| Parliamentary Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
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Chapter 1 Introduction
Background to the inquiry
Reference from the Minister
On 13 September 2011, the acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Craig
Emerson MP referred to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence
and Trade (the Committee), an inquiry into Australia’s overseas representation.
The terms of reference were:
- the activities that
Australia’s diplomatic posts must undertake;
- their geographic
location and spread;
- the appropriate level
of staffing, including locally engaged staff; and
- the affect of
e-diplomacy and information and communications technology on the activities of
The Committee’s interest
From late 2009 to early 2011, the Committee reviewed Australia’s
relationship with the countries of Africa. Part of the review focused on
Australia’s diplomatic representation with the countries of that continent. The
Committee made a number of recommendations designed to broaden and deepen
Australia’s diplomatic presence, especially in Francophone Africa.
Notwithstanding suggestions that new posts be established in a number of
countries, the Committee drew back from recommending opening posts in
particular countries. The view of the Committee was that it did not have enough
information on the competing demands for opening diplomatic posts in other
regions of the world to determine whether posts should be opened in Africa in
preference to these other regions.
The Committee revisited the issue of Australia’s diplomatic footprint in
early 2011 when it reviewed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT’s)
Annual Report 2009–2010. The Committee commented:
The Committee is of the view that there is a substantial
question in relation to DFAT’s future role and the adequacy of the services it
provides on behalf of Australia. The Committee believes a substantial inquiry
should be undertaken by the Committee on Australia’s representation overseas in
order to provide comprehensive advice to the Government on how Australia’s
interests might be better served by Australia’s diplomatic network, and invites
the Foreign Minster to provide it with a reference to conduct this substantial
The Minister subsequently requested the Committee inquire into the issue
of Australia’s overseas representation and provided terms of reference.
Australia’s diplomatic footprint
Australia’s overseas representation is the responsibility of agencies
within the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio:
- the Department of
Foreign Affairs and Trade;
- the Australian Trade
Commission (Austrade); and
- the Australian Agency
for International Development (AusAID).
Aims of diplomacy
DFAT has primary responsibility ‘for advancing the interests of
Australia and Australians internationally.’ The department has three outcomes:
- the advancement of
Australia’s international strategic, security and economic interests including
through bilateral, regional and multilateral engagement on Australian
Government foreign and trade policy priorities;
- the protection and
welfare of Australians abroad and access to secure international travel
documentation through timely and responsive travel advice and consular and
passport services in Australia and overseas; and
- a secure Australian
Government presence overseas through the provision of security services and
information and communications technology infrastructure, and the management of
the Commonwealth’s overseas owned estate.
Austrade too has a role in diplomacy, primarily in promoting Australia’s
trade interests but with a secondary role of providing consular and passport
services in specific regions.
AusAID’s responsibility is to deliver Australia’s aid program currently
amounting to about $4.1 billion.
Australia’s overseas diplomatic posts are managed by DFAT or Austrade.
DFAT manages 95 overseas posts in 77 countries. The network comprises:
- 76 Embassies and High
Commissions, some of which act as Permanent Missions to United Nations
institutions and to the European Union;
- 3 Permanent Missions
attached to United Nations institutions;
- a Delegation to the
- a Representative
Office in Ramallah; and
- the Australian
Commerce and Industry Office in Taipei.
In addition, there are 46 consulates managed by DFAT and headed by
Honorary Consuls. Of these, 23 are in countries where there are no Australian
Embassies or High Commissions. This number includes the recently opened posts
in Mongolia and Columbia.
Austrade also has an international network. It has a presence at 92
locations in 52 countries served by 74 trade commissioners—the number being
made up by locally engaged staff (LES). As well, Austrade currently manages 15
consular posts in 12 countries, only one of which (Czech Republic) is not
served by an Australian Embassy or High Commission.,
AusAID is located in 40 diplomatic posts, with officers also in the
field, delivering Australia’s aid program in 84 countries.
Australia’s overseas diplomatic posts also provide accommodation and
services for officials and officers from other Commonwealth agencies who also
contribute to Australia’s overseas diplomatic efforts, most notably:
- Australian Customs
and Border Protection Service;
- Australian Federal
- Department of
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry;
- Department of
- Department of
Immigration and Citizenship.
The breadth of Australia’s diplomatic footprint is discussed further in
Funding the diplomatic footprint and activities
In 2010–11, to fund Australia’s overseas diplomatic network and its
departmental activities, DFAT’s appropriation, identified as ‘revenue from
Government’, amounted to $875.6 million. In 2011–12, the figure
was $831.1 million, with the estimate for 2012–13 being $874.5million.
For Austrade, the equivalent figures were $175.6 million for 2010–11,
$167.7 million for 2011–12, and $158.0 million estimated for 2012–13.
For AusAID, the revenue from Government amounted to $251.2 million for
2010–11, $274.7 million for
2011–12, and $312.3 estimated for
2012–13. This amount is used to
administer Australia’s $4.1 billion aid and assistance program.
The activities of Australia’s overseas representatives are discussed in
detail in Chapter Three.
As at 31 October 2011, DFAT employed 4154 staff, comprising 2493 (60.0
per cent) Australians based in Australia and overseas (A-based staff), and 1661
LES staff. Of the A-based staff, 599 (24.0 per cent) were serving overseas.
As at 30 June 2011, Austrade employed 1087 staff, comprising 544 (50.0
per cent) A-based staff and 543 LES. Of the A-based staff, 74 (13.6 per cent)
were serving overseas.
As at 17 February 2012, AusAID employed 1929 staff, comprising 1381
(71.6 per cent) A-based staff and 548 LES. Of the A-based staff, 212 (15.4 per
cent) were serving overseas.
The staffing of Australia’s diplomatic network is discussed in Chapter Three.
Information and communications technology
Australia’s overseas representatives rely on a number of communications
DFAT connects its posts with Australia through the Secure Australian
Telecommunications and Information Network (SATIN). This comprises SATIN High—a
National Security classified system—and SATIN Low for unclassified
communications. The system supports:
- diplomatic cables;
- consular services;
- passport and visa
- telephone, e-mail and
internet connectivity; and
- desktop computing and
In addition, Australian posts maintain some 100 internet sites.
Austrade has a separate communications network which supports:
- Austrade’s corporate
applications such as its business database, and document management and
- video conferencing.
A further network is being deployed by AusAID which aims at providing
simple mandated corporate systems to all AusAID locations overseas—83 per
cent of AusAID’s overseas staff are currently connected. In addition, AusAID
relies on DFAT’s communications system, including SATIN, through a service
E-diplomacy and the use of information and communications technology are
discussed in Chapter Four.
Conduct of the inquiry
The Chair of the Committee’s Foreign Affairs Sub-committee, Mr Nick
Champion MP announced the inquiry via media release on 13 October 2011 and the
inquiry was subsequently advertised in The Australian on 19 October
2011. Letters inviting submissions were also sent to Ministers, Commonwealth
agencies, Ambassadors and High Commissioners from countries who were based in
Canberra, and a wide range of individuals and organisations with an expected
interest in Australia’s overseas representation.
The Committee received 54 submissions (listed at Appendix A), 12 exhibits
(listed at Appendix B) and took evidence from 24 organisations and individuals
during five public hearings in Canberra and Melbourne (listed at Appendix C).
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