To protect and advance Australia’s interests, the department focused on deepening bilateral relationships and strengthening regional institutions. We streamlined aid investments to build economic partnerships and promote inclusive growth and gender equality in Southeast Asian countries.
The department led efforts to rebuild momentum in Australia’s relationship with Indonesia. We revitalised bilateral security architecture, particularly in counter-terrorism and cyber security, and resumed comprehensive economic partnership/free trade agreement negotiations. Following the Prime Minister’s successful visit to Indonesia in November 2015, we, together with Austrade, arranged the largest Australian business delegation to Indonesia. Our aid program helped accelerate sustainable economic growth by supporting economic institutions, infrastructure, human development and governance. We established a new consulate-general in Makassar to build trade and investment links in Indonesia’s east.
The department upgraded Australia’s bilateral partnership with Singapore, particularly on trade, defence and innovation, through our Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. We elevated the relationship with Malaysia to a strategic partnership, facilitating deeper dialogue on important security interests, supported by closer ministerial engagement. Australia and the Philippines agreed a new comprehensive partnership and an aid investment plan centred on resilience and economic development.
The political calendar in Australia and Vietnam limited opportunities for high-level bilateral contact but the strategic importance of the relationship continued to grow. The department worked well with Vietnamese authorities to manage issues such as illegal people movements, widely reported mistreatment of exported live cattle, illegal fishing and quarantine. We refocused our aid on economic partnership, with Australia’s largest infrastructure project in the region, the Cao Lanh bridge, a significant investment in Vietnam’s economy.
The department advised the Government on appropriate engagement with Thailand’s interim government, balancing our ongoing interest in an early return to democracy with our other wide-ranging priorities. We supported ministerial visits and Australian investors. To improve services for Australians overseas, we opened a new consulate-general in Phuket.
We coordinated Australia’s efforts to support Myanmar’s peaceful transition to democracy. We worked with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to advance Australia’s commitment to refugee resettlement in Cambodia and launched an innovative infrastructure development program. We also lifted engagement with Laos on regional issues ahead of its hosting of ASEAN and East Asia Summit (EAS) meetings in 2016 and initiated a flagship basic education project.
We encouraged Brunei Darussalam to make sharia law changes consistent with international human rights norms.
The department advanced Australia’s interests in Timor-Leste’s stability and prosperity by upholding the Timor Sea treaties and the sound management of shared petroleum resources. Despite significant differences on these issues, we remain committed to working with Timor-Leste to find a common solution. We helped Timor-Leste diversify its economy, reduce poverty and promote gender equality.
We enhanced Australia’s strategic partnership with ASEAN, securing agreement to biennial Australia–ASEAN summits from 2016. We also reshaped the Southeast Asia regional aid program to focus more sharply on economic development and combatting human trafficking.
We used our strong relationships with ASEAN and the EAS countries to promote a rules-based regional order and adherence to international norms. We coordinated whole-of-government efforts on the South China Sea, encouraging all claimants to resolve their disputes peacefully in accordance with international law.
The department boosted community engagement between Australia and Southeast Asia through the establishment of the Australia–ASEAN Council, launched by the Foreign Minister in September 2015. The council’s programs and activities seek to reach beyond the remit of governments and focus on women in leadership, collaboration and innovation across three sectors—trade and economic development, technology and entrepreneurship, and culture and education.