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Keep Australia and Australians safe and secure

The world presents many threats to the safety of Australians, both at home and overseas. These threats are diverse and evolving, from nuclear weapons proliferation to terrorist insurgency, cyber attack and transnational crime. The government has taken firm steps across these areas to protect Australians at home.

Australia cannot address any of these threats alone. The department works internationally to keep Australians safe, reinforcing and multiplying the impact of the resolute action the government has taken at home.

Those who wish to harm us can be clever and innovative. Effective defence is impossible without international cooperation to keep one step ahead of malign actors and to deal with hostile new actors. The department ensures Australia is at the forefront of international engagement, advocacy and action to fight terrorism and violent extremism; reduce people smuggling, human trafficking and modern slavery; promote an open, free and secure cyberspace; and to counter the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons.

The department’s ambassadors for counter-terrorism, cyber affairs, and people smuggling and human trafficking enhance Australia’s leadership role internationally in these key areas. Our success hinges on seamless, whole-of-government collaboration and coordination.

One of four detectors from the Davis Infrasound Array in the Australian Antarctic Territory [CTBTO]
One of four detectors that make up the Davis Infrasound Array—Australia’s final CTBT international monitoring station—located in the Australian Antarctic Territory [CTBTO]

Countering terrorism and violent extremism

Terrorist activity poses one of the most significant threats to Australians living and travelling overseas. Numerous terrorist groups and lone actors have demonstrated the capability and intent to undertake attacks anywhere in the world, as recent attacks in Sri Lanka and New Zealand have shown.

Australia’s contribution to international efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq aims to destroy and degrade major terrorist capabilities. The territorial defeat of Da’esh (ISIL) in March 2019 was an important milestone in the international fight against terrorism, but the threat continues. Foreigners—including some Australians—who went to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIL present a considerable ongoing threat. ISIL’s influence has already inspired terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia. A proliferation of ISIL inspired terrorism in our neighbourhood contributes to a less secure regional environment with direct implications for Australia.

Performance measureHow we rate our performance*
Effective counter-terrorism outcomes delivered through international and domestic engagement that promote Australia’s security interests.On track

Source: Corporate Plan 2018–19 p. 14 | Funding: PBS 2018–19 programs 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4

Our performance

The Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism led consultations with countries in our region to develop joint understanding of emerging transnational threats, implement measures to address them and build resilience.

This collaboration ensures that regional countries remain focused on the terrorist threat and have in place effective practices to deter, detect and prosecute terrorists. It enables Australia to track terrorist activity on our doorstep and boosts our capacity to counter threats before they reach our shores. As a result, we rate our performance against this measure as ‘on track’.

Cooperation and information sharing with other countries maximises our collective ability to foil terrorist plots, and to capture and prosecute terrorists. At the centre of the Australian Government’s concerns—and those of the department—is the surviving cohort of foreign terrorist fighters, some of whom may travel back from the Middle East to our region, bringing radicalised ideology and battlefield experience. During the year we worked with other government agencies to help innocent victims of foreign terrorist fighters by repatriating unaccompanied Australian children who were detained in camps in Syria.

Tackling terrorism with Indonesia

Since the 2002 Bali bombings, Indonesia has become one of Australia’s closest partners for cooperation on counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism. Cooperation spans our respective law enforcement, security and policy agencies.

We paved the way for even greater practical cooperation between Australia and Indonesia in December by renewing a memorandum of understanding on countering terrorism and violent extremism at the fifth annual counter-terrorism consultations with Indonesia. The department led Australia’s delegation.

In November countries in our region agreed to strengthen legal responses to returning foreign terrorist fighters. Australia and Indonesia co-hosted the sub-regional meeting on counter-terrorism where countries agreed to a series of practical measures to advance regional cooperation, including capacity building.

Under our joint leadership, the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum’s working group on countering violent extremism delivered better practice guides on topics including:

  • managing returning foreign terrorist fighters and their families
  • gender and the role of civil society organisations
  • countering violent extremism in prisons.

Our development program with Indonesia this year included projects to promote tolerance, combat hate speech and empower women’s voices to prevent violent extremism.

Terrorism knows no borders, and beyond our immediate region we worked closely with a range of countries to improve security and counter terrorism. Some highlights of our work are outlined below. In Afghanistan we:

  • enhanced security infrastructure in Kabul
  • provided Afghan security forces with technology to counter improvised explosive devices
  • provided diplomatic support to the NATO mission, which is working to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces to combat terrorist groups.

The Easter Sunday terrorist attacks on churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on 21 April 2019 killed 258 people, including two Australians. As well as providing consular support to Australians, we coordinated assistance from the Australian Federal Police, which helped the Sri Lankan authorities investigate the attacks and achieve justice for the victims. As the country grapples with the aftermath of the attacks, including the economic impact, we will continue to support the Sri Lankan Government efforts to counter terrorism and rebuild the devastated tourism industry.

Our strong collaboration with India was boosted at the 11th Australia–India joint working group on counter-terrorism. The Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism led Australia’s delegation, and both sides agreed to capacity building and greater information sharing on:

  • countering violent extremism
  • warnings on terrorist threats
  • mutual legal assistance.

Over 70 Bangladeshi government officials also completed courses funded through Australia Awards on countering terrorist financing and extremist messaging on social media.

We deepened links with Australian companies operating overseas whose interests and personnel are vulnerable to terrorist activity. For example we hosted a West Africa mining security conference in Accra to help Australian mining companies better address security risks. More than 200 participants from 78 companies agreed they were better equipped to undertake critical security risk mitigation planning for regional operations and personnel.

High Commissioner to Ghana Andrew Barnes, First Assistant Secretary HK Yu, Third Secretary Claire Maizonnier and Executive Officer Dr Andrew Marriott at the Obuasi gold mine in Ghana [Australian High Commission Accra]
High Commissioner to Ghana Andrew Barnes, First Assistant Secretary HK Yu, Third Secretary Claire Maizonnier and Executive Officer Dr Andrew Marriott (L to R), at the Obuasi gold mine in Ghana. Australian underground mining experts are working with mine operator Anglo Gold Ashanti to help Ghana further develop this 125 year old mine—training local labour and using local content [Australian High Commission Accra]

People who do not feel hopeful about the future can be vulnerable to radical ideologies and recruitment by terrorists. Through our development program we supported a range of projects to build resilience and counter violent extremism. For example, we encouraged the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund to expand to Southeast Asia. It will now deliver a new program in the Philippines to address radicalisation in Mindanao and other vulnerable parts of the country.

The department implemented targeted financial sanctions to prevent terrorists and terrorist organisations from raising, moving and using funds, including UN counter-terrorism sanctions against eight individuals and three entities.

G20 response to Christchurch terror attack

Prime Minister Morrison persuaded leaders of the world’s major economies to take action against extremist content online after the live-streamed terrorist attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand in March.

In June Australia advanced and secured the G20 leaders’ statement—urging online platforms to step up the ambition and pace of their efforts to prevent terrorist and violent extremist content from being streamed, uploaded or reloaded.

We worked with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to consult member states, and supported the Trade Minister at the G20 Ministerial Meeting on Trade and the Digital Economy.

Australia continues to engage with member states through a variety of forums to ensure the G20 leaders’ statement progresses collective action.

Advocating for an open, free and secure cyberspace

Australians depend on the internet for many aspects of everyday life, including access to government services, banking, education, commerce and entertainment. Cyberspace is an engine of economic growth and innovation. But it is also a contested domain that some countries seek to use for foreign interference, data theft and criminal activity, repression and control.

Australians’ ability to reap the benefits of global connectivity depends on cyberspace remaining open, free and secure. Our international advocacy is important to ensure that Australians do not lose these benefits and to enhance cyber security, including by improving the cyber security of our neighbouring countries.

Cyberspace can be misused in ways that undermine Australia’s interests. Some actors conduct malicious attacks which can bring down critical systems with potentially disastrous consequences. International collaboration is necessary to reinforce the application of existing laws and agreed norms of behaviour in cyberspace, and to strengthen our collective capacity to deter and respond to these incidents.

Performance measureHow we rate our performance*
Australia’s advocacy for an open, free and secure cyberspace helps shape a peaceful and stable online environment, and enhances the ability of regional partners to take advantage of online opportunities.On track

Source: Corporate Plan 2018–19 p. 15 | Funding: PBS 2018–19 programs 1.1, 1.2 and 1.4

Our performance

The Ambassador for Cyber Affairs is at the forefront of Australia’s international advocacy on cyberspace, and has driven implementation of Australia’s International Cyber Engagement Strategy. In March the Minister for Foreign Affairs published a report ( marking the significant progress made to implement the strategy’s comprehensive and ambitious agenda.

We stepped up our cyber cooperation program in the Indo-Pacific, increasing our investment from $4 million to $34 million out to 2023. We want to ensure the benefits of connectivity are realised across our region—including in the Pacific—and that all nations have an understanding of the risks. To this end, we have funded over 40 activities in ASEAN and Pacific countries to build their resilience against malicious states and cybercriminals, and to enhance their digital capabilities. Early outcomes include new cybercrime legislation in Vanuatu and more than 200 police officers across the Pacific trained to deliver training on cybercrime. We rate our efforts to enhance the ability of regional partners to take advantage of online opportunities as ‘on track’.

Australia–Papua New Guinea cyber security partnership

When Papua New Guinea hosted APEC Leaders Week in November, it was able to successfully provide a network for world leaders and their delegations that was safe from malicious cyber activity.

The department helped establish the Papua New Guinea National Cyber Security Centre as part of our largest bilateral cyber security support project, which is backed by a $14.4 million commitment.

We are supporting Papua New Guinea to build on these achievements and for this increased capability to be sustainable—with ongoing training—to ensure the government can protect its sovereignty from cyber threats.

The department’s international advocacy has positioned Australia as a leading voice in multilateral forums advocating for existing international law and agreed norms of responsible state behaviour to be applied in cyberspace. We achieved affirmation by leaders, including at the East Asia Summit, that cyberspace is not ungoverned and that the same rules and principles that apply offline, apply online.

Australia’s significant expertise in cyber matters was recognised by our membership of the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security—one of only 25 countries to do so. This will give Australia a greater voice as international deliberations on cyber issues evolve.

Australia demonstrated strong resolve in calling out malicious, state-sponsored cyber activity, particularly where it threatens to undermine global economic growth, national security and international stability. We publicly attributed malicious cyber behaviour to Russia, North Korea, Iran and China. Our close collaboration with other countries on public attributions set clear expectations for state behaviour in cyberspace.

Working to stop child sexual abuse online

Australia was at the forefront of international efforts this year to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation of children online by securing the passage of a new resolution at the United Nations in Vienna.

In May at the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, we were successful in having a resolution passed urging states to take stronger action to address child sexual exploitation and abuse online, including by:

  • strengthening domestic legislation
  • resourcing law enforcement
  • increasing awareness and education
  • disrupting distribution of online material.

We worked with the Department of Home Affairs to design, introduce and lead negotiations on the Resolution on Countering Child Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse Online, which was co-sponsored by 17 member states.

Tackling irregular migration and human trafficking

People smuggling and human trafficking remain significant problems in many parts of the world, often driven by criminal organisations that operate across borders. Australia is not immune. No country can effectively tackle these issues in isolation, and we work closely with as many governments as possible, in a range of international groupings, as well as the private sector and civil society.

Performance measureHow we rate our performance*
Increased participation by states and United Nations agencies in the Bali Process, Alliance 8.7 and other multilateral migration organisations and agreements in line with Australia’s interests.On track

Source: Corporate Plan 2018–19 p. 14 | Funding: PBS 2018–19 programs 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4

Our performance

Participation by other states and international organisations in international forums that tackle people smuggling and/or modern slavery and human trafficking—the Bali Process we co-chair with Indonesia and Alliance 8.7 we chaired this year—has continued to increase. We rate our performance against this measure as ‘on track’.

The Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking led Australia’s diplomatic work during the year on irregular migration, human trafficking and modern slavery. The department’s international engagement formed an essential part of the government’s efforts to maintain the integrity of Australia’s borders and to address transnational criminal activity, which undermines our security and the security of our region.

The Foreign Minister and her Indonesian counterpart co-chaired the Seventh Bali Process Ministerial Conference in August. This attracted record participation by ministers (24), business leaders (49) and the heads of UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). Ministers confirmed the government and business forum as an additional new track of the Bali Process. They welcomed the forum’s ‘acknowledge, act and advance’ recommendations to strengthen collaboration between governments and the private sector in tackling human trafficking and modern slavery.

The Bali Process

Australia and Indonesia co-chaired the first regional ministerial conference in Bali in 2002 to address the growing scale and complexity of irregular migration in the Asia-Pacific.

The Bali Process—a forum to share information, exchange policy ideas and undertake practical cooperation to combat smuggling and trafficking—has since grown to encompass 45 government members as well as the IOM, UNHCR, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the International Labour Organization.

Its geographic span ranges from the Middle East across Asia and the Pacific to North America. Seventeen states and 10 organisations are observers.

Australia’s participation in Bali Process working groups ensures members are better equipped to:

  • respond to irregular migration challenges
  • facilitate return and reintegration of persons not owed protection
  • improve supply chain transparency to help eradicate trafficking and slavery.

A number of smuggling and trafficking networks have been disrupted through this collaboration. In 2018, 10 Bali Process countries launched nine joint investigations.

At the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 73) in September, the Foreign Minister co-convened the Financial Sector Commission, which works to strengthen the global financial sector’s role in combating modern slavery and human trafficking.

At the same time the Foreign Minister—together with counterparts from Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States—issued a joint statement outlining principles to guide government action to combat trafficking in global supply chains.

The department organised the Asia-Pacific consultation of the Financial Sector Commission in Sydney in April, bringing modern slavery experts together to testify to the commissioners. Hosting the consultation ensured that Australia’s vanguard modern slavery legislation is at the heart of the global discussion.

The Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking chaired the Alliance 8.7 initiative—a global grouping of governments, UN agencies, business and civil society. It has an active membership of more than 200, including 15 ‘pathfinder’ countries that are committed to going further or faster to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 8.7: to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking, and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour. During Australia’s period as chair, membership of the Alliance 8.7 Global Coordinating Group more than doubled.

We continued work with bilateral partner countries to deter people smugglers from undertaking illegal migration ventures to Australia. We also engaged a range of countries on refugee resettlement and regional processing. The department’s advocacy contributed to maintaining Australia’s strong border protection settings.

Australia has a strong interest in an effective, cohesive international response to mass movements of people. In December Australia supported the Global Compact on Refugees. Through effective advocacy and engagement with key partners, the department helped ensure:

  • more predictable and equitable sharing of responsibility
  • a focus on international obligations to protect and support refugees
  • greater global responsibility for refugee crises.

We also engaged on the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, sharing best practice migration management policies. Australia did not support the final document because of concerns it would compromise our successful and well-managed national migration program.

Pursuing non-proliferation and disarmament

The spread of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and conventional weapons threatens international peace and stability, and undermines Australia’s security.

Longstanding, carefully negotiated arms control and counter-proliferation regimes have generally curbed the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons. But these systems are under strain. The international community needs to work harder to strengthen adherence to these regimes and to ensure new realities and technologies are addressed.

Australia is playing its part, but this is not something we can achieve alone. We are working with other countries in a difficult international climate of heightened strategic competition.

Performance measureHow we rate our performance*
Successful promotion of Australia’s strategic interests related to weapons of mass destruction and conventional weapon risks, including through our multilateral engagement, implementing our related treaty obligations, and effectively chairing the Australia Group.On track

Source: Corporate Plan 2018–19 p. 15, | Funding: PBS 2018–19 programs 1.1 and 1.4

Our performance

Throughout 2018–19 the department ensured Australia’s support for arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation was pursued in international forums. This includes through our leadership of key international bodies that are focused on these outcomes. Australia has been an unflagging contributor to collective actions which continue to act as a brake on the spread of nuclear weapons, and hold to account those responsible for chemical weapons attacks. We rate our performance against this measure as ‘on track’, notwithstanding heightened international tensions around the threat of WMD proliferation.

