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Protocol Guidelines

1. Introduction to Australia and its system of government

The Commonwealth of Australia is a federation of six states and two self-governing territories. The national government is the Australian Government, also referred to as the federal government or Commonwealth government. The constitution gives certain powers to the federal government, some powers are shared with the states and territories, while other powers remain with the states and territories. The states and territories thus have a significant degree of autonomy; the Australian Government does not have the legal power to influence many of their decisions.

Further information about Australia's system of government can be found on the Parliament of Australia website. Following is some practical information about interacting with parliament and the federal government.

1.1 Head of State and Governor-General

Australia's Head of State is the Queen of Australia, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Under the Australian Constitution, executive power is exercised by the Governor‑General as the Queen's representative. The Governor-General is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister of Australia. The Prime Minister is Head of Government.

A biography for the Governor-General can be found on the Governor-General's website.

Each state has a governor, who is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Premier (head of government) of that state.

1.2 National anthem and flag protocols

Australia's national anthem is Advance Australia Fair. It is played at all official and ceremonial occasions where the anthem is required.

Information on Australian national flag protocols can be found on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet website.

1.3 Commonwealth Table of Precedence

The Commonwealth table of precedence provides the necessary information to allow seatings and introductions to be made in the correct order. Tables of precedence differ between the Commonwealth and the various states. South Australia and Western Australia do not issue tables of precedence - the Commonwealth table should be used as a guide.

When a person is acting in any of the positions listed, he/she enjoys the same precedence but appears behind anyone at that level attending in their own right. Married couples enjoy the precedence of the spouse with the higher precedence.

1.4 Indigenous protocols

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are inherently linked to their ancestral lands. Connection to Country is crucial to Indigenous identity, spirituality and cultural wellbeing.

An Acknowledgement of Country is the practice of recognising the Traditional Custodians of the land on which a gathering is held. It can be performed by Indigenous or non-Indigenous persons and is a demonstration of respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and recognition of the relationship the Traditional Custodians have with their Country.

There is no set wording for an Acknowledgement of Country, though often a statement takes a general form such as:

I would like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we meet today. I also pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging and I extend that respect to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people present.

A factsheet on Welcome to and Acknowledgement of Country can be found on the Reconciliation Australia website.

Welcome to Country ceremonies performed by Indigenous Elders are appropriate for major events, including official launches, opening ceremonies, exhibitions and functions where official guests are in attendance. Protocols for conducting a Welcome to Country vary according to region, and content should be negotiated well in advance with Elders. More information on organising a Welcome to Country in the Australian Capital Territory can be found on the ACT Community Services website.

1.5 Gifts

It is not customary in Australia to exchange gifts in the conduct of government business. Public servants are instructed to avoid accepting gifts, if possible. Where it is judged that refusal might cause offence, a gift may be accepted. Its receipt will be reported. If missions or posts wish to show appreciation or goodwill to public servants, gifts of substantial items or alcohol should always be avoided.

As a general principle, state and territory officials and dignitaries do not present gifts when meeting members of the diplomatic or consular corps, and their preference is for no gifts to be offered by foreign officials.

1.6 The Parliament

The presiding officers of the Parliament are the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Heads of Mission wishing to call on the presiding officers should contact the secretary to the President (telephone (02) 6277 3300) and the secretary to the Speaker (telephone (02) 6277 4000) at Parliament House. Appointments should be sought for parliamentary sitting weeks as the presiding officers are not usually in Canberra at other times.

Biographies for all members of the House of Representatives and the Senate can be found on the Parliament of Australia website.

1.6.1 Diplomatic Gallery seating

Five seats in the Speaker's Gallery in the Chamber of the House of Representatives are allocated as the Diplomatic Gallery for Heads of Mission or their representatives to observe the proceedings of the House. Missions should reserve their seats in advance. This can be done through the secretary to the Speaker of the House of Representatives (telephone (02) 6277 4000). Tickets for booked seats should be collected from the Gallery Ticket Office located on the first floor of the Members' Hall. When the Diplomatic Gallery is fully booked, it may be possible to provide members of the Diplomatic Corps with seats in one of the visitors' galleries to the Chamber.

Inquiries about seats in the Senate Chamber Galleries should be made to the office of the President of the Senate (telephone (02) 6277 3300).

1.7 The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT)

DFAT's website includes the current organisational chart and biographies for members of the department's senior executive. In addition, there are entries providing information on Australia and its foreign, trade and investment and aid policies, as well as advice on international travel. There are also links to the websites for Austrade and Tourism Australia.

DFAT has offices in each Australian capital city. More information on these offices can be found on the department's website.

1.7.1 Portfolio ministers

The foreign affairs and trade portfolio supports the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, the Minister for International Development and the Pacific, the Assistant Minister for Trade and Investment, and the Assistant Minister for Regional Tourism.

When writing to portfolio ministers, missions should address their communications as follows:

  • Senator the Hon Marise Payne
    Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Women
    Parliament House
    Canberra ACT 2600

    Minister Payne's office can be contacted on (02) 6277 7500, fax (02) 6273 4118

  • The Hon Dan Tehan MP
    Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment
    Parliament House
    Canberra ACT 2600

    Mr Tehan's office can be contacted on (02) 6277 7350

  • Senator the Hon Zed Seselja
    Minister for International Development and the Pacific
    Parliament House
    Canberra ACT 2600

    Senator Seselja's office can be contacted on (02) 6277 3187

  • The Hon Dr David Gillespie MP
    Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment
    Parliament House
    Canberra ACT 2600

    Mr Gillespie's office can be contacted on (02) 6277 4960

  • The Hon Michelle Landry MP
    Assistant Minister for Regional Tourism
    Assistant Minister for Children and Families

    Ms Landry's office can be contacted on (02) 6277 4283

1.7.2 Protocol Branch

DFAT's Protocol Branch provides services to:

  • the diplomatic corps, comprising more than 105 embassies and high commissions in Canberra, and up to 40 foreign heads of mission based in third country capitals who have non-resident accreditation to Australia
  • the consular corps – around 370 consulates-general and consulates in cities outside Canberra, headed by career consular staff or by honorary consuls
  • United Nations and other international organisations that are headquartered or represented in Australia
  • a small number of non-diplomatic representative offices.

The information in this guide is primarily for use by members of the diplomatic and consular corps whose status derives from the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Much of the practical advice provided applies also to accredited representatives of international organisations.

Information tailored to the needs of honorary consuls is contained in separate Guidelines for Honorary Consuls in Australia.

The Diplomatic List, the Consular List and the list of Representatives of International Organisations are updated daily and are published on the department's website.

Protocol Branch does not manage guest of government matters; these are the responsibility of the Protocol and International Visits Division (PIVD) of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Contact details for PIVD and other Commonwealth Government agencies are available in the Australian Government Directory.

1.7.2.1 Contact details

  • Chief of Protocol: (02) 6261 3242
  • Director - Diplomatic and Consular Accreditation (Deputy Chief of Protocol): (02) 6261 3178
  • Director - Protection, Privileges and Immunities (Deputy Chief of Protocol): (02) 6261 2642
  • Personal Assistant to Chief of Protocol: (02) 6261 3243
  • Email: protocol.branch@dfat.gov.au
  • Protocol Branch Fax: (02) 6261 3455
  • Website: www.dfat.gov.au/protocol
  • After Hours/Emergency Protocol Duty Officer: 0418 167 127

1.7.3 Correspondence with DFAT

Correspondence specifically on protocol matters should be sent to Protocol Branch. This includes advice of head of mission absences from Australia and mission closures.

For other matters, missions should send correspondence, including notes verbales, directly to the appropriate area of the department (there is no need to send copies to Protocol Branch):

  • general bilateral issues should be directed to the relevant geographic area
  • legal matters should be referred to the Legal Division, specifically:
  • matters concerning international organisations, including candidacies, should be directed to the Multilateral Policy Division.

1.7.4 National days

DFAT is usually represented at national day functions hosted by foreign missions by the Chief of Protocol and the Assistant Secretary of the relevant geographic branch. The Chief of Protocol will propose a toast but will not make a speech, and should be informed in advance of any special formalities.

The Chief of Protocol is normally invited to propose the first toast to the Head of State and the people of the host country. It is customary for the first verse of the host country's national anthem to be played or sung after the toast. The host country's Head of Mission then proposes a toast to the Queen and the people of Australia; this is followed by the first verse of the Australian national anthem (see section 1.2)

1.8 Other departments and government agencies

The Australia website is a comprehensive guide to government information and services. The Australian Government Directory section provides contact details for the offices and personnel of the Governor-General and the Commonwealth Parliament, courts and departments and agencies. There are also links to the directories of state and territory governments.

Contact with the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Government can be facilitated by the Senior Manager of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Community Services Directorate (telephone (02) 6207 0555 or fax (02) 6207 5862).

1.8.1 Communication with Australian Government authorities

The Australian Government encourages diplomatic and consular missions to conduct routine official business directly with relevant departments and agencies rather than going through DFAT. However, in accordance with Article 41(2) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, missions should consult DFAT on all matters of a policy nature that could affect bilateral or multilateral trade or foreign relations.

Administrative matters handled by agencies other than DFAT should be sent directly to those agencies, including:

1.8.2 Media and publicity materials issued by missions

The Australian Government attaches great importance to the free flow of information and recognises that it is an accepted function of diplomatic missions and consular posts to issue public statements, including media releases and social media communications, and to distribute material and publications expressing the point of view of their government on international questions. All efforts should be made to ensure such statements are accurate and written in respectful language.

DFAT requests that missions and posts provide the Parliamentary and Media Branch (media@dfat.gov.au) with copies of the publicity and media material that they distribute.

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