Go to top of page

Enhancing Australia’s influence

Overview and analysis

Our objective is to leverage Australia's soft power assets to advance our national interests, influence and reputation.


Soft power is the ability to influence the behaviour or thinking of others through the power of attraction and ideas. It is a vital element of Australia’s foreign policy. Australia’s soft power assets include our land and people, our values and institutions, our economy, multicultural character, culture and sporting prowess. We can use these assets to persuade and influence the behaviour of other countries, foreign institutions, companies and individuals. Our interests are global but we focus our soft power on the strategically and economically vital Indo-Pacific region.

Many of Australia’s soft power assets are outside the control of government. The strength and diversity of Australia’s connections to the world mean that partnerships between all levels of government, and between the Australian Government and business and civil society, are essential to effective foreign policy.

The White Paper makes clear that in a globalised and contested world, a systematic approach to soft power is essential. To deliver this, the department is leading a whole-of-government review of Australia’s soft power and influence, which will consider four broad themes:

  • the nature of influence in the 21st century
  • Australia’s soft power assets and weaknesses
  • the value of domestic and foreign partnerships
  • what the Australian Government can do differently to maximise its soft power assets.

The review is expected to be finalised in early 2019.

Indonesian composer Ananda Sukarlan and Australian Indigenous musicians Djakapurra Munyarryun and Kevin Yunupingu celebrate the rich history of both countries in an orchestral collaboration on 31 August at Teater Jakarta, Taman Ismail Marzuki [DFAT]

Our achievements in 2017-18

Over 2017–18 the department invested $171.6 million in public diplomacy and soft power activities. These included global public diplomacy programs, inbound and outbound scholarship programs, and our rapidly expanding digital diplomacy presence.

Our Australia Awards scholarships continued to strengthen people-to-people links between Australia and the Indo-Pacific, and support development of future leaders. The department supported 5,100 continuing students and offered 4,031 new scholarships, fellowships and short courses to over 60 developing countries.

Australia AwardsAustralia Awards

The Minister for Foreign Affairs launched the Australia Awards Women’s Leadership Initiative in September. This will build the capacity of Pacific scholars and alumni and help them fulfil their leadership potential, drive big ideas and reforms, and forge lasting connections with Australian leaders. In 2017–18, 37 scholars completed leadership and mentoring training in Canberra. Events in Sydney and Melbourne brought together established and emerging leaders from across the Pacific to discuss governance and ethical leadership, while 10 scholars attended the Global Summit of Women in Sydney in April.

Collaboration on cultural projects helps build Australia’s influence and strengthen our reputation as a culturally rich and diverse society. This year we delivered successful Australia now showcases in Germany and Japan. An external evaluation in 2017 indicated the increase in resources and brand exposure Australia now brings is a significant strength and a good platform to promote Australia as a contemporary, innovative and diverse nation, opening markets and business opportunities for Australian companies.

G’day USA and the First 100 Years of Mateship

The department delivered the 15th annual G’Day USA to promote the best of Australia in the world’s most dynamic market. In 2018, G’Day USA hosted events in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington DC and Austin Texas, spanning foreign policy, defence, trade, tourism, investment, performance and large public promotions. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment anchored G’Day USA events in Los Angeles. The initiative is supported by a diverse and growing number of Australian and United States businesses, academic institutions and not-for-profit organisations.

In parallel to G’Day USA, the Australian Embassy in Washington led the First 100 years of Mateship program honouring Australia and the United States’ rich history of partnership is war and peace. Anchored by the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea and the centenary of the Battle of Hamel (in which Australian and United States forces first fought side by side), the program promoted to influential United States audiences the depth of Australia–United States collaboration. Through our embassy’s partnership with the National Governors Association, the program also helped catalyse new relationships and opportunities for both countries.


Australia is recognised globally as a high-performing and passionate sporting nation. The department’s $6 million Sport for Development Program promoted the value of sport in improving health, social participation and women’s empowerment across the Indo-Pacific. The department also highlighted Australia’s expertise in sports and event management through a series of events in the margins of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Smart Volunteering Campaign

The Smart Volunteering Campaign (dfat.gov.au/smartvolunteering) discourages Australians from engaging in short-term, unskilled volunteering in overseas orphanages, and provides guidance on how to be a child-safe volunteer.

Launched on 1 March by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Education and Training, the campaign is raising awareness of how holiday tours and short-term unskilled volunteering at orphanages can encourage harmful practices and put vulnerable children at risk.

The department leveraged its relationships with business, civil society and non-government organisations to promote the campaign, including through the Smartraveller network, at travel expos and other travel industry networks.

Dancers from the Thai Ministry of Culture perform a Thai mask dance at the Sydney Opera House [DFAT]

Protocol services

We value our links with over 7,000 members of the diplomatic corps, the consular corps, the United Nations and international organisations based in Australia.

The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations set out principles and rules for the standard, minimum treatment of diplomatic representatives. We take our responsibilities under these conventions seriously and our compliance ensures Australian diplomatic representatives receive appropriate treatment overseas.

Showcasing Victoria’s creative economy

Australia’s creative excellence is a national strength, a driver of economic growth and an asset that builds understanding, deepens trust and amplifies Australia’s international reputation and influence. Creative industries contribute $23 billion to Victoria's economy each year and support around 250,000 jobs. They generate $1.4 billion in exports and $1 billion in cultural tourism. In 2017–18 the department’s Victoria state office showcased the state’s creative economy to consular representatives from 39 countries through five programs highlighting design, architecture, visual arts, liveability, performing arts, screen and digital games. The tours reinforced Australia’s reputation as a culturally rich and diverse society and helped boost collaboration between the institutions visited and countries represented.


Performance criteria



More Australian undergraduates supported to study and intern in the Indo-Pacific region.



PBS 2017-18,

Program 1.6, p.36

New Colombo Plan participants build relationships in the region and promote the value of the New Colombo Plan experience.



Universities, the private sector and partner governments support the implementation of the New Colombo Plan.



Alumni are engaged through networks that foster professional development and ongoing connections with the region.



The overall effectiveness of our public diplomacy efforts to further Australia’s interests and build Australia’s international influence, through global surveys and indices such as the Portland Soft Power 30.



PBS 2017-18,

Program 1.7, p.37

Corporate Plan 2017-18, p. 17

Inform and influence media reporting on Australia.

The effectiveness of the International Media Visits program to inform and influence reporting on Australia, as measured by the number and quality of media reports generated by each visit.


Partially Met

The management of domestic and international media enquiries, by volume and timeliness.



Ongoing implementation of our Digital Media Strategy to ensure high-quality stakeholder engagement, using quantitative measures including the number of accounts and followers; plus qualitative measures including international and community perceptions of Australia’s digital diplomacy (e.g. the annual State of Digital Diplomacy report).



Implementation and effectiveness of our Public Diplomacy Strategy 2014–16.


Partially Met

Corporate Plan 2017-18, p. 17

Responsiveness to requests for diplomatic visas and accreditations for corps members and their dependants.



Corporate Plan 2017-18, p. 22

The diplomatic and consular corps’ satisfaction with the delivery of protocol services, including privileges and immunities.



PBS 2017-18, Program 1.1, p. 31

Corporate Plan 2017-18, p. 22

The engagement of the diplomatic corps in departmental and ministerial advocacy opportunities.



Corporate Plan 2017-18, p. 22


Review: More Australian undergraduates supported to study and intern in the Indo-Pacific region

The New Colombo Plan (NCP) is a scholarship program providing internships, mentorships and study for up to one year. As well as educating the world’s future leaders, the program deepens Australia's relationships in the region and expands university, business and other links.

The NCP enhanced understanding of the Indo-Pacific region in Australia by supporting our students to study and intern across the region. In 2018 the NCP reached its full scale after four years of rapid growth. A total of 13,654 mobility grants were delivered—up from 7,441 in 2017—and 120 scholarships—up from 105 in 2017.

In November NCP recipient Miles Archibald was named the inaugural NCP–QBE Indigenous Fellow for the top-ranked Indigenous scholar. Miles is the fifth Indigenous scholar under the NCP to date and will receive enhanced mentoring and professional development.

New Colombo Plan StudentsNew Colombo Plan Students

New Colombo Plan destinationsNew Colombo Plan destinations

New Colombo Plan diversityNew Colombo Plan diversity

Review: New Colombo Plan participants build relationships in the region and promote the value of the NCP experience

The NCP created new people-to-people links during the year by supporting Australian undergraduates to study and intern in 37 countries.

NCP internships and mentorships enhance students’ skills in real life situations, build cross-cultural competencies and improve their employability. Surveys conducted by the Australian Survey Research Group show that by June 2018, all NCP scholars and 99 per cent of NCP mobility students had improved their knowledge and understanding of the country in which they had studied.

Ninety-four per cent of scholars and mobility students surveyed indicated they were better prepared to engage with the Indo-Pacific region following their in-country work-based NCP experience. Seventy-six per cent of scholars said a professional opportunity had arisen from their work-based experience.

Gina Zheng was the first NCP fellow in Papua New Guinea. She co-founded a leadership training program that supported gender equality during her studies at Divine Word University in Madang. ‘The New Colombo Plan solidified my professional interest in sustainable development, youth and women’s empowerment in the Melanesian region’, she says.

Alumni promoted their NCP experiences at 96 events during the year, targeting business, academia and community leaders. They also used social media channels and student and professional networks. Their advocacy increased engagement by undergraduates in the program and expanded private sector support. Business, think-tanks and foundations have delivered or engaged in professional development activities with NCP alumni.

Review: Universities, the private sector and partner governments support implementation of the New Colombo Plan

Forty Australian universities participated in the NCP during the year, building new networks and broadening partnerships with institutions across the region. In February Universities Australia chair Margaret Gardner described the NCP as ‘one of the big boons’ in ‘the massive increase in the number of Australians who go overseas for a study or work experience as part of their degree’, including ‘students who would not have the capacity to fund themselves’.

The Australian business community is an essential NCP partner. More Australian businesses participated in the program in 2017–18, reflecting growing recognition of the value of a workforce with practical experience of the Indo-Pacific. We appointed an additional 14 business champions in December—bringing the total to 32—to promote the NCP across their networks. NCP Business Champions play an important role in promoting the value of regional study to students’ career prospects and in fostering business engagement with the NCP.

In March in Beijing, NCP Business Champion and Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate told an audience of Chinese and Australian business leaders that ‘each NCP scholar’s share price is really high—they’re so valuable to employers in Australia or China (and)... to our countries, building people-to-people linkages that form our strongest bonds.’

The NCP continues to draw positive feedback from Indo-Pacific leaders. This includes ASEAN leaders and foreign ministers who attended a special NCP reception at the ASEAN–Australia Special Summit in Sydney in March 2018. At the reception His Excellency Saleumxay Kommasith, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Lao Peoples Democratic Republic (and Australia Awards alumnus from Monash University) said the NCP ‘demonstrates the strong education and people-to-people ties between ASEAN and Australia, which will only further strengthen the ASEAN–Australia strategic partnership towards shared prosperity’.

Review: Alumni are engaged through networks that foster professional development and ongoing connections with the region

Australia’s global alumni (over 2.5 million) are highly talented, internationally mobile and empowered by their world-class Australian education. Since the 1950s more than 90,000 international students have received an Australian Government scholarship to study in Australia. Outbound education for Australians through the NCP is equally valuable, with a rapidly growing alumni cohort (more than 14,000) with Indo-Pacific experience, language skills and understanding.

We advanced implementation of the Australia Global Alumni Engagement Strategy (2016–2020) to grow a global alumni community that engages with the region, promotes Australia and advances our national interests, especially in the Indo-Pacific.

During the year we built on the strong foundation of alumni engagement established by our posts and state offices through three strategic actions—connect, mobilise, celebrate—to engage with alumni who are current and emerging leaders. This included connecting through social media networks and mobilising participation in activities such as policy and trade dialogues, women’s leadership initiatives and business forums to maintain ongoing links between Australia and the region. We also celebrated alumni achievements through profiles, publications and alumni excellence awards.

This engagement contributes to deeper and broader people-to-people links which:

  • strengthened our diplomatic access and influence
  • grew our trade, investment and business linkages
  • promoted our capabilities and credentials in education, science, research and innovation
  • showcased Australia as a contemporary, innovative and open society.

Australia's golbal alumniAustralia's golbal alumni

Review: The overall effectiveness of our public diplomacy efforts to build Australia’s international influence

The department’s public diplomacy seeks to inform, engage and influence local and overseas audiences with an emphasis on shared exchange and partnership. Our objective is to build positive attitudes towards Australia and meaningful connections between cultures and people in ways that advance Australia’s foreign policy agenda.

Our success in achieving this objective can be measured by a range of globally recognised surveys and indices. Australia is close to the top of most of those that measure soft power and is ranked:

  • 10th and eighth respectively in the 2018 and 2017 Portland and USC Center on Public Diplomacy Soft Power 30 Index
  • ninth in Monocle Magazines 2017–18 Soft Power Survey
  • ninth in the 2017 Anholt–GfK Nation Brands Index
  • sixth out of 25 surveyed countries for our diplomatic influence in the Lowy Institute’s inaugural Asia Power Index (2018).

Second Secretary, Antony Lynch, spoke at the unveiling of Australian artist, Guido van Helten’s, artwork in Hämeenlinna, Finland on 27 September [DFAT/Stockholm Post]

Review: The effectiveness of the International Media Visits program to inform and influence media reporting on Australia

The department’s International Media Visits program exposes influential overseas journalists to policies of strategic importance to Australia. It encourages accurate and informed overseas media reporting. In 2017–18 the department arranged 11 media visits for 66 journalists from 20 Indo-Pacific countries. Visits covered multicultural Australia, Australia’s engagement with ASEAN countries, Australia’s humanitarian response capabilities in the Pacific, creative industries, education, investment and trade. Our expenditure on the program was around $530,000.

The August 2017 Multicultural Australia Visit highlighted the benefits derived from the program. Eight Indo-Pacific journalists travelled to Australia as part of the program and heard a broad range of perspectives, including from NSW Multicultural Minister Ray Williams; the Australian Human Rights Commission; Inner West Council; Amnesty International; the Sydney Institute; and a diaspora of communities and refugees. Journalists were able to form views about migration policies and modern multicultural Australia, which were reflected in the 28 articles and 95 social media posts published during and after the visit.

One participant, Ms Aulia, published eight articles in Kompas, Indonesia’s highest-selling daily newspaper which has an online readership of 3.4 million. Her reporting has informed the Indonesian community about modern multicultural Australia. Our overseas posts have observed that journalists who participate in the program have more interest in Australian issues, are better informed and are more responsive to subsequent engagement with the local Australian embassy or high commission.

Review: Management of domestic and international media enquiries, including by volume, timeliness and quality

We managed 2,411 media queries from Australian and international outlets during the year and helped publish 503 media releases and statements for portfolio ministers and the department. The figures were 2,994 and 510 respectively in 2016–17 and 3,293 and 460 in 2015–16.

This decline reflects the increasing reach of, and information provided on, the department’s online presence. Higher figures in previous years also reflect intense media interest in major events, including terror attacks and natural disasters.

Forty per cent of media queries concerned consular matters. High-profile cases generated significant media interest, as did the department’s support for Australians affected by incidents overseas.

We implemented a new system to record our clearance and response times for media enquiries. In a sample dataset, 73.5 per cent of responses were cleared within departmental deadlines. The quality of media output was consistently accurate and appropriate, and feedback from stakeholders continued to be positive.

Review: Ongoing implementation of our Digital Media Strategy to ensure high-quality stakeholder engagement

We continued implementing the department’s digital media strategy during the year, with every Australian embassy and high commission operating at least one account. Most heads of mission now have a Twitter presence, allowing them to engage directly with local audiences. Our total follower base across Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn increased 23 per cent during the year to three million people.

