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Keep Australia and Australians safe and secure

Icon shows a lock with Australia inside symbolising security.
We have worked with determination to support the government’s fundamental responsibility to ensure the safety and security of Australia and Australians. The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper underlined the need for us to be more active in our efforts to shape a global balance favourable to our interests. Increased major power competition continues to generate heightened uncertainty elevating the risks of miscalculation and instability. Traditional and emerging security threats have continued to evolve.

Our international engagement has been vital to upholding and building the network of rules, norms and institutions that govern peace and security and enable the international community to take action. We have worked to enforce these rules and to adapt them to new threats. We have continued to build strong coalitions with partners to tackle pernicious and complex security threats and constrain the exercise of coercive power. We have called out violations of the rules and sought to hold state and non-state actors to account.

The government’s extensive measures to strengthen Australia’s national resilience to a range of emerging threats have been amplified by our international work, generating significant interest from partners. We have fortified Australia’s domestic measures by encouraging regional resilience and capacity. Our work is reinforcing Australia’s sovereignty and that of our neighbours.
The long-term security implications of COVID-19 are not yet clear but it is unlikely to have quelled the activities of malign actors and has created a more permissive environment for some.

Disinformation has flourished, undermining public health messaging with potential deadly consequences. The pandemic caused the postponement of some important global rule-setting conferences, but the international architecture is holding up with some significant progress achieved in some areas.

Promoting Australia’s security interests

Performance measure

How we rate our performance*

Effective outcomes that promote Australia’s security interests in:

  • counter-terrorism
  • an open, free and secure cyberspace
  • confidence-building measures and strong rules and laws that apply to space
  • reduction of weapons of mass destruction and conventional weapons risks, and
  • countering foreign interferenc

On track

Source: Corporate Plan 2019–20 p. 15, PBS 2019–20 program 1.1 p. 28 | Funding: PBS 2019–20 programs 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4

*Our assessments are informed by progress in adopting and implementing norms of behaviour, UN resolutions, robust statements and commitments in international organisations and forums, agreements with foreign governments, feedback from partner agencies and civil society, and diplomatic reporting

Our performance

Despite considerable disruption during the year due to COVID-19 we achieved significant progress against this performance measure. Overall we assess our performance as ‘on track’.

Countering terrorism and violent extremism

International terrorism continues to threaten Australia’s national security. Our work to enhance regional and global cooperation on terrorism and violent extremism helps protect Australia and Australians. COVID-19 affected both the terrorism threat environment in our region and how we engaged with partners to counter that threat. Violent extremists stayed connected online and sought to exploit the pandemic in their propaganda.

The Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism led engagement to promote and consolidate strong relationships with Australia’s regional and strategic partners, helping to improve legal and policy frameworks and capacity and capability to counter terrorism and violent extremism. The Ambassador led whole-of-government consultations with Indonesia (July), Thailand (August), Malaysia (September) and the Philippines (March). We adapted quickly to continue bilateral and multilateral counter-terrorism cooperation online.

The consultations strengthened operational relationships and technical assistance, and helped enhance Australia’s national security and the security of Australians and Australian interests in partner countries. Outcomes included the Philippines Congress adopting counter-terrorism reforms in June, and modelling key aspects—such as preparatory offences—on Australian practice.

We maintained Australian leadership in the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), a multi-state body that strengthens global counter-terrorism norms by developing best practices for policy makers and practitioners. Australia co-chaired with Indonesia the Forum’s Working Group on Countering Violent Extremism and progressed its Initiative on National–Local Cooperation in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism. In April we moved the initiative online and conducted a series of webinars with representatives from more than 20 countries, including national and local governments, civil society, multilateral organisations, academia and the private sector.

Mainstreaming gender in Countering Violent Extremism

We played a leading role in mainstreaming gender perspectives in setting international norms on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) to generate a deeper understanding of the motivations behind female radicalisation to violence, the role of women and girls in terrorist organisations, and their roles in preventing and countering violent extremism.

As co-chairs of the Global Counterterrorism Forum’s CVE Working Group, Australia and Indonesia led the development of the Addendum to the GCTF Good Practices on Women and Countering Violent Extremism. GCTF members welcomed the addendum as a significant contribution toward mainstreaming gender in CVE, by providing clear direction on effective policy design. GCTF ministers endorsed the addendum in September, providing guidance to governments on gendersensitive CVE approaches in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2242 on Women, Peace, and Security.

In Africa, the evolving security situation in the Sahel presented challenges for Australian companies whose interests and personnel are vulnerable to terrorist activity. We liaised closely with like-minded and host countries to help Australian companies address security risks. COVID-19 caused the postponement of the second West Africa Mining Security Conference, which we were due to host in May. This initiative will be rescheduled when circumstances allow.

We supported the Minister for Foreign Affairs in her exercise of counter-terrorism financing powers under Part 4 of the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945. The Minister listed one new individual and renewed the existing listings of 28 individuals and 37 entities for a further three years. These targeted financial sanctions help prevent terrorists and terrorist organisations from raising, moving and using funds.

Countering foreign interference and disinformation

The department supported the government’s robust action domestically to counter foreign interference in Australia. We led the government’s diplomatic strategy to counter foreign interference—the CFI Diplomatic Strategy pilot program. This program focuses on cooperation with regional partners to enhance their resilience, as well as efforts to build support for stronger international norms against foreign interference.

In May we commenced a pilot program to counter COVID-19 disinformation in our region, focusing on amplifying a positive, accurate narrative around Australia’s response to the virus, our democratic values and COVID-19 assistance. We called out egregious disinformation contrary to Australia’s national security interests and co-led a cross-regional statement in the United Nations on the ‘Infodemic’ in the context of COVID-19 which was co-sponsored by over 120 countries.

With the United Kingdom, we hosted a workshop in March with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs on building strategic communications to counter disinformation. The workshop focused on best practice to counter threats from fake news and foreign interference. The initiative built capability of officials from ASEAN governments to better understand and counter hostile disinformation.

Advocating for an open, free and secure cyberspace

The importance of the internet in daily life has been reinforced with more Australians working from home because of COVID-19. Malicious cyber actors—whether rogue states or criminals—have sought to exploit this changing environment for strategic or financial gain, including through cybercrime, disinformation and malicious activity designed to damage or impair the operation of hospitals, medical services and facilities.

Australia’s ability to benefit from global connectivity depends on cyberspace remaining open, free and secure. This hinges on states adhering to existing international law and agreed norms of responsible behaviour. We must also strengthen our collective capacity to deter and respond to malicious incidents.

As part of the government’s enhanced approach to managing our national security interests in critical technology, we expanded the role of the Ambassador for Cyber Affairs to include responsibility for critical technology. The Ambassador led whole-of-government international engagement through bilateral and multilateral forums, and is leading development of a cyber and critical technology international engagement strategy aimed at shaping the global cyber and technology environment and promoting Australia’s vision of technology as a tool for prosperity, social connection and keeping people safe.

We strengthened our cyber and critical technology collaboration with key Indo-Pacific countries, including through bilateral cooperation agreements with Singapore and India. These agreements provide new opportunities for Australian industry and businesses. They will:

  • help shape a more interconnected technology environment
  • improve private sector innovation and productivity
  • enable practical international cooperation to achieve a cyber-resilient Indo-Pacific region.

Our innovative and proactive international outreach in response to COVID-19 meant our key international partners were mobilised and cooperating to ensure the pandemic did not undermine Australia’s long-term interests and goals in cyberspace. Australia and Denmark hosted cyber and tech ambassadors from 25 countries across 19 time zones for the first Cyber and Tech Retreat virtual ‘check-in’ to share best practice response to threats exacerbated by COVID-19.

Protecting cyberspace during COVID-19

As malicious cyber actors sought to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic, the department joined international partners to call out this unacceptable behaviour, and to encourage all countries to uphold their commitments to existing international law and norms of responsible state behaviour in cyberspace. The Ambassador for Cyber Affairs and Critical Technology delivered a statement—an Australian first during an informal UN Security Council cyber debate—calling for greater adherence to the rules already agreed, and greater accountability when they are broken. At the UN Open-Ended Working Group on cyber, Australia introduced a joint proposal with the Czech Republic, Estonia, Japan, Kazakhstan and the United States on protecting health infrastructure from malicious cyber activity.

We also issued a joint statement with the Australian Cyber Security Centre urging all countries to:

  • immediately cease any cyber activity—or support for such activity—that is inconsistent with existing international law and agreed norms of behaviour
  • take all reasonable measures to protect against this malicious behaviour occurring in their jurisdictions.

Australia will continue to call out malicious, state-sponsored cyber activity, particularly where it threatens to undermine global economic growth, national security and international stability. In September the Minister for Foreign Affairs co-sponsored with the United States and the Netherlands the Joint Statement on Advancing Responsible State Behaviour in Cyberspace. In February we joined with international partners to publicly attribute malicious cyber activity by Russia against Georgia.

We pivoted activities under our flagship seven-year, $34 million Cyber Cooperation Program to respond to malicious cyber activity exploiting the pandemic. The program supported activities to:

  • improve knowledge and understanding of how international law and norms apply in cyberspace
  • improve partners’ ability to investigate and prosecute cybercrime
  • strengthen capacity to better secure information and communication technology systems.

We continued to deliver on our goal of enhancing Papua New Guinea’s cyber security capability through our $14 million Australia–Papua New Guinea Cyber Security Cooperation Program. The program delivers accredited cybersecurity training for government and industry. Although COVID-19 disrupted some course delivery, eight trainees completed a tier 1 cyber security analyst (CSA) course, with up to another 30 trainees set to undergo this course in 2020–21. Two trainees began a pilot of a remotely delivered tier 2 CSA course, with the potential for another six to commence in 2020–21 pending evaluation of the pilot.

In June the government announced a new four-year, $12.7 million Australia–India Cyber and Critical Technology Partnership, to be coordinated by the department.

Advocating for responsible behaviour in space

Space is an increasingly contested domain which brings both opportunities and risks for Australia. We continued work to shape rules and norms on responsible behaviour in space within the United Nations and other forums. In January we co-sponsored and supported a Wilton Park conference in Singapore where policy makers from 18 Indo-Pacific countries considered protocols and mechanisms to improve communication between commercial and government satellite operators—and between states—to reduce the perception of threats in outer space.

In October at the UN General Assembly First Committee devoted to disarmament and international security, we worked to encourage both stability and responsible behaviour in space, promoting international cooperation. The aim is to build transparency and confidence between nations, rather than an outright prohibitions-based approach, which fails to recognise the dual-use nature of many space objects.

Advocating for arms control and counter-proliferation

The threat posed by nuclear, chemical, biological and conventional weapons has not diminished. Our work to progress arms control, disarmament and counter-proliferation priorities was strengthened by the appointment in December of Australia’s inaugural Ambassador for Arms Control and Counter-Proliferation.

On nuclear weapons, in November we supported the Foreign Minister’s co-chairing of a Ministerial Meeting in Nagoya, Japan, as coordinator for the 12-country, cross-regional Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI).The ministers’ statement promoting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as the cornerstone of the non-proliferation and disarmament regime was an important step to reinforce the treaty’s importance. A Review Conference in 2020 marking the 50th anniversary of the entry into force of the Non-Proliferation Treaty was delayed by COVID-19 and rescheduled for 2021.

We supported the Foreign Minister to issue statements on 24 August and 1 November condemning North Korea’s repeated shorter-range ballistic missile launches since May 2019. Any ballistic missile launch by North Korea, of any range, clearly violates multiple UN Security Council resolutions. Australia is strictly enforcing sanctions until North Korea takes clear steps towards complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation. We also urged Iran to return to full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and joined efforts to ensure Iran cooperates fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

We led a number of key arms control bodies as Vice-President of the 74th session of the UN General Assembly First Committee, President of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and Chair of the UN Disarmament Commission. COVID-19 meant we were unable to hold CD plenary meetings, so we focused our efforts on improving governance and started a process to make the rules of procedure gender neutral, to support our broader efforts to strengthen gender equality.

