House of Representatives Committees

| Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade

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Chapter 2 Outcome 1

2.1                   DFAT describes Outcome 1 as focusing on:

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.[1]

2.2                   This outcome accounts for the majority of the financial and human resources of the Department. It includes such activities as developing and implementing Australia’s international policies, managing Australia’s bilateral and multilateral engagement, the provision of public information services and public diplomacy, and diplomatic and consular services.

2.3                   During the Inquiry, issues raised in relation to Outcome 1 and its Programs included:

Australia’s representation overseas

Embassies and high commissions

2.4                   DFAT is responsible for running and staffing 89 embassies, high commissions, consulates-general and multilateral missions around the world.[2] Of these 89 missions, 74 are either embassies or high commissions; four are missions to multilateral organisations, and the balance are consulates-general managed by DFAT.[3] This section will focus only on embassies and high commissions, as these are the focus of Australia’s representation in other countries. Consulates are examined in Chapter 3, where the provision of services to Australians overseas is discussed.

2.5                   Central to the discussion of Australia’s representation overseas is funding and staffing levels within DFAT. As noted by Ms Alexandra Oliver,

During the period between 1996 and 2008, while the Public Service grew 25 to 30 per cent, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade actually contracted in size by 11 per cent.

2.6                   Obviously, this has had an impact on the number of DFAT staff posted overseas, and this then has flow-on effects on Australia’s diplomatic representation.[4]

2.7                   Furthermore, Dr Paul Monk pointed out that this relative decline in capacity within DFAT is not limited to staffing levels. He pointed out that DFAT’s ‘resourcing has shrunk over the past decade from 0.43 to 0.25 per cent of Federal Government spending’.[5] Again, as with staffing, relative declines in funding necessarily affects DFAT’s ability to represent Australia abroad.

2.8                   Aside from these broad issues, matters raised in the course of this Review in relation to Australia’s embassies and high commissions included:

Geographic location and spread

2.9                   Out of a total of 89 DFAT-managed missions, 74 are embassies and high commissions, while the balance are missions to multilateral organisations, consulates and consulates-general.  Questions were raised during the course of this Review about the number and geographic location of these missions.

2.10               Dr Monk noted that Australia’s representation overseas was facing ‘severe incapacitation ... in several crucial respects’. For Dr Monk,

One of the starkest indices of this is that Australia has fewer overseas missions than all but four members of the OECD. These four are the Slovak Republic, Ireland, New Zealand and Luxembourg.[6]

2.11               To place this in context, while Australia has 89 posts, the OECD average is ‘150 posts out of 192 UN member states’. This is less than Denmark with a population of five million or Sweden with a population of nine million.[7]

2.12               Dr Monk continued:

It seems anomalous that there are many countries smaller and less well endowed than Australia who have representation in a great many more countries than we do. It is not clear why exactly that decision would have been taken. One can imagine an argument being advanced that the reason we have less is that, unlike most countries, we have not just gone along and been represented everywhere because that is what you do; that we have thought about it and we have come up with a very economical scheme for being represented where we really need to be.[8]

2.13               Ms Oliver put this in slightly different terms, noting that Australia is:

Home to eight of the world’s largest corporations, we have the 13th largest economy by GDP in current prices, we have around the 12th largest defence budget, we have around the 13th largest aid budget of OECD nations, but we are in the lowest five of the 30 OECD nations in terms of our overseas network.[9]

2.14               Ms Oliver connected this lack of representation to the progressively security oriented approach to foreign policy in some Western countries. Ms Oliver drew attention to:

… the imbalance between the emphasis on security and the funding of security efforts by the United States in comparison with its funding of diplomacy. …

That same overemphasis on security is happening in Australia ... [W]hen you consider our funding of defence and security in comparison with our funding of diplomacy ... the imbalance is enormous.[10]

2.15               In order to redress this decline in Australia’s diplomatic representation, Ms Oliver contended that Australia should look towards opening another 20 posts overseas.[11] Ideally, these posts should be opened:

… in areas of key geo-strategic interest to Australia, and where our representation is lacking: regional India and China, Africa, Latin America and North and Central Asia.[12]

2.16               An example of the effects of this perceived underrepresentation can be found in the case of Ukraine. Despite having had diplomatic relations with Ukraine since 1992, Australia does not have any representation there, and is represented through Vienna.[13] However, it was noted during the public hearings that Ukrainians wishing to obtain a visa to enter Australia must first get a visa to go to Russia in order to apply at the Australian embassy in Moscow.[14]

2.17               The Ukrainian Ambassador suggested that given Ukraine has been directly represented in Australia since 2000, Ukraine would welcome the opening of an Australian mission in Kiev.[15]

2.18               In an increasingly complex world, where global problems abound, such underrepresentation matters because, in Ms Oliver’s words:

This underrepresentation compounds Australia’s difficulties and impedes its abilities to understand the exponentially increasing complexity of the international context in which we operate.[16]

2.19               DFAT responded to the issue by noting:

If there were additional resources and you were looking at additional posts, that is a matter for the government of the day, as you know: we can have views and make recommendations.

2.20               Nonetheless, the Committee considered DFAT did have a role to play in this process.

2.21               In regard to the potential recommendations, DFAT continued:

From where I sit I think an obvious candidate for additional representation would be China. I think our representation in China is a bit underdone. We have ... Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, and they are essentially what we have had for the last 20–odd years. You can look at the growth in China and consider that in the 25 years leading up to 2015 China’s economy will have grown 25 times.[17]

2.22               DFAT noted that that considering much of this growth has taken place away from the eastern seaboard, ‘there is a strong case for additional representation in China’.[18]

2.23               Furthermore, Australia seems to be underrepresented in some of the larger countries when measured by population. For instance, the top five most populous countries in which Australia has no diplomatic representation are:

2.24               In contrast, the top five least populous countries where Australia does have an embassy or high commission are:

Staffing at overseas posts

2.25               As noted above, DFAT’s staffing has not been increasing in line with the wider public service. Total staffing levels in DFAT have fallen 14 per cent between 1988 and 2009; from 4635 to 3971 personnel.[21]

2.26                Dr Monk put the figures rather starkly:

Over the past twenty years, DFAT’s diplomatic corps shrank by nearly 40 per cent, from 870 overseas based [Australian] staff in 1989 to 537 in 2009.[22]

2.27               Given that the proportion of locally based staff employed at diplomatic posts has not markedly changed over this period, the number of Australia-based DFAT staff posted overseas has declined at a faster rate than overall staffing levels. As Ms Oliver notes, this is a concern because ‘good diplomacy needs people on the ground overseas’.[23]

2.28               One effect of this relative decline in Australian staff posted overseas is that a large proportion of Australia’s diplomatic posts are considered to be small posts. Ms Oliver noted that in 1986 only 26 per cent of Australia’s diplomatic posts were small posts with three or less Australia-based staff. However, by 2009 this had increased to 40 per cent of posts.[24]

2.29               According to Ms Oliver:

These posts struggle to do essential work on the ground when people take annual leave, when people are ill, when people are away on official business, when small posts are accredited to several nations at a time. This is a real difficulty that the department struggles with in its foreign service.[25]

2.30               DFAT responded to this by saying that, in order to avoid any further deterioration in Australia’s representation overseas:

If there is a need and we have to reduce staff numbers, that will be done here in Australia—in Canberra.[26]

2.31               Mr Prakash Mirchandani contended that DFAT staff were not posted overseas for long enough. He said that, by posting staff to other countries for up to eight years, they would be able ‘to master the language and culture of the countries to which they are sent’.[27]

2.32               This would, according to Mr Mirchandani,

Enable DFAT to position diplomats at ‘nodes of trust’, who engage much more profoundly and with a much wider cross-section of the host populations than they do at the moment.[28]

2.33               Mr Mirchandani maintained that, despite the potential risk of diplomats becoming so engaged in the local community that they forget they are representing Australia in the process, the dividends were worth it. He noted that journalists who do this:

… gain such credibility that people come to them with information and indeed they are regarded more as a paragon of information than many politicians in that country. They have gained credibility, and I am pretty sure that a similar area or similar stature could be acquired by our own diplomats.[29]

2.34               However DFAT noted that there are a high proportion of DFAT staff married to other staff members.[30] Given that when a spouse takes up a posting overseas, the other spouse often finds it necessary to take unpaid leave for a large part of postings,[31] it would be difficult to find sufficient numbers of senior DFAT staff willing to disrupt the lives of the spouses in order to take on an eight year posting. Especially given that, as noted by DFAT, managing the current length of spouses’ posting is ‘a juggling act’.[32]

Activities of diplomatic posts

2.35               Australia’s embassies and high commissions are the focal point for Australia’s representation overseas. As such, they are the locus of a variety of activities which include official functions, meetings between Australian and overseas officials, the conduct of public diplomacy, as well as the place where citizens of other countries apply for entry to Australia.

2.36               However, Mr Mirchandani told the Committee that:

Diplomatic missions should be seen in a totally different light—as resources that can use public diplomacy to connect directly with the citizens and influential networks in their host countries.[33]

2.37               Mr Mirchandani argued that the ‘basic core’ functions of maintaining bilateral relationships can be left to a few diplomats, and as such his proposed course of action would not require a great number of new staff.

2.38               Furthermore, Mr Mirchandani noted the possibility of tapping into:

Public–private partnerships with a host of Australian private sector companies and organisations who have networks that are parallel to and, in some cases, more credible than those of governments.[34]

Committee comment

2.39               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 inquiry.

2.40               The issues examined by the proposed inquiry should include, but not be restricted to:

2.41               The Committee recognises the potential inherent in the approach proposed by Mr Mirchandani. However, caution must be exercised in relation to any public–private partnership in any context, given the potential for damaged reputation associated with being seen as too close to private sector actors.

2.42               Furthermore, the Committee sees the value in reconsidering the role of Australian embassies and high commissions in public diplomacy, especially considering the staff-related constraints placed on DFAT by the high proportion of small posts with three or less staff noted above.

2.43               However, increasing the time of posting of Australia—based staff would doubtless have a detrimental effect on career prospects for many staff, and would, in some cases, make it difficult for DFAT to find qualified staff willing to take up such long postings.

Human rights

2.44               Several submissions to the Review raised the possibility of DFAT formulating an overarching human rights policy which could be used to gauge the human rights impact of other foreign policies.

2.45               The DFAT Annual Report states that:

The promotion of universal human rights is an important foreign policy objective, which was reflected in strong Australian engagement on priority human rights issues during 2009–10.[35]

2.46               Civil Liberties Australia (CLA) told the Committee that, despite this statement and others like it:

There is an inconsistency of core mission and message, there is uncertainty about where to put the weight and emphasis between Australia’s values and beliefs by comparison with our security, policing and trade interests and there is no clear leadership and direction provided by the organisation about what it is trying to achieve.[36]

2.47               The CLA criticised DFAT’s efforts on human rights overall. It characterised the discussion of human rights in the Annual Report as:

A sad commentary on DFAT’s misdirected approach to what its role of ‘advancing Australia’s interests’ really is.[37]

2.48               Furthermore, the CLA noted that within the human rights advocacy community ‘there is a consistent message’ that ‘DFAT is letting Australia down in how it handles human rights’.[38]

2.49               The CLA’s argument on DFAT’s human rights advocacy and activity is not that human rights should be at the centre of DFAT’s activities, but more that it should be better integrated into DFAT activities. This could be achieved by including more explicit recognition of human rights in the Annual Report, and in DFAT’s mission statement and reporting on DFAT’s substantive activities.[39]

2.50               Even where DFAT does talk about its human rights focus and activities, the CLA found it to be lacking. The CLA commented that the Annual Report ‘does not clearly spell out what its overall mission is’. Furthermore, it expressed concern about the measurables and deliverables in the area of human rights, noting that the Annual Report:

Does not quantify them in any way—they are waffly, vague: you cannot report on them and you cannot hold the department accountable.[40]

2.51               DFAT told the Committee that incorporating a human rights policy into Australia’s foreign policy was “ultimately ... a matter for government’.[41]

2.52               However, DFAT stated:

I would say that successive governments have taken human rights seriously. Our graduate recruits have some training in that area. It is a part of our work that cuts right across the department and most of our embassies, in one form or another, are also involved in respect of human rights, so I would not quite agree with the characterisation of some of the submissions.[42]

2.53               According to the Annual Report, DFAT’s promotion of human rights was conducted primarily through two means:

2.54               The Committee notes the achievement of DFAT in facilitating annual human rights dialogues with China since 1997, with the most recent taking place in February 2009 in Canberra and in August 2010 in Beijing.

2.55               Such dialogues have also been conducted with Vietnam since 2002, with the most recent meeting occurring in December 2009 in Hanoi and in February 2011 in Canberra.

2.56               The Committee notes the degree of success—such as the partial involvement of Australian parliamentarians— which has been achieved and the potential for future progress, and as such looks forward to capitalising on this positive development.

United Nations human rights forums

2.57               The Australian Baha’i Community praised DFAT’s:

… endeavours to use multilateral means to promote and protect human rights, including through active support for country resolutions and other measures at the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.[44]

2.58               However, the Australian Baha’i Community went on to recommend that Australia:

2.59               Furthermore, the Australian Baha’i Community noted that Australia’s candidacy for a UN Security Council seat in 2013–14 was an ideal opportunity to commit to the ‘global promotion, protection and realisation of human rights’, and to advocate for the Security Council to engage more intensively in this area.[46]

2.60               The CLA took a different view of Australia’s international engagement on human rights. Rather than the current focus on UN ‘machinery and processes’, the CLA expressed a preference for DFAT to focus its efforts on improving and strengthening ‘human rights in the Pacific and Southeast Asia’. It argued that many nations are attempting to:

… remedy the defects of the UN model, whereas Australia has the leading responsibility for actively advocating for better human rights in the Pacific certainly, and for taking a far more proactive stance in Southeast Asia.[47]

2.61               Consolidating Australia’s current engagement with the UN on human rights, and facilitating an expansion of this engagement, could be achieved by creating a human rights ambassador. The Australian Baha’i Community noted that such a post would help ‘ensure a coordinated and coherent approach to human rights at the international level’.[48]

2.62               The CLA also supported this proposal.[49]

2.63               The Human Rights Law Centre drew attention to a Canadian initiative, wherein such an ambassador could become a permanent representative to the UN Human Rights Council, helping to ‘significantly enhance Canada’s role and capacity at the Council’, as well as raising ‘the profile and standing of human rights as a foreign policy issue’.[50]

2.64               The Human Rights Law Centre told the Committee that a human rights ambassador could play a wider role than just engaging with the UN. It could:

2.65               YWCA Australia also supported the creation of a human rights ambassador. In addition, it proposed the establishment of a women’s rights ambassador, with a particular focus on strengthening efforts to ‘promote gender equality’, ‘eliminate violence against women and girls’, and ‘enhance women’s political participation in the Asia-Pacific region’.[52]

2.66               The Australian Baha’i Community also supported this proposal.[53]

2.67               In response to the proposed appointment of a  human rights and women’s rights ambassador, DFAT stated that:

Australian Heads of Mission and other staff regularly make representations on human rights concerns, including women’s rights, to foreign governments bilaterally and in regional and multilateral fora.[54]

2.68               Therefore:

Given the wide range of existing human rights activities supported by the Department and posts, the Department does not consider the additional costs associated with these positions to be warranted at this time.[55]

Bilateral engagement on human rights

2.69               One of the primary bilateral mechanisms by which DFAT engages on human rights is through human rights dialogues. A prime example of such dialogue that was raised during the course of the Review was Australia’s human rights dialogue with Vietnam.

2.70               The DFAT Annual Report notes that Australia’s bilateral strategic dialogue with Vietnam includes:

Frank and constructive discussion about human rights issues, including national approaches to human rights, freedom of expression and association, freedom of religion and belief, criminal justice and the death penalty.[56]

2.71               The CLA was critical of DFAT’s reporting of this activity. It noted that ‘there had been no “positive”, “enhanced” or “strengthened” outcome’ in regard to human rights in Vietnam. The crux of CLA’s criticism is that there are no outcomes recorded in the Annual Report. Only outputs are recorded.[57]

2.72               DFAT responded that in terms of measuring outcomes in regard to bilateral dialogues on human rights:

With some countries it is what happens sometimes in respect of individual cases. Sometimes you can measure it in terms of the frankness of the exchange. It is not something that is easy to measure in a quantifiable sense, in a mathematical, measurable sense. It is more qualitative. But I think we have some successes.[58]

2.73               The Australian Baha’i Community also noted the need to establish ‘clear and measureable benchmarks for all human rights dialogues to ensure the most effective outcomes’.[59]

2.74               Furthermore, the CLA told the Committee that its understanding of the dialogue process was:

That to a large extent they are proformas, so we go along to a meeting and we sit down and say to the Chinese, ‘You know where we stand on human rights, don’t you?’ and they say ‘Yes’ and, okay, we tick that one off... So while it is reported that we have done it, it is ticking-a-box type of human rights dialogue.[60]

2.75               As such, the CLA was supportive of the idea that members of the Human Rights Sub-Committee of the JSCFADT attend these dialogues as part of the Australian delegation, and subsequently report on the dialogues.[61] The Australian Baha’i Community also echoed the call for the dialogues to be more accountable to the Human Rights Sub-Committee.[62]

2.76               DFAT responded that any such decision:

Would be entirely a matter for the government. If they were public hearings, obviously there would be a limit to what was shared.

2.77               Regarding making these dialogues more transparent, DFAT added:

Depending on what one means by that, the further you take that then you do need to be conscious of the trade off you may be making in terms of the frankness of the exchanges.[63]

2.78               The Australian Baha’i Community, however, was supportive of human rights dialogues, but offered several notes of caution:

Committee comment

2.79               The Committee notes the potential value of having an overarching human rights framework against which to test foreign policies, and encourages DFAT to further highlight the importance of human rights in its annual report.

2.80               The Committee also sees the value of having parliamentarians and in particular the Human Rights Sub-Committee, its Chair, Deputy Chair or other elected representatives to participate in bilateral human rights dialogues on a permanent basis. Like other Western parliaments, Australia’s human rights dialogues with countries like Vietnam, Iran or China should be reported back to the Committee as appropriate.

2.81               The Committee welcomes the Foreign Minister’s reference to conduct an inquiry into Australia’s human rights dialogues with China and Vietnam.

Australia’s public diplomacy activity

2.82               Three broad issues arose concerning Australia’s public diplomacy activity. These were:

Public diplomacy funding

2.83               The public diplomacy activity of DFAT encompasses a range of activities designed to project a positive and accurate image of Australia overseas. This includes the Australia Network, the activities of Australia’s diplomatic posts, international cultural visits, grants to organisations such as the Australia–China Council, scholarships, and one-off activities like the Australian pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.[65]

2.84               Mr Mirchandani noted that, while the Annual Report details DFAT’s spending on public diplomacy as $65.9 million:

If you actually look at the figures, with $20 million taken out for the Australia Network and numbers taken out for the various foundations which DFAT contributes to and one-offs like expos and the like, you are actually left with an operational budget of around $6.8 million or so.[66]

2.85               However, DFAT stated that this spending ‘is not the only expenditure in terms of public diplomacy’:

Each embassy has a small public diplomacy budget and, indeed, I think what we spend on public diplomacy is probably a lot greater than what the figures might suggest. For instance, the actual dollar amount that we state in the Annual Report does not take account of what heads of mission do on a regular basis in speech giving and their public diplomacy activities. It takes no account of the cost of servicing government in terms of what ministers do on the public diplomacy front ... So I actually think our budget figures understate what we spend on public diplomacy.[67]

2.86               Despite such assurances, Ms Oliver told the Committee that, when compared with previous Annual Reports:

The public diplomacy funding in this annual report is the lowest it has been at any time since 2000—and that is in actual dollars, not real terms.[68]

2.87               As a result, the ‘public diplomacy function’ of DFAT has been brought ‘almost completely to its knees’.[69]

New media and public diplomacy

2.88               E-diplomacy is concerned with the use of internal and external communication by the Department in improving the efficiency and facilitation of information. It is the use of web and ICT (information and communication technologies) to help further Australia’s diplomatic interests.

2.89               Mr Mirchandani noted that e-diplomacy has the potential to increase the number of people able to articulate government policy in multiple languages across multiple spheres. The ability to engage with a wider international audience enhances policy making and public diplomacy.

2.90               Fergus Hanson provided many examples of the effective use of social media in e-diplomacy. For instance, Mr Hanson noted that:

2.91               The State Department has been active in encouraging the take-up of social media tools. It operates 230 Facebook accounts, 80 Twitter feeds and 55 YouTube channels and has 40 Flickr[70] sites. The [British Foreign and Commonwealth Office] operates 55 Facebook accounts (with over 50 000 followers), 57 Twitter feeds (with over 66 000 followers) and has more than 80 Flickr accounts.[71]Furthermore, Mr Hanson provided examples of how these platforms were used. He noted that the US Embassy in Jakarta has a Facebook page with ‘around 290 000 fans’. This Facebook page even has ‘a dedicated employee whose job is to update the account in Bahasa Indonesia’. Another example  is that of British Secretary of State William Hague, who uses his Twitter account to conduct question and answer sessions with the public. [72]

2.92               Mr Fergus Hanson told the Committee that:

DFAT is still only at the very early stages of transitioning to the use of social media. Its use of digital tools more broadly is also very nascent so there is still a very long way to go. Secondly, there still appears to be a degree of tentativeness within DFAT about how to use social media and digital tools. Thirdly, a champion of e-diplomacy is still yet to emerge within the department.