These channels helped promote discussion on Australia’s engagement with the world, particularly the White Paper. The official hashtag #FPWhitePaper reached one million users on Twitter and more than 300,000 on Facebook, helping generate more than 9,200 written submissions during the consultation phase. A dedicated website using personal video storytelling conveyed the themes and ideas of the White Paper to a general audience, showing Australian foreign policy in action. The White Paper website has had over 289,000 page views since it launched in November 2017.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs used Skype to open the Australian Embassy in Estonia in April 2018. This ‘pop-up post’ is staffed two months a year and uses social media to maintain a year-round virtual presence. Elsewhere we hosted Facebook Live sessions to support the New Colombo Plan scholarships program and developed a suite of ‘Did You Know’ Smartraveller images to educate travelling Australians on local laws around the world.

Social media presenceSocial media presence

Evaluation: evaluate the implementation and effectiveness of our Public Diplomacy Strategy 2014–16

Our Public Diplomacy Strategy 2014–2016 was evaluated by a Deakin University research team at the end of 2017.

The strategy aimed to strengthen Australia's influence, reputation and relationships internationally and to establish a clear, creative and confident vision for Australia's international policy agenda. It was designed to ensure our national interests were reflected and that the domestic understanding of the department’s role improved.

The team evaluated implementation and effectiveness of key public diplomacy programs delivered under the strategy. Implementation of the recommendations and development of a new multi-year public diplomacy strategy have been postponed pending completion of the review of Australia’s soft power.

Deputy Head of Mission Phnom Penh, Ruth Stewart, promotes Australia’s commitment to disability rights and services in Cambodia in a National TV talk show [DFAT/Tokyo Bak]

Review: responsiveness to requests for diplomatic visas and accreditations for corps members and their dependants

We take our responsibilities under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations seriously. We are committed to providing high-quality and efficient support services.

The department processed accreditation requests and visa applications within tight timeframes during the year to facilitate entry for foreign officials posted to missions and consulates in Australia. We also worked to ensure reciprocal treatment for Australian officials posted overseas. The department arranged for 26 resident and non-resident heads of mission to present credentials to the Governor-General.

We helped open the new Embassy of Sudan (bringing the total number of resident diplomatic missions to 109), new consulates headed by career consuls for Hungary, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (bringing the total of these to 102) and 14 consulates headed by honorary consuls (bringing the total number of these to 283).

Table 1: Visas and accreditations




Visas issued for the corps




Arrivals and departures processed




Identity cards issued




Exequaturs issued to new honorary consuls




Review: The diplomatic and consular corps’ satisfaction with the delivery of protocol services, including privileges and immunities

Protocol services were consistently praised for their efficiency and effectiveness. This included services such as:

  • protecting diplomatic premises and personnel in accordance with Australia’s obligations under the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations
  • facilitating airport clearances for visiting foreign dignitaries
  • helping to arrange motor vehicle purchases, registrations and disposals.

Positive feedback was also received on the department’s responsiveness to resolving issues linked to diplomatic privileges and immunities. The department negotiated additional bilateral dependant employment arrangements, which enhanced their access to employment in Australia while providing reciprocal benefits for dependants of Australian officials posted overseas.

Table 2: Key protocol services




Airport facilitations




Motor vehicle purchases, registrations and disposals under privilege




Bilateral dependant employment arrangements




Review: Engagement of the diplomatic corps in departmental and ministerial advocacy opportunities

We enhanced engagement with the diplomatic corps through:

  • briefings on important areas of policy, including the White Paper and Indigenous issues
  • two targeted information sessions on key initiatives including the Square Kilometre Array project
  • direct outreach undertaken through the annual Christmas and Ramadan functions.

These events have high attendance rates and are a valuable opportunity to gain insight into important policy areas.

Our advocacy also aimed to ensure compliance with Australian laws including driving, employing local staff and treatment of private domestic workers.

Table 3: Diplomatic and consular corps statistics




Number of Canberra-based diplomatic missions




Number of consular posts outside Canberra




Number of Canberra-based representatives*




Number of Canberra-based dependants*




Number of representatives outside Canberra**




Number of dependants outside Canberra**








* Includes representatives based in Canberra from embassies, high commissions, international organisations and overseas missions

**Includes representatives based in states and territories from consular posts, international organisations and overseas missions

^ Includes dependants, who were not included in previous years