IAEA inspections during COVID-19

We maintained Australia’s longstanding support for the nuclear safeguards and inspection work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In March IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi vowed that the IAEA’s safeguards and inspections work would ‘not stop for a single minute’ despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 restrictions. Australia complied fully with the agency’s request to conduct the annual physical inventory verification inspection in June at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation at Lucas Heights in Sydney. We negotiated mutually acceptable conditions for the inspectors to enter and conduct their work in Australia, in compliance with our quarantine requirements. This included a complementary access inspection under Australia’s Additional Protocol with the IAEA.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) maintains a strong normative value against nuclear testing, underpinned by a world-class verification system. With Mexico and New Zealand, we maintained Australia’s leadership of the annual resolution at the UN General Assembly, calling for those yet to sign and ratify the treaty to do so. The Foreign Minister reinforced these calls at the 2019 CTBT Article XIV Conference in New York.

We achieved positive outcomes on chemical weapons through diplomatic efforts in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to ensure all chemical weapon users—and those who enable or shield those who use chemical weapons—are held responsible. The Foreign Minister issued a strong statement in April in response to the OPCW’s first report under a new mechanism, which Australian diplomatic efforts helped establish, to investigate whether a chemical attack has taken place and determine who was responsible. The OPCW concluded there were reasonable grounds to believe the Syrian Arab Air Force used chemical weapons on three occasions in March 2017.

We worked with OPCW member states to add additional nerve agents—including Novichok agents—to the relevant Schedule of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). This was formalised in November at the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Australia contributed $200,000 to the OPCW’s Centre for Chemistry and Technology project to ensure it is well-placed to respond to future chemical weapons threats.

The Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office (ASNO) ensured that CWC changes were given effect in Australian regulations so that the CWC continues to be fully implemented in Australia.

We maintained Australia’s strong engagement in export control regimes and related international instruments, including the practical implementation of Australia’s obligations in promoting effective and responsible arms control. As permanent Chair of the Australia Group strategic export control regime, we helped limit risks of proliferation of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction to countries of concern and non-state actors, and strengthened global counter-proliferation architecture.

The Counsellor for disarmament delivering a statement from the Australia desk.
Counsellor for Disarmament Affairs at the Australian Mission to the UN in Geneva Vanessa Wood delivers a statement outlining Australia’s collaborative approach to its Presidency of the Conference on Disarmament in 2020 [DFAT/Thuy Nguyen]

A workshop planned for early June on conventional weapons and arms regulation treaties in the Pacific was deferred due to COVID-19. The scheduled Seventh Biennial Meeting of States to the United Nations Plan of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons was also postponed to 2021.

We provided financial support to the Arms Trade Treaty Voluntary Trust Fund and the United Nations Trust Facility Supporting Cooperation on Arms Regulation, enabling these bodies to continue their valuable work promoting responsible and effective arms control.

We maintained constructive engagement in multilateral bodies working to address the challenges of artificial intelligence and robotics in military capabilities, including the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS). We voiced support for the overarching principle that international humanitarian law applies to all weapons systems, and argued that beneficial research and developing artificial intelligence for use in the civilian sector should not be stifled by policy measures relating to the potential development of LAWS.

The department demonstrated its commitment to gender-sensitive approaches to security and disarmament issues.

  • In August we delivered strong statements on the important role of the Arms Trade Treaty in reducing gender-based violence and addressing the Women, Peace and Security agenda.
  • We supported the inclusion of substantive gender-sensitive measures in the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention’s Oslo Action Plan in December.
  • We also progressed gender-inclusive disarmament through our leadership role as co-chair of the Group of Friends for Women in Nuclear initiative, which is seeking to increase the representation of women in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Secretariat.

Tackling irregular migration and human trafficking

People smuggling and human trafficking has the potential to undermine our security and the security of our region. Regional and international engagement remains critically important—no country can tackle these transnational issues alone. We worked to increase participation by governments, international groupings, the private sector and civil society, including against the background of COVID-19 and consequent strengthening of international border settings.

Performance measure

How we rate our performance*

Enhanced participation by states, business and United Nations agencies in the Bali Process, Alliance 8.7 and other multilateral migration organisations and agreements in line with Australia’s interests.

On track

Source: Corporate Plan 2019–20 p. 16 | Funding: PBS 2019–20 programs 1.1, 1.2 and 1.4

*Our assessments are informed by feedback from the membership and outcomes of the Bali Process meetings, diplomatic reporting and engagement with other partners

Our performance

COVID-19 has caused economic disruption and increased risks to vulnerable populations around the world. It also affected, and in some cases delayed, how we work to tackle people smuggling and human trafficking.

The Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking led work with regional countries to deter people smugglers who risk the lives of the most vulnerable people. We continued advocacy in support of Australia’s strong border protection settings and engaged internationally on refugee resettlement and regional processing issues. Overall, we assess our performance against this measure as ‘on track’.

The department worked to enhance participation in the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime, facilitating and co-chairing a number of its meetings. The Ad Hoc Group Senior Officials meeting in Danang, Vietnam in July advanced the Bali Process program of work. When COVID-19 forced the postponement of subsequent meetings, we worked with co-chair Indonesia to find virtual and new ways of engaging members to take the agenda forward, including in advance of the next ministerial conference.

Our work to enhance participation in these processes also built on the outcomes of the 2018 ministerial conference, which confirmed the Government and Business Forum (GABF) as an additional new track of the Bali Process. We worked closely with Minderoo/Walk Free to build stakeholder engagement in the GABF, recognising the importance of governments and business working together to improve supply chain transparency, ethical recruitment and worker redress to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery.

We led Australia’s engagement with the Financial Sector Commission on Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking—supporting the Foreign Minister as co-convener with the Foreign Ministers of the Netherlands and Liechtenstein—which engages the financial sector on countering modern slavery and human trafficking. The commission’s deliberations culminated in the release of a Blueprint for Mobilizing Finance Against Slavery and Trafficking (FAST) in September. We encouraged governments, financial institutions and industry to engage with FAST by disseminating the Blueprint in our region, and at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights in November.

As a member and former Chair of the Global Coordinating Group, Australia remained strongly committed to supporting Alliance 8.7—a partnership of governments, UN agencies, businesses and civil society. The group is committed to pursuing Sustainable Development Goal 8.7 to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking, and to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour. In November the Ambassador for People Smuggling and Human Trafficking delivered the keynote address at the inaugural Asian Regional meeting of pathfinder countries in Nepal. The session underscored the importance of regional governments ratifying and implementing the relevant international legal instruments.

The department consulted experts and stakeholders to update Australia’s current (2016) International Strategy on Human Trafficking and Slavery. This will outline key international priorities consistent with Australia’s National Action Plan on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery. Submissions from business and civil society will help develop a new strategy.

Working with the National Intelligence Community

Performance measure

How we rate our performance*

Full participation in the National Intelligence Community’s governance architecture—including through the Office of National Intelligence-led prioritisation and evaluation process to ensure support for Australia’s foreign policy interests.

On track

Source: Corporate Plan 2019–20 p. 16 | Funding: PBS 2019–20 program 1.1

*Our assessment is informed by National Intelligence Community stakeholder feedback and close engagement by relevant DFAT line areas

Our performance

We are participating in the National Intelligence Community’s governance architecture to support Australia’s foreign policy interests. This includes the international implications of COVID-19. We also engaged in the comprehensive review of the legal framework governing the National Intelligence Community, known as the Richardson Review. The review has provided a classified report and an unclassified report to the government. We rate our performance against this measure as ‘on track’.