The department helped forge multilateral outcomes in 2015–16 that contributed to global security, the rule of law, strengthened international frameworks and inclusive and sustainable economic growth.

We worked with like-minded countries, including through the Geneva Group, to push the United Nations to adopt more effective administrative structures—the UN Development Programme and the International Labour Organization made some progress.

We engaged across government to develop an ambitious 2030 emissions reduction target for Australia. We negotiated successfully for an unprecedented global climate agreement in Paris in December 2015.

Australia reaffirmed its commitment to advancing human rights internationally, including through our appearance before the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva in November 2015. We officially launched Australia’s candidacy for the 2018–2020 term of the Human Rights Council. We increased our efforts to secure the world-wide abolition of the death penalty, co-sponsoring the Sixth World Congress against the Death Penalty and establishing partnerships to support regional advocacy.

The department actively pursued the inclusion of indigenous issues in several UN resolutions, including at the Commission on the Status of Women. We commenced implementing our first Indigenous Peoples Strategy, launched on 10 August 2015.

The UN peacekeeping system is under increasing strain and in urgent need of support. In 2015–16, we provided $233 million for UN peacekeeping missions and, at the September 2015 Leaders’ Summit on Strengthening UN Peacekeeping hosted by President Obama, the Foreign Minister pledged Australian strategic airlift support, additional training for regional troop-contributing countries and further funding for counter-improvised explosive device training for peacekeeping forces.

The department also contributed to efforts to reform and enhance the capability of such operations. Our successful co-chairing of negotiations secured parallel UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions that gave effect to the recommendations of the UN Peacebuilding Architecture Review.

Our leadership produced UN resolutions promoting the role of National Human Rights Institutions and creating a new International Day of the Tropics.

We supported the Prime Minister’s participation in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta and helped to secure strong outcomes, including the creation of a new countering violent extremism unit and the election of a new credible Secretary-General. We supported participation by the Foreign Minister in the 70th session of the General Assembly high-level segment, at which she announced Australia’s 2029–2030 Security Council bid.

Our legal advice shaped Australia’s efforts to promote peaceful, rule of law-based resolution of disputes in the South China Sea and supported military operations against Daesh in Iraq and Syria in accordance with international law. The department continued to support the Timor Sea treaty framework.

Our advice assisted treaty negotiations across government, including conclusion of the Australia–Ukraine Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. Working closely with international partners, we began negotiations for a new global treaty on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction.

The department tabled 19 major treaty actions in parliament and referred five minor treaty actions for consideration by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT). We facilitated signature by Australia of 11 treaties. We marked the 20th  anniversary of Australia’s treaty-making reforms by co-hosting a public exhibition at Parliament House and presenting at a JSCOT seminar to mark the event.

The department provided solutions to legal challenges posed by our innovative approach to international development. Program areas were able to pursue new investment vehicles, structures and partners and achieve a more sustained development impact while effectively managing risk and protecting public resources.

The department worked to promote respect for and strengthen the international rules-based order. We drove outcomes at the 32nd International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent on sexual and gender-based violence, health care in danger and detention in non-international armed conflicts. Maintaining our strong drive for accountability at international law, we co-led international efforts to secure justice for victims of the downing of MH17.

We engaged bilateral partners on key legal issues and shaped emerging areas of international law including the regulation of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, cyber security and threats. We continued efforts to promote global implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty and entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.

The department developed an innovative legal mechanism to immediately suspend the application of the Autonomous Sanctions Regulations 2011 to Iran. As a result, Australian businesses were not disadvantaged when the international community lifted sanctions against Iran in January 2016—earlier than anticipated. We continued to deliver targeted outreach to promote compliance with sanctions and foreign bribery laws.

We contributed to efforts to ensure a successful UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem in April 2016, and secured outcomes focused on improving global access to controlled drugs for medicinal purposes and strengthening international cooperation to tackle abuse of methamphetamines, including ‘ice’.


Promoting a stable and prosperous regional and global environment by cultivating and deepening our engagement with bilateral and regional partners and multilateral institutions

Combating human trafficking and slavery

Case Study
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and DFAT officers attending the Bali Process Ministerial Conference in Bali. [DFAT/Timothy Tobing]
Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking Andrew Goledzinowski AM (centre), Ambassador to Indonesia Paul Grigson (right) and Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, consult during the Bali Process Ministerial Conference, Bali, 23 March 2016. [DFAT/Timothy Tobing]

Combating human trafficking and slavery

On 23 March 2016, the Foreign Minister launched Australia’s new International Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery. The strategy, developed by the department in conjunction with other Australian government partners, sets priorities for Australia’s engagement and reinforces our regional and international advocacy, coordination and leadership role on these issues.

To maximise Australia’s influence, our strategy focuses on Southeast Asia, including through the Australia–Asia Program to Combat Trafficking in Persons—the largest single dedicated anti-human trafficking investment in the region. We announced a further $20 million of assistance over ten years for the Tripartite Action to Enhance the Contribution of Labour Migration to Growth and Development in ASEAN (TRIANGLE II) to help vulnerable migrant workers avoid the trap of human trafficking.

