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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australia)


Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Australia)

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Department overview
Formed 24 July 1987[1]
Preceding agencies Department of Foreign Affairs
Department of Trade (II)
Jurisdiction Government of Australia
Motto "Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally"
Employees 4,958 (at June 2014)[2]
Annual budget A$1.5 billion (2006/07)
Ministers responsible Julie Bishop,
Minister for Foreign Affairs
Andrew Robb,
Minister for Trade and Investment
Brett Mason,
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs
Department executive Peter Varghese, Secretary[3]
Child agencies AusAID
The R. G. Casey building, head office of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade located in Barton in the Australian Capital Territory.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (also called DFAT) is a department of the Government of Australia charged with the responsibility of advancing the interests of Australia and its citizens internationally. It manages the government's foreign relations and trade policies.

The head of the department is the Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, presently Peter Varghese AO;[3] who reports to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, presently the Hon. Julie Bishop MP, the Minister for Trade and Investment, presently the Hon. Andrew Robb AO MP, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, presently Senator the Hon. Brett Mason.[4]

The department is headquartered in the R. G. Casey building in the Canberra suburb of Barton, near Parliament House.


  • History 1
  • Objectives 2
  • Operational activities 3
  • Structure 4
    • Department Secretary 4.1
    • Offices 4.2
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The department finds its origins in two of the seven original Commonwealth Departments established following Federation: the Department of Trade and Customs and the Department of External Affairs, headed by Harry Wollaston and Atlee Hunt respectively.[5]

The department was abolished on 14 November 1916 and its responsibilities were undertaken by the Prime Minister's Department and the Department of Home and Territories. It was re-established on 21 December 1921.[6]

Until the Second World War, Australia's status as a dominion of the British Empire in the then British Commonwealth meant its foreign relations were mostly defined by the United Kingdom. During this time, Australia's overseas activities were predominately related to trade and commercial interests, while its external affairs were concerned mostly with immigration, exploration and publicity.[5] The political and economic changes wrought by the Great Depression and Second World War, and the adoption of the 1931 Statute of Westminster, necessitated the establishment and expansion of Australian representation overseas, independent of the British Foreign Office. Australia began to establish its first overseas missions (outside of London) in 1940, beginning with Washington, D.C., and now has a network of over 80 diplomatic (and 22 trade) posts.[5]

The Department of External Affairs was renamed the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1970, On 24 July 1987, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Trade were amalgamated by the Hawke Labor Government to form the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

In 2005, DFAT became embroiled in the Oil-for-Food Programme scandal after it was revealed it had approved the Australian Wheat Board's (AWB) request allowing it to pay 'trucking charges' to Alia, a Jordanian trucking company with no actual involvement in the trucking of Australian wheat within Iraq. The Cole Inquiry into the AWB was established, however its terms of reference excluded any investigation of the role of DFAT.


The department has six key goals, as stated on its website:[7]

  • enhance Australia's security
  • contribute to growth in Australia's economy, employment and standard of living
  • assist Australian travellers and Australians overseas
  • strengthen global cooperation in ways that advance Australