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Advance global cooperation

The international rules-based order has served Australia’s national interests, promoting global stability, peace and prosperity. It is experiencing unprecedented pressure from shifts in global power and greater contestation. At the same time, the world faces critical economic, security and environmental challenges that need urgent attention and can only be solved collectively. Australia’s interests are strongly served by multilateral cooperation to solve global challenges.

In an uncertain world, the strength and diversity of our bilateral and regional partnerships in the Indo-Pacific and beyond builds our influence and spreads our risk. The department works closely with other Australian Government agencies to invest in these relationships and to forge coalitions in pursuit of core Australian interests.

Key to the department’s ability to pursue our national interests is harnessing Australia’s soft power—the ability to influence the behaviour or thinking of others through the power of attraction and ideas. We work with a diverse range of partners to build our international reputation and influence.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Marise Payne addressing the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly [United Nations/Loey Felipe]
Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Marise Payne addresses the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly in September 2018 [United Nations/Loey Felipe]

Shaping international rules and norms

Australia’s interests are strongly served by acting with others to support an international rules-based order. The department leads Australia’s engagement in the multilateral system. We aim to promote its liberal character, including free trade and human rights, and to prevent efforts by others to reshape rules, norms and institutions in ways that challenge our interests.

Performance measuresHow we rate our performance*
Australia helps shape the evolution of institutions, rules and forms of cooperation in line with our national interests.On track but progress towards shaping international rules and norms is under strain
Source: Corporate Plan 2018–19 p. 18 | Funding: PBS 2018–19 programs 1.1 and 1.4
The department’s contributions shape multilateral outcomes, institutions and norms to advance the interests of Australia and our Commonwealth partners.On track
Source: PBS 2018–19 program 1.4 p. 32 | Funding: PBS 2018–19 programs 1.1 and 1.4

Our performance

On balance we rate the department as ‘on track’ against the performance measures listed. However despite our best efforts, multilateralism, institutions and the rules-based order are under significant strain. We set out below where we have made some inroads or avoided sliding backwards on issues of key national interest.

Human rights

Australia used its membership of the UN Human Rights Council (2018–2020) to champion human rights principles and respond to serious concerns in specific countries. The Foreign Minister’s address to the council in February underscored Australia’s commitment to the rules and institutions which promote and protect universal human rights.

In the five Human Rights Council sessions since Australia took up membership (from February 2018 to July 2019), the department worked across government—and with civil society and international partners—to negotiate 141 resolutions (co-sponsoring 87), deliver 123 national statements and join 81 joint statements to advance thematic and country-specific human rights issues and norms. We stood up for the rights of women and girls, indigenous and LGBTI people. We promoted good governance, freedom of expression, strong national human rights institutions, freedom of religion or belief and civil society engagement.

With few Pacific states represented on the council, the department worked closely with Pacific island countries to lead joint statements, to convey their views and highlight the actions we have taken together on issues such as slavery-like practices in the fishing industry and on tackling the barriers faced by people with disability.

The department advocated for ongoing Human Rights Council reform and diverse membership to ensure the full range of human rights challenges are considered. Upon taking up the Human Rights Council seat, we initiated an incoming members’ pledge—committing new members to strengthen the council’s effectiveness and credibility through cooperation, transparency and objectivity. This will be a legacy of our term. The department worked with new member Fiji to ensure countries joining in 2019 also signed on, with Fiji delivering the pledge on behalf of 10 of the 17 members elected to the council for the 2019–2021 term.

The department launched Australia’s Strategy for Abolition of the Death Penalty in October 2018. We increased our advocacy—bilaterally, multilaterally and in partnership with civil society—to highlight Australia’s opposition to the death penalty, in all circumstances for all people.

We became a full member of the support group of the International Commission Against the Death Penalty in November. Our efforts reinforce global momentum towards abolition. Australia was also accepted as a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in June 2019. Through IHRA, governments and experts work to strengthen holocaust education, research and remembrance and to identify early warning signs of present-day genocide.

Gender equality

Promoting gender equality was a priority for us during the year. We advocated strongly in support of existing rules and norms underlying women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. For example, our efforts at the 63rd UN Commission on the Status of Women in March ensured that key agreements maintained hard-won references to women’s human rights, despite strong opposition and pressure to remove and weaken these references.

We influenced discussion on the underrepresentation of women in peacebuilding processes and decisions. The UN Secretary General’s report on Women, Peace and Security in 2018, and the UN Security Council open debate, were informed by Australian research from Monash University, funded by the department. This found only 19 per cent of 1,187 peace agreements reached from 1990–2017 contained references to women.

As part of our efforts to increase women in leadership positions in peacekeeping, we worked with the Department of Defence in securing a position for Major General Cheryl Pearce as Force Commander to the UN Protection Force in Cyprus.

In the Pacific, the department is contributing to multilateral efforts to protect women and girls from violence. We supported the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund, which works to improve the safety of women in humanitarian crises. We joined a new partnership with the European Union, UN Women, the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Pacific community, which is tackling the social norms that allow violence against women to continue.

Climate change

As Chair of the Umbrella Group—one of four major groups that includes the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia and others—Australia was influential in securing a robust set of rules for implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change. In December at the UN climate change conference (COP24) in Poland, countries adopted a common global approach to implementing the Paris Agreement for years to come.

The rulebook is a win for the global rules-based system. It provides business with certainty and confidence for climate action, will ensure investment and public sector finance can flow, and helps maintain confidence in the Paris Agreement. For the first time it introduces a set of rules that will apply to all countries, including major emerging economies and key emitters such as China and India.

Australia is delivering on its commitment to provide $1 billion of climate finance over five years (2015–2020) to support developing countries build climate resilience and reduce emissions. This includes our $300 million commitment to the Pacific on climate and disaster resilience, which we are on track to meet. A further $500 million over five years has been pledged for the Pacific, starting in 2020–21.

Strengthening international law

This year, led by the department, Australia was an active player in shaping a new UN treaty on high seas biodiversity and marine genetic resources. This will enable integrated management of around 60 per cent of the world’s oceans in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Countries are aiming to finalise the UN treaty on high seas biodiversity and marine genetic resources by 2020.

The department led Australia’s international engagement in the Antarctic Treaty system. With other countries, we have been encouraging Antarctic Treaty signatories that have not already done so to adopt the Madrid Protocol which prohibits mining indefinitely. Six countries have joined since 2011 and others are in the process of signing on.

We are working through regional organisations to protect and strengthen the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the foundation for responsible international use and management of our oceans. Australia and Malaysia co-chaired an East Asia Summit seminar on maritime security and international law and security, and we co-chaired with Vietnam an ASEAN Regional Forum workshop on implementing UNCLOS.

The department hosted the first Pacific Maritime Law Exchange in February, bringing together participants from Pacific island countries and regional organisations to establish a deeper understanding of priorities and challenges.

We worked to strengthen the International Criminal Court and its ability to try individuals responsible for the most serious international crimes. The department continued support for the Syria accountability mechanism and supported establishing an international mechanism in relation to Myanmar. These mechanisms are mandated to collect and preserve evidence of serious international crimes and facilitate future prosecutions.

We implemented sanctions to address situations of international concern and to influence and penalise those responsible. In 2018–19 the department implemented new UN Security Council sanctions in relation to South Sudan. We also imposed autonomous sanctions against five Myanmar military officers responsible for human rights violations, and against seven Russians for their role in the interception and seizure of Ukrainian vessels attempting to pass through the Kerch Strait.

We are working to strengthen the rules and norms of responsible state behaviour as they apply to new and emerging domains, such as cyberspace and outer space. Under the government’s National Counter Foreign Interference Strategy we are implementing a strategy on foreign interference to develop and influence international norms on what constitutes unacceptable conduct.

Pursuing justice for victims of MH17

Australia continues to pursue justice and accountability for the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, with 298 victims, including 38 Australians.

In June the MH17 Joint Investigation Team announced the prosecution of four individuals for their alleged roles. Australia is represented on the team, along with authorities from Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine.

The department is administering up to $50 million over four years to support the Dutch prosecution. We are ensuring families and loved ones of the Australian victims will be able to follow the trials through translation and live-streaming, and are preparing to help those who want to attend.

The department is also contributing to efforts to hold Russia accountable for its role in the downing of the flight. Australian and Dutch officials held a first round of talks with Russia in March 2019. We led the Australian delegation to the talks, which also included the Attorney-General’s Department and Australian Federal Police.

Working with the UN and the Commonwealth

The department led a successful campaign this year for Australia to be re-elected to the Council of the International Telecommunications Union, a UN agency that works with governments and industry on decisions on the global communications networks that enable technologies Australians use every day.

We supported the international Responsibility to Protect principle, which seeks to protect vulnerable populations from the crimes of genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity. We worked in partnership to engage ASEAN and Pacific countries on early warning for conflict and atrocity prevention, supporting, for example, a new youth network that has been tackling local drivers of conflict such as hate speech.

The department drove key management reform, using our positions as a leading investor, member of boards of UN development agencies, and chair of the UN’s Fifth Committee, responsible for budgets. We advocated for improved budget rigour, accountability and whistleblower protections, increased diversity, and strengthened processes to address sexual harassment and misconduct issues. We supported implementation of the UN’s new autonomous resident coordinator system (which will enable better coordination on the ground by UN agencies delivering services), and continued to urge UN agencies to focus more on the Pacific.

The Foreign Minister is Vice-Chair of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, providing practical support to Commonwealth members to uphold democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This includes training to conduct fair, credible and inclusive elections. Australia’s support also delivered education, training and climate finance in developing Commonwealth countries. Due to the department’s advocacy, the Commonwealth is deploying climate finance advisors to the Pacific.

Promoting our interests around the world

The department works globally to promote Australia’s interests. While the Indo-Pacific is our primary focus (see Priority 1), we cooperate with partners around the world to advance our prosperity and to strengthen the international rules-based order.

Performance measuresHow we rate our performance*
Australian bilateral, regional and multilateral engagement successfully promotes Australia’s interests and values, including in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America, North America and Africa.On track
Source: Corporate Plan 2018–19 p. 18 | Funding: PBS 2018–19 programs 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4 and 1.6
The department’s whole-of-government coordination and leadership shapes bilateral, regional and multilateral outcomes to advance interests of Australia and Australians.On track
Source: PBS 2018–19 program 1.1 p. 29 | Funding: PBS 2018–19 programs 1.1 and 1.4

Our performance

We rate the department’s performance against the measures above as ‘on track’. Our engagement with the Indo-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East, North and Latin America and Africa promoted Australia’s interests and values. Our coordination and leadership across government on international issues—and the role that our diplomatic missions play in pursuing whole-of-government outcomes—are referenced throughout this report, including our preparations for Brexit discussed below.

We worked with partners in Europe, including the member states and institutions of the European Union (EU), to advance shared priorities. We led the ratification process for the EU–Australia Framework Agreement and established a joint committee to implement it. The framework will facilitate cooperation, including on foreign policy issues, development, human rights, science and space.

We hosted a conference of senior officials from 30 European and 21 Asian states under the Asia–Europe Meeting (ASEM) framework. With Australia as chair, we focused ASEM discussions on support for an international rules-based order and gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Outcomes from the Australia–United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations (AUKMIN) included closer engagement on Indo-Pacific infrastructure development, strengthening international rules and norms through the UN and the Commonwealth, and Australian support for new United Kingdom diplomatic missions in Samoa, Vanuatu and Tonga.

We prepared for Brexit, coordinating across government to ensure trade continues. We concluded three new treaties with the United Kingdom covering wine, nuclear cooperation and mutual recognition of standards. We will be ready to launch FTA negotiations as soon as the United Kingdom is ready subject to Brexit. The department also developed ‘AFiniti’, a flagship bilateral initiative with France to increase trade, investment, research, education and people-to-people links.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Marise Payne and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte meeting at the Asia-Europe Meeting in Brussels [DFAT/Frederic Guerdin]
Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Marise Payne and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte meet at the Asia–Europe Meeting in Brussels to discuss strategic matters that affect our two countries [DFAT/Frederic Guerdin]

We worked with like-minded partners to promote adherence to international rules and norms in the face of Russian actions towards Ukraine and elsewhere, including through our engagement with the EU and NATO. We also worked closely with Turkey, a critical partner for Australia’s efforts to mitigate the threats posed by Islamist extremists and foreign terrorist fighters. The department boosted links with the countries of Eastern Europe and the Western Balkans through business connections, tourism and education.

In the Middle East, increased volatility during 2018–19 raised significant risks for international security, including in Australia’s own region. We intensified our engagement with the United States and other partners and advised government on policy responses.

As part of Australia’s contribution to the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat Da’esh, we assisted with the deployment of Australian troops to train Iraqi forces and helped shape coalition strategies following the territorial defeat of Da’esh in March. The department’s policy analysis informed the government’s decision to provide additional aircraft for ongoing operations in Syria.

We supported visits to Iraq by the Governor-General, the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister. These reinforced Australia’s commitment to stability and recovery in Iraq, which the department is also supporting through multi-year humanitarian assistance packages for both Iraq and Syria.

The department assisted the growth of Australia’s commercial and investment links with the Gulf. The Trade Minister’s visit to the United Arab Emirates in January secured support for Australia’s initiative to develop WTO rules for e-commerce and advanced our growing bilateral economic relationship.

In late 2018 the department was closely involved in the government’s reviews of its policy settings, both on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s Nuclear Program and on the status of Jerusalem. We worked with other government agencies to open an Austrade-managed Australian Trade and Defence Office in West Jerusalem.

In Africa we helped Australian companies pursue opportunities in mining at major international mining conferences in Cape Town and Perth. At the Africa Down Under conference in Perth for example, the department facilitated 124 formal meetings for Australian companies with African delegations that included key decision-makers.

Australia and South Africa agreed on a plan to increase bilateral trade and investment at talks arranged by the department in November. We are working towards implementing the plan in 2020.

We advocated bilaterally for democracy and human rights in Africa and the Middle East. We supported Zimbabwe’s political transition following the end of the Mugabe era, and made representations to select governments against the death penalty and on women’s and LGBTI rights.

We collaborated with Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean countries on issues where our interests intersect, including in the UN, World Trade Organization, Cairns Group, G20, APEC and Antarctic Treaty system. We worked with Canada on WTO reform. The department arranged to share Australian expertise in fields including gun control with Mexico, structural economic reform with Brazil, ocean management in the Caribbean, gender equality and women’s empowerment with Peru, and engagement in the Indo-Pacific with Chile. The G20 in Argentina generated a series of ministerial visits to countries in the region over the year, facilitated by the department—including by Prime Minister Morrison and the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Finance—building Australia’s influence.

In collaboration with Austrade, we launched the Sustainable Mining Centre of Excellence in Bogotá, Colombia. This will manage sustainable development–focused projects using Australian commercial and research expertise and a mix of private and public funding. We worked with an international coalition of like-minded countries to advocate for the return of democracy and rule of law in Venezuela, and to restore the human rights of the Venezuelan people.

Protocol services for the diplomatic corps

Our global partners are represented in Australia by the diplomatic and consular corps. Providing them with the immunities, privileges, security and courtesies enshrined in the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations is essential to good relations with their countries and ensuring reciprocal treatment of Australian diplomats overseas. The department’s professionalism projects a positive image of Australia and promotes cooperation in other areas.

Performance measureHow we rate our performance*
The diplomatic and consular corps posted or accredited to Australia are satisfied with the delivery of protocol services.On track

Source: Corporate Plan 2018–19 p. 19, PBS program 1.1 p. 29 | Funding: PBS 2018–19 program 1.1

Our performance

As a proactive measure to assess our performance standards the department conducted its first survey of the 108 diplomatic missions in Canberra in early 2019. Sixty-one responses were received, all indicating strong satisfaction with the efficiency, consistency and responsiveness of the protocol services we provide. Fourteen survey responses made specific requests that are being addressed, such as improving airport facilitation forms for eligible dignitary travel through Australian airports. For other requests which cannot be met for legislative or policy reasons, we will continue outreach to the corps to explain our approach. Figure 14 details the survey results which give us a good benchmark and show us where to focus our outreach.

Figure 14: Protocol services

Soft power and building influence

Australia’s soft power assets include our land and people, our unique flora and fauna, our values and institutions, our economy, our education system, and our scientific, artistic and sporting endeavours. The department harnesses this strength to advance our national interests and project a positive and contemporary image of Australia to build our reputation and influence.

Performance measuresHow we rate our performance*
Soft power initiatives further Australia’s interests and influence.On track
Source: Corporate Plan 2018–19 p. 19 | Funding: PBS 2018–19 programs 1.1, 1.2 and 1.6
Public diplomacy initiatives build links overseas to further Australia’s interests and increase Australia’s influence.On track
Source: PBS 2018–19 program 1.6 p. 34 | Funding: PBS 2018–19 programs 1.1, 1.2 and 1.6

Our performance

Each year we design and implement public diplomacy programs and initiatives, tailor-made to appeal to our overseas audiences and increase Australia’s influence. Taking budget realities into account, we have rated our performance against the measures above as ‘on track’.

In 2018 the department’s flagship public diplomacy program Australia now substantially lifted Australia’s profile in Japan. A total of 427,000 people attended a series of major events across 29 Japanese cities and prefectures, generating 400 media articles and two million social media posts. It sparked new interest in cooperating with Australia in agritech, medical research, life sciences and sustainable living.

In 2019 Australia now is being staged in 10 ASEAN countries. We are targeting ASEAN’s young growing population—more than 160 million people aged 15 to 29 live in the 10 member nations. The program is providing opportunities for young Australians and their ASEAN counterparts to collaborate and exchange ideas and experiences.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are the custodians of the world’s oldest living culture. This is a unique and significant soft power asset. The department celebrates Indigenous culture and expertise to build cultural connections and influence in our region.

From July to August the National Museum of Australia’s landmark exhibition Songlines: Tracking the Seven Sisters, was on show in the department’s Canberra headquarters to mark NAIDOC. Our international posts relayed the exhibition’s launch around the world to celebrate the richness of Australia’s Indigenous culture.

We also organised visits by 20 Indigenous women from diverse fields to 17 countries. This initiative received widespread and positive media coverage in the countries they visited.

Pacific friendships through sport

Australians and Pacific islanders share a love of sport. The department is building on a mutual passion for rugby league under the new PacificAus Sports program ($40 million from 2019–2023).

In June we partnered with the National Rugby League to stage the first ever women’s rugby league match at the Pacific Test in Sydney. The Papua New Guinea Orchids played Fiji Bulikula before a crowd of 8,000, promoting gender equality and female inclusion in elite sport. The game was broadcast in Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand, and was watched by more than 5,000 viewers on the online platform Kayo.

Shae Dela Cruz playing for the PNG Orchids in the Pacific Test [National Rugby League]
Shae Dela Cruz in full flight for the PNG Orchids. The department supported the PNG Orchids to play in the Pacific Test [National Rugby League]

Australia Awards scholarships and short courses are strengthening personal, professional and institutional links between Australia and the Indo-Pacific, while developing future leaders. During the year the department supported 5,700 continuing students, and offered 3,161 new scholarships and short courses to participants from more than 55 developing countries. An independent evaluation of the program’s strategy in 2018 made recommendations to strengthen it, such as having clearer goals, which we are working to adopt (

We are building a network of leaders who are influential advocates for Australia. In the 2018 parliamentary elections in Timor-Leste, four Timorese who were recipients of Australia Awards were elected to office—including the country’s current Foreign Minister. A survey in 2018 of Australia Awards alumni from 2011 to 2016 found 97 per cent became more positive about Australia as a country, and 73 per cent built networks with Australians or Australian organisations as a result of their experiences in Australia.

Alumni engagement initiatives helped the department activate Australia’s 2.5 million strong global alumni network—including Australia Award recipients and those who have studied in Australia privately—bolstering trade, investment and business links, and strengthening Australia’s diplomatic access and influence.

In 2018–19 for the department’s soft power review, we consulted more than 500 stakeholders across Australia and considered 250 written contributions from institutions, the public and our overseas network. The aim of the review is to set the strategic direction for our public diplomacy and ensure Australia remains a persuasive voice in our region. We expect to release the results in late 2019.

Media relations and digital media

Performance measuresHow we rate our performance*
Inform and influence media reporting on Australia.On track
Source: PBS 2018–19 program 1.6 p. 34 | Funding: PBS 2018–19 programs 1.1 and 1.6
Timely management of domestic and international media enquiries.On track
Source: PBS 2018–19 program 1.6 p. 34 | Funding: PBS 2018–19 program 1.1

Our performance

We rate the department’s performance against the measures above as ‘on track’. Our international media visits program is shaping debate and understanding of Australia. It is also dispelling misconceptions that may be contrary to Australia’s interests. During the year we brought 27 influential foreign journalists to Australia to showcase Australian expertise and opportunities for collaboration. For example, a visit organised by the department for seven senior journalists from India resulted in 22 stories about Australia in Indian media, modernising perceptions of Australia’s economy and trade.

Our responsiveness to media queries helps shape media coverage of Australia’s foreign policy, and developments overseas affecting Australian interests and our consular work. While we cannot always meet deadlines set by 24/7 media outlets, we rate ourselves as ‘on track’ when it comes to responding to media enquiries within departmental timeframes. The department responded to 2,611 media queries during the year, up from 2,411 in 2017–18. Our overseas posts also replied to hundreds of local media queries. More than 50 per cent of media enquiries related to consular matters, compared with 40 per cent in 2017–18. High-profile consular cases generated the most domestic and international media interest, as did situations in which Australians were affected by natural events, accidents or other difficulties overseas.

We published 417 media releases and statements for portfolio ministers and the department during the year. In a sample dataset, 81 per cent of responses were approved for release within our departmental deadlines. Feedback from stakeholders on the quality of media output continues to be positive.

Figure 15: 2018–19 social media presence

Our history online

A digital version of a historic departmental journal is proving to be one of the most popular online records on the National Library’s Trove database.

Current Notes on International Affairs, later Australian Foreign Affairs Record, was a monthly journal published by the department for 60 years from 1936.

It has been digitised and published online by the National Library with funding from the department. In early 2019 it was in the top four records being accessed on Trove, just behind the sports searches.

Three former editors of Current Notes on International Affairs, Jeremy Hearder, Elizabeth Decolongon and Richard Gate [DFAT/Gina Dow]
Three former editors of Current Notes (L to R) Jeremy Hearder, Elizabeth (Warren) Decolongon and Richard Gate [DFAT/Gina Dow]
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