Our diplomatic efforts were integral to establishing the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon’s (OPCW) attribution mechanism for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and more broadly. Now the OPCW can both investigate whether a chemical attack has taken place and determine who was responsible. In March Australia contributed EUR100,000 to help resource the OPCW’s newly established investigation and identification team.

We also chaired the Australia Group, which coordinates national export control measures among 43 nations to contain the spread of WMD to countries of proliferation concern and non-state actors.

We coordinated the 12-country, cross-regional Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) and led the dialogue with nuclear weapon states on key transparency and reporting initiatives. We also promoted the vital global interest in preserving the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as the cornerstone of the non-proliferation and disarmament regime. Ongoing adherence to the treaty is critical to avoiding nuclear proliferation in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

We maintained pressure on North Korea for complete and verifiable denuclearisation pending disarmament. We also urged Iran to maintain compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Space security and arms control

Australia is working within the United Nations to help shape rules and norms in space.

Security, arms control and what to do about the millions of pieces of space debris are all growing challenges in space, requiring international solutions.

The department was an active participant during the year on UN bodies such as the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. We advocated for responsible behaviour in space, including the proper disposal of satellites, to promote a safe, stable and sustainable space environment. The department supported voluntary long term sustainability guidelines, approved in April, to be endorsed by the UN General Assembly later in 2019.

We collaborated with the Australian Space Agency and the Department of Defence, contributing to international debates on security and arms control in space.

We continued support for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty which, while unlikely to enter into force in the short term, has strong normative value against nuclear testing. The Foreign Minister chaired the Group of Friends of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty meeting in September, which resulted in 78 states issuing a joint statement.

Australia’s Ambassador to the United Nations chaired the UN Disarmament Commission and encouraged member states to reduce the risk of inadvertent nuclear weapons use.

We supported efforts to regulate the trade in conventional weapons by encouraging countries in the Indo-Pacific to sign on to the Arms Trade Treaty. We also co-hosted with New Zealand a conference in Brisbane. Palau has now ratified the treaty, joining the 103 other parties.

The Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) has provided strong technical leadership, and its international reputation has added strategic weight to Australia’s non-proliferation policy.

ASNO helped the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deliver capacity building and training, including on nuclear safeguards in Timor-Leste. ASNO specialists chaired IAEA advisory groups and provided high-level access to enhance Australian and international security by improving nuclear safeguards and security architecture.

We signed a new Australia–United Kingdom nuclear cooperation agreement in August, which will enable exports of Australian uranium to continue to the United Kingdom if it formally withdraws from the European Union. Around a fifth (worth more than $120 million annually) of all Australian uranium exports are supplied to the United Kingdom for use or processing on behalf of third countries within Australia’s network of nuclear cooperation agreements.

The Australia–Ukraine nuclear cooperation agreement became operational in September, allowing Australian uranium to be used in Ukrainian nuclear power plants. Ukraine is among the world’s top 10 generators of nuclear power and has 15 nuclear power plants that supply over half of the country’s electricity. The nuclear cooperation agreement provides another avenue for Ukraine to diversify nuclear fuel services, currently largely dependent on Russia.

We undertook innovative policy development work to understand and promote Australia’s interests in emerging technologies and their enablers, especially those with security implications. We worked closely with other government agencies to frame policy deliberations on sensitive technologies and the critical minerals inputs to these technologies. Internationally we collaborated with partners on frameworks that could apply to the use of artificial intelligence in autonomous weapons systems and on rapidly evolving, and potential dual-use, space technology.

The department complies with controls and restrictions on sanctioned items and technology, and provides advice on sensitive export applications related to dual-use technology of nuclear, chemical weapons and biological weapons proliferation concern, controlled missile and other technology, and military use items.

Our role monitoring nuclear explosions

In August, testing and certification was completed on Australia’s final international nuclear monitoring system—an infrasound monitoring station at Davis Station in the Australian Antarctic Territory.

Australia’s 21 facilities contribute to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization’s ability to provide prompt and scientifically sound data for verifying nuclear explosions. They serve as a deterrent to nuclear weapons testing and nuclear weapons development.

Geoscience Australia used data from some of the 321 international monitoring stations—including in Australia—to promptly identify the six nuclear explosions conducted in North Korea since 2006 and to estimate the yield and location of each explosion.

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