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Preliminary pages

Foreword

This Review of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report 2009–10 is the first conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade since 2001–2. It is timely given the changing world Australia finds itself in, and the changing needs of the increasing number of Australians travelling, living and working overseas. This Review was conducted pursuant to the Committee’s resolution of appointment under which Annual Reports of relevant departments stand referred to the Committee for any inquiry it wishes to make.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is responsible for the management of Australia’s foreign relations and representation overseas, public diplomacy, and providing services to Australians living, working and travelling overseas. As such, its Annual Report is potentially an important document in terms of accountability to both Parliament and the people of Australia.

The DFAT Annual Report reports on three outcomes which cover DFAT’s activities. Consequently, this Review is structured around these three outcomes, and contains an additional chapter on other issues raised during the Review.

Outcome 1

In Chapter 2, the report considers DFAT’s Outcome 1. This Outcome is focused on the advancement of Australia’s international strategic, security and economic interests. This includes matters such as Australia’s representation overseas, DFAT’s human rights activities, and DFAT’s public diplomacy activity.

While Australia maintains an extensive network of diplomatic posts, the Committee found that there is a substantial question in relation to DFAT’s future role and the adequacy of the services it provides overseas on behalf of Australia. The Committee is of the view that a substantial inquiry needs to be undertaken on Australia’s representation overseas, so that comprehensive advice can be provided to the Government on how Australia’s interests might be better served by Australia’s diplomatic network.

In regard to DFAT’s human rights activities, the Committee was pleased to note the role played by DFAT in facilitating bilateral human rights dialogues with China, Vietnam and Iran and looks forward to capitalising on the successes achieved so far—particularly the involvement of Australian parliamentarians in these dialogues. The Committee is also pleased to have received a reference from the Foreign Minister to conduct an inquiry into Australia’s human rights dialogues with Vietnam and China.

DFAT’s public diplomacy efforts were examined during this Review, with a particular focus on the use of new media and social networks. Overall, the Committee is not satisfied with DFAT’s public diplomacy efforts, and considers that DFAT needs to make stronger efforts to capitalise on the potential offered by modern communications technology in the dissemination and collection of information. As such, the Committee believes that DFAT needs to make a greater effort to understand current and future e-diplomacy opportunities.

Outcome 2

In Chapter 3, the Committee considers Outcome 2. This Outcome is focused on the protection and welfare of Australians abroad and the provision of passport services.

The Committee found that DFAT provides valuable advice to Australians travelling overseas. However, the Committee noted that efforts need to be directed towards increasing the proportion of Australians using Smartraveller. Furthermore, while travel advisories have always been contentious, liability issues associated with understating the level of risk means it is wise to take a cautious approach in issuing travel advisories.

The Committee was satisfied with DFAT’s efforts in regard to the provision of passport services. The increasing demand for passport and consular services and the increasing pressure this places on DFAT’s budget warrants further examination of the provision of consular services.

Outcome 3

In Chapter 4, the Committee examines Outcome 4. This Outcome details DFAT’s efforts towards providing for a secure Australian government presence overseas via provision of security services and the management of Australia’s overseas owned estate.

Overall, the Committee was satisfied with DFAT’s efforts in this area, but cautions that in light of recent events DFAT needs to remain alert to the security of its e-network in particular.

Other Issues

Other issues that arose during the course of the review were gender equality within the Department, and the staffing implications of DFAT’s funding situation. These are examined in Chapter 5

In regard to gender equality, the Committee noted that there was a considerable gender disparity at Senior Executive level within the Department. DFAT acknowledged that this was the case, but commented that a high proportion of its graduate intake was female, and further that it was acting to implement internal policies which address family issues that impact on women. The Committee was satisfied with this response.

On funding, the Committee noted the long-term relative decline in funding, our poor relative standing in the number of diplomatic posts as compared to the other comparable countries in the OECD and the resulting staff cutbacks, experienced by DFAT under successive governments. However, the Committee was pleased to note the recent increase in funding, and believes that this trend should be continued and the number of our overseas posts increased.

Mr Michael Danby MP
Chair, Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee

July 2011


Membership of the Committee

Chair

Senator M Forshaw (to 30/06/11)

 

 

Mr M Danby MP (from 06/07/11)

 

Deputy Chair

Mrs J Gash MP

Members Senator M Bishop  
  Senator the Hon. J Faulkner (to 14/02/11) The Hon. D Adams MP
  Senator D Fawcett (from 01/07/11) The Hon. J Bishop MP
  Senator the Hon. A Ferguson (to 30/06/11) Ms G Brodtmann MP
  Senator M Furner The Hon. A Byrne MP
  Senator S Hanson–Young Mr N Champion MP
  Senator the Hon. D Johnston The Hon. L Ferguson MP
  Senator S Ludlum The Hon. J Fitzgibbon MP
  Senator the Hon. I MacDonald Mr S Georganas MP (to 24/03/11)
  Senator A McEwen (from 01/07/11) Mr S Gibbons MP
  Senator C Moore The Hon. A Griffin MP
  Senator K O’Brien (to 30/06/11)

Dr D Jensen MP

  Senator S Parry (from 01/07/11) Mrs S Mirabella MP
  Senator M Payne The Hon. J Murphy MP
  Senator the Hon. U Stephens (from 01/07/11) Mr K O’Dowd MP
  Senator R Trood (to 30/06/11) Ms M Parke MP
    Mr S Robert MP
    The Hon. P Ruddock MP
    Ms J Saffin MP
    The Hon. B Scott MP
    The Hon. Dr S Stone MP
    Ms M Vamvakinou MP

Membership of the Foreign Affairs Sub–Committee

Chair

Mr M Danby MP (to 06/07/11)

 

 

Mr N Champion MP (from 06/07/11)

 

Deputy Chair

Senator R Trood (to 30/06/11)
  The Hon. Dr S Stone MP (from 04/07/11)  
Members Senator M Forshaw (ex officio to 30/06/11) The Hon. D Adams MP
  Senator M Furner The Hon. J Bishop MP
  Senator S Ludlam Ms G Brodtman MP
  Senator the Hon. I MacDonald The Hon. A Byrne MP
  Senator C Moore Mr M Danby MP (ex officio from 06/07/11)
  Senator S Parry (from 01/07/11) The Hon. L Ferguson MP
  Senator M Payne Mrs J Gash MP (ex officio)
  Senator the Hon. U Stephens (from 01/07/11) The Hon. A Griffin MP
    Dr D Jensen MP
    Mrs S Mirabella MP
    Ms M Parke MP
    The Hon. P Ruddock MP
    Ms M Vamvakinou MP

Committee Secretariat

Secretary

Dr M Kerley (to 10/06/11)

 

Dr J Carter (from 10/6/11)

Inquiry Secretary

Dr J Carter

Research Officers

Mr J Bunce

 

Mr R Merrett

Administrative Officers Ms J Butler
  Ms G Drew
  Mrs S Gaspar

 

Terms of reference

Pursuant to paragraph 1(b) of its resolution of appointment, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade is empowered to consider and report on the annual reports of government agencies, in accordance with a schedule presented by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.[1]

The Speaker’s schedule lists annual reports from with the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio as being available for review by the Committee.[2]

List of abbreviations

ASIO

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation

CLA

Civil Liberties Australia

DFAT

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

GDP

Gross Domestic Product

ICT

Information and Communications Technology

JSCFADT

Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

NTAC

National Threat Assessment Centre

OECD

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development

OPO

Overseas Property Office

SES

Senior Executive Service

UN

United Nations

US

United States of America

YWCA

Young Women’s Christian Association


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