The department used the Bali Process to drive greater coordination against human trafficking and slavery in pursuit of a more stable and secure region. At the 6th Ministerial Conference in March, ministers took the historic decision to adopt the Bali Declaration on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, the first negotiated regional instrument in the Bali Process to address these challenges.

The declaration commits members to enhance protection, promote regular migration pathways and counter criminal networks. It recognises the need for more substantive engagement with the private sector to combat human trafficking and slavery. Members also agreed to establish a ‘consultation mechanism’, allowing the co-chairs, Indonesia and Australia, to convene discussions on emergency irregular migration situations, and to undertake a review of the region’s response to the 2015 irregular migration events in the Andaman Sea. The department will actively pursue these issues in the year ahead.

These activities reaffirmed the value of the department’s robust and consistent advocacy in dealing with complex issues that detract from regional stability. To maximise Australia’s influence and deepen our engagement with like-minded partners on these issues, the role of Australia’s Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues has been broadened to Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking.

Strengthening international frameworks and norms that promote human rights, gender equality, democratic principles and the rule of law, international security, and open and transparent global markets


Case Study
DFAT Senior Legal Adviser Katrina Cooper attending the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting in Santiago. [CHILE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS]
Senior Legal Adviser Katrina Cooper (left) speaking with Senior Environmental Policy Adviser, Australian Antarctic Division, and Chair of the Committee for Environmental Protection Ewan McIvor (centre), 39th Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, Santiago, Chile, 30 May 2016. [CHILE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS]


Antarctica is important to Australia—strategically, environmentally, scientifically and economically. The department leads the Government’s engagement in the Antarctic Treaty system, which ensures stability and security, protects Antarctica as a natural reserve and preserves Australia’s sovereign claim over 42 per cent of the continent. Other countries’ Antarctic programs use Australia as a gateway, delivering economic dividends, particularly for Tasmania.

The department co-led, with the Department of the Environment, the development of the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan. The strategy positions Australia as a leader in Antarctica—building on our past century of involvement and backed up by significant investment in our Antarctic capabilities. It provides a strong and clear vision for Australia’s future engagement.

The strategy reinforces the critical role that the Antarctic Treaty system plays in furthering Australian interests and in particular ensuring Antarctica remains de-militarised, permanently free from mining and devoted to peace and science.

The strategy also underlines the importance of international partnerships. As more countries become active in Antarctica, the department is broadening and deepening our collaboration, both in treaty meetings and on the ground. We work actively in the margins of Antarctic Treaty Consultative meetings to explore new areas of collaboration with partner countries. We continue outreach to newer entrants to the Antarctic Treaty system, encouraging them to sign up to all treaty instruments and strengthening the effectiveness of the treaty system as a result.

We are deepening Antarctic relationships with key partners. We agreed Antarctic cooperation priorities with the United Kingdom for 2015–2020, including an annual dialogue, and we are deepening our collaboration with Norway. In February 2016, the department co-hosted inaugural Antarctic talks with China. We reaffirmed our shared commitment to the Antarctic Treaty system and its key principles and agreed to strengthen cooperation on Antarctic science, policy, logistics and environmental protection.

Strengthening international frameworks and norms that promote human rights, gender equality, democratic principles and the rule of law, international security, and open and transparent global markets


Case Study
DFAT staff and officials from Belgium, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Ukraine meeting in Malaysia to discuss MH17. [MALAYSIA MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT]
Assistant Secretary International Legal Branch Michael Bliss and International Law Section officer Kate Smith (right of centre), with officials from Belgium, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Ukraine, meeting to refine options for an effective mechanism to prosecute crimes connected with the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, Putrajaya, Malaysia, 21 March 2016. [MALAYSIA MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT]


Securing justice for the 298 victims killed in the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, including 38 who called Australia home, continues to drive our efforts to achieve international accountability for this atrocity.

In 2015–16, the department led efforts, with international partners, to establish an effective prosecution mechanism to hold those responsible to account. We worked closely with the Netherlands, Malaysia, Ukraine and Belgium, answering the request of the UN Security Council for states to cooperate fully to ensure accountability (UNSC Resolution 2166 of July 2014).

We garnered strong support for a UNSC-backed international tribunal in July 2015 but were deeply disappointed when it was vetoed by Russia.

Undeterred, the department led negotiations with international partners to develop alternative prosecution options that would ensure international criminal accountability—a complex and difficult task given the multiple jurisdictions involved. Progress has been good and we expect to overcome jurisdictional challenges and agree a prosecution mechanism to secure justice for all individuals and states affected by the crime before the end of 2016.

Achieving this result will deliver on the Government’s commitment to international accountability and Australia’s fundamental adherence to the international rule of law. Agreeing a prosecution mechanism and using it effectively will remain a key priority for the department in 2016–17.

