History of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

The Department of Trade and Customs and the Department of External Affairs were among the first seven Commonwealth Departments established at Federation. After nearly 90 years they amalgamated in 1987.

Up to the Second World War, the Department of Trade - and related agencies such as the Department of Commerce - played a greater role in foreign representation than did the Department of External Affairs. "External Affairs" meant in the first decades of Federation a miscellany of "overseas" functions such as immigration, off-shore fisheries, exploration of Papua New Guinea and Antarctica, and Commonwealth Government publicity.

Until the late 1930s, Australia's overseas presence was limited mainly to trade representation and commercial publicity. The 1930s saw an increasingly dangerous economic and political world. Australia realised the need to establish a Trade Commissioner Service (in 1934) and make tentative beginnings towards diplomatic representation abroad.

From four overseas missions in 1940, the department manages more than 80 missions today. Additionally the Australian Trade Commission, Austrade, manages 17 consulates and 5 honorary consulates.

Commonwealth Public Service Heads 1901

Commonwealth Public Service Heads 1901

Standing (left to right): Captain Muirhead Collins (Defence); Atlee Hunt (External Affairs) and Colonel David Miller (Home Affairs). Seated (left to right): Robert Garran (Attorney General's); Harry Wollaston (Trade and Customs); Robert Scott (Post-Master General's) and Gerge Allen (Treasury).

Timelines

Foreign affairs functions
1 January 1901 - 14 November 1916 Department of External Affairs
14 November 1916 - 21 December 1921 External Affairs managed by Prime Minister's Department
21 December 1921 - 6 November 1970 Department of External Affairs
6 November 1970 - 24 July 1987 Department of Foreign Affairs
24 July 1987 - present Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Trade functions
17 January 1901 - 11 January 1956 Department of Trade and Customs
19 January 1925 - 19 January 1928 Department of Markets and Migration
19 January 1928 - 10 December 1928 Department of Markets
10 December 1928 - 21 April 1930 Markets and Transport
21 April 1930 - 13 April 1932 Department of Markets
22 December 1942 - 11 January 1956 Department of Commerce and Agriculture
17 January 1956 - 17 December 1963 Department of Trade
17 December 1963 - 19 December 1972 Department of Trade and Industry
19 December 1972 - 20 December 1977 Department of Overseas Trade
20 December 1977 - 11 March 1983 Department of Trade and Resources
11 March 1983 - 24 July 1987 Department of Trade
24 July 1987 - present Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade