Staff outside the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade building in Canberra. [GILIMBAA/David Williams]

Managing Australia’s international interests has rarely been more important.

The international environment is now more complex and volatile than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Moreover, Australia’s engagement with the rest of the world has become increasingly diverse and intertwined with the domestic policy agenda and the prosperity and security of all Australians.

Amid these challenges, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade performed effectively in 2015–16 in pursuing Australia’s interests in the Indo–Pacific region and globally. We deepened engagement with Papua New Guinea and worked with all Pacific countries to improve development and economic outcomes in our near neighbourhood. The department led one of Australia’s largest international humanitarian missions in the aftermath of Tropical Cyclone Winston.

We further strengthened the US alliance and worked hard to shape and build Australia’s other major relationships in the Indo–Pacific region.

We made a significant contribution to whole-of-government efforts to counter the growing global threat from terrorism. We helped support military efforts to counter Daesh and advocated for political progress in Syria and Iraq.

Our economic diplomacy continued to be energetic. We secured the entry into force of the China–Australia Free Trade Agreement and concluded the Trans-Pacific Partnership which, when ratified, will significantly improve trade and investment conditions across much of our region. We continued to build on our existing trade agreements and promote economic opportunities for business, at the same time as we sought new agreements with other partners. We helped breathe new life into global trade negotiations.

We continued to deliver an innovative and substantial aid program to promote economic growth and poverty reduction in our region. The department led Australia’s efforts to secure the most substantial advance in the international development agenda since the turn of the century—the Sustainable Development Goals. We made a major contribution to negotiations to conclude the first universal, legally binding global climate change agreement and are helping to shape the forward agenda of the Green Climate Fund.

Australians continue to travel in record numbers. In 2015–16, the department provided high-quality passports and consular assistance to Australians travelling, living, working and studying overseas. We continued to promote a contemporary and positive image of Australia to the world to enhance our reputation and influence.

The department’s corporate agenda is embracing innovation, investing in staff and strengthening our core capabilities to achieve the Government’s international priorities.

In 2015–16, the department launched a Women in Leadership Strategy that promotes inclusive leadership, flexible work arrangements and gender targets to enhance the productivity, diversity and capability of our workforce. We established a Diplomatic Academy to strengthen the professional skills, functional capability and knowledge of all our staff and launched the Workforce Planning Framework to further professionalise and streamline our management of human resources. The department demonstrated strong financial performance in 2015–16.

The global outlook for 2016–17 is likely to be no less challenging. In the year ahead, the department will develop a comprehensive strategy to guide Australia’s future international engagement.

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