2.93               As such, Mr Hanson noted that the short-term challenges which face the Department include:

2.94               In light of these challenges, Mr Hanson proposed the establishment of an independent e-diplomacy branch within the Department, staffed by a mix of policy and technical experts.  Additionally, the amalgamation of existing Departmental sections such as communications would overcome budget limitations.[73]

2.95               In contrast to the proposal by Mr Hanson regarding the establishment of an independent e-diplomacy branch, Mr Mirchandani told the Committee that all staff in DFAT should undergo training in order to effectively perform the functions of e-diplomacy:

The impetus has to come from senior leadership. They have to understand why public diplomacy is necessary in enabling the implementation of government policy. There has to be a total core change in the understanding of where diplomacy sits in the 21st century.[74]

2.96               The US’s bureaucratic reform under Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is an example of a policy driven initiative to incorporate e-diplomacy into the State Department. From this reform came the concept of ‘technical delegations’- joint government and industry group experts, who travelled the world under State Department auspices, to try and provide good governance using new media. According to US Department officials, e-diplomacy is:

A way to amplify traditional diplomatic efforts, develop technical-based policy solutions and encourage cyberactivism.[75]

2.97               There are limitations and risks associated with e-diplomacy. Mr Monk noted that the need to verify information before it is communicated through e-diplomacy delays its responsiveness.[76]

2.98               However Mr Hanson told the Committee that:

With e-diplomacy there is a need to take slightly more risk... If the department is not an active player in e-diplomacy, it has very little chance shaping the commentary when news pieces have been written.[77]

2.99               Furthermore:

It might not be possible for DFAT to clear every message with the minister and they will need to have what the UK calls ‘assumed confidence’- a confidence that is assumed to be able to engage in these discussions in a professional manner.[78]

The Australia Network

2.100           An integral mechanism in Australia’s public diplomacy is the ability to put forth an Australian point of view. One way in which this has been achieved is through the Australia Network, which in the past has been delivered by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

2.101           DFAT describes the Australia Network as broadcasting:

independent news and current affairs, as well as English language learning programs, drama, children’s entertainment and sport. Australia Network is available in 22 million homes across 44 countries, though 648 rebroadcast partners.[79]

2.102           Mr Mirchandani proposed an alternative method of delivering the type of service offered by the Australia Network:

For $20 million, you can produce 200 documentary programs of 50 minutes each. How about setting up an expert panel of both Australian and regional eminent media executives to oversee this money? The panel would invite top documentary makers from relevant countries to come and make documentaries on Australia free of charge—on any subject and in their own regional languages, with no editorial censorship. They would be shot and edited by Australians, giving a much needed shot in the arm to a flagging industry. Copyright would vest with Australia. These documentaries would then be aired on regional television channels in local languages [and] also aired in English on an Australian internet channel, [and] would be an exemplar of our democracy and openness to scrutiny. The internet would then provide a multilingual forum for engaging with regional audiences, and we would truly accomplish the aims which Brand Australia has set itself out to do.[80]

2.103           The Committee notes that this is a very interesting suggestion.

2.104           The Committee raised concern over both the way the Australia Network is delivered, and the metrics by which its impact is measured. DFAT told the Committee that the Australia Network is currently up for tender, and that no decision has yet been reached on who will be granted the next ten year contract.[81]

2.105           Towards the end of this Review, the Federal Government announced that the final decision on the tender for the Australia Network has been delayed by a further six months due to ‘changed international circumstances’.[82]

2.106           The Committee is concerned about the delay attached to resolving the current tender.

Committee comment

2.107           The Committee is not satisfied with DFAT's response regarding its public diplomacy activities. Regarding e-diplomacy, the Committee considers that DFAT's funding constraints preclude it from investing heavily in this area. However, DFAT needs to make stronger efforts to capitalise on the potential offered by modern communications technology in terms of the dissemination and collection of information, and to make greater efforts at understanding future e-diplomacy opportunities.

2.108           The use of new media is discussed further in Chapter 3.