Women with a mission

Since the political appointment in 1971 of Dame Annabelle Rankin as Australia's high commissioner to New Zealand–the first female head of mission in the history of Australia's foreign service–57 women have filled 80 appointments as heads of Australian diplomatic missions and posts. In 2006, 23 per cent of such positions around the world were held by women. The current status of women in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is the culmination of more than six decades of advances for women in Australia diplomacy and in Australian society more broadly. Women with a Mission: personal perspectives contains nine stories by women who headed missions and posts from 1983 to 2006; each of whom has taken a unique path. Their contributions provide a valuable insights into the demands and rewards, professional and personal, of undertaking a career in Australia's diplomatic service.

Australia and Papua New Guinea 1966–1969

Australia and Papua New Guinea

This publication provides a detailed record of the classified communications that informed and determined Australian policy in Papua New Guinea between 1966 and 1969. Taken mainly from the files of the Department of Territories, the documents tell the story of how Australian governments of the 1960s tried to maintain a slow pace of political change in PNG while accelerating economic development.

Highlights of the volume include Canberra's reaction to Papua New Guinean interest in joining the Australian federation; the genesis of the Bougainville problem; conflict with a quasi-nationalist movement in the Rabaul area; early analyses of PNG's unique parliamentary politics; fears of a break down of law and order in Port Moresby; and the formulation of a massive five-year plan for economic growth.

The book also documents an increasingly vigorous internal debate on whether to hasten the tempo of political change in view of growing social strains in Papua New Guinea.

The Struggle for Trade Liberalisation in Agriculture: Australia and the Cairns Group in the Uruguay Round

Trade Liberalisation in Agriculture

The book provides a detailed account of Australia's efforts to form a coalition of so called 'agricultural fair traders' to influence the 'majors'–the United States, the European Community and Japan–and other GATT members to liberalise world trade in agriculture during the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations between 1986 and 1993. The coalition, named after the Queensland town in which it first met, became known as the 'Cairns Group'.

The book details Australia's role in the formation of the Cairns Group–originally Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Fiji, Hungary, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand and Uruguay. The Group negotiated a broad-ranging mandate for agricultural reform in September 1986, developed detailed negotiating proposals for the reform of agricultural trade in 1987 and 1988 and insisted that the Uruguay Round would not successfully conclude unless agriculture was adequately addressed.

Despite the Uruguay Round almost collapsing in Brussels in December 1990, the Cairns Group worked patiently with GATT's Director-General, Arthur Dunkel, and other GATT members to resume the stalled negotiations. From 1991 to 1993 the Group helped to negotiate a deal on agricultural reform which converted all agricultural non-tariff barriers into tariffs (tariffication), reinstrumented domestic subsidies towards less trade-distorting forms of farm support and limited the use of export subsidies. From 1995 the Cairns Group succeeded in agriculture for the first time coming fully under the rules of the GATT/WTO.

The publication is the fourth in the series of short historical narratives entitled Australia in the World: the foreign affairs and trade files, which aims to provide readable and well-researched stories from Australia's foreign and trade history.

History of Australian diplomacy

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