Strengthening international frameworks and norms that promote human rights, gender equality, democratic principles and the rule of law, international security, and open and transparent global markets

Climate change and the Paris Agreement

Case Study
Then Ambassador for the Environment Peter Woolcott (left) and other members of the Australian delegation meet with Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop (centre), UNFCCC climate change agreement negotiations, Paris, 12 December 2015. [DFAT]

Climate change and the Paris Agreement

An effective international response to climate change supports Australia’s
long-term economic and security interests. The department led Australia’s delegation in the successful negotiation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris Agreement in December 2015. The agreement marked a watershed for ambitious, universal action against climate change. Australia made a significant contribution to the global agreement through our commitment to reduce national emissions by 26–28 per cent by 2030 and support for developing countries in their national endeavours.

Reaching an agreement was not easy. To generate momentum ahead of talks, the department engaged widely with foreign governments, other Australian agencies, business, the scientific community and civil society to prepare the way for a multilateral agreement consistent with Australia’s national interests.

Domestically, we helped model climate targets for Australia and significant countries. This analysis informed our engagement with the UNFCCC taskforce in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and advice to Government on Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target.

We engaged diplomatically within the UNFCCC and bilaterally with key countries to advocate Australia’s priorities and share Australia’s expertise. We also supported participation by the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister in important forums discussing climate change, including the Pacific Islands Forum and the G20. In Paris, as chair of the Umbrella Group (an influential informal group of non-EU developed countries) the department engaged constructively to shape the discussions and supported the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Environment Minister throughout the negotiations. The department is also ensuring Australia meets its commitments under the UNFCCC through the Green Climate Fund, which we are helping to strengthen through our role as co-chair in 2016.

Increasingly, our focus will be on implementing the Paris Agreement objectives through more support for developing countries, building our international partnerships and working with the private sector. This work has begun: we delivered our $200 million climate aid commitment for 2015–16 and have supported countries in our region build capacity. Australia also signed the Paris Agreement in April 2016 and we are moving to ratify it and the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period.

Analysis and outlook

The multilateral system serves Australia’s interests by maintaining a global order based on strong norms, rules and international law. While some international problems can only be addressed effectively through multilateral responses, the system is facing significant challenges.

The international environment is complex, with the lines between international and domestic issues becoming more blurred. Some countries are contesting certain norms, international law and the legitimacy of aspects of the post-World War II global order. The UN system requires significant internal reform if it is to remain effective.

Against this backdrop, it will be challenging to secure strong outcomes. Adroit diplomacy will be required for the department to shape developments consistent with Australia’s interests.

The election of a new UN Secretary-General will provide a chance to push again for internal administrative and budgetary reform. The department will continue to support efforts to revamp the Security Council but progress will be hard given entrenched positions. We will finalise partnerships with UNICEF and the UN Development Programme. We will also work with the new Commonwealth Secretary-General to revitalise the Commonwealth.

Working with like-minded countries, the department will resist efforts by some states to erode important human rights, including in relation to human rights defenders, gender equality and LGBTI people. With the vote due in October 2017, we will step up our bid for a seat on the Human Rights Council, highlighting Australia’s commitment to gender equality, the rights of indigenous peoples and capacity building. France and Spain are presenting strong competition for the two available Western European and Others Group seats.

We will continue to implement the Indigenous Peoples Strategy, including by influencing international policy and assisting Australian Indigenous businesses to take advantage of opportunities in the global economy.

Implementing the Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Strategy remains a priority. We will use the Gender Equality Fund to prioritise innovative activities that help to break down gender norms that perpetuate inequality.

The department will intensify efforts to bring government, business and civil society together to unlock global climate finance and position Australia to capitalise on opportunities for trade and investment that arise from the transition to a lower emissions, climate resilient global economy in line with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

We will continue to strengthen regional cooperation in combating human trafficking and slavery, including through implementing Bali Process outcomes and the program of activities under the working groups.

The department will continue to promote adherence to international law and the peaceful resolution of disputes. We will augment efforts to strengthen protections afforded to detainees in non-international armed conflict and continue to work on a global international humanitarian law compliance mechanism. We will also work to enhance Australian efforts to combat and strengthen regional responses to illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

Securing justice for the families of the victims of the downing of MH17 remains an important priority.

The department will defend legal actions brought by Timor-Leste, including two arbitrations. We will advocate Australia’s interests during the non-binding conciliation process on maritime boundaries under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the first of its kind. Maintaining a strong Antarctic treaty framework will remain a high priority. We will continue to lead on negotiations for a treaty on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction.

The department will help implement an international engagement strategy to disrupt the trafficking of ‘ice’ and precursor chemicals in the Indo–Pacific region, as part of the National Ice Action Strategy. Stronger cooperation with countries that still impose the death penalty for drug-related offences will remain a challenge. We will work collaboratively to prepare for reviews in 2017 of Australia’s implementation of its obligations under the UN Convention against Corruption and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

We will shape legal and policy responses which enable effective sanctions measures while reducing burdens on business. We will conduct targeted outreach to Australian companies and other stakeholders to facilitate compliance with sanctions law.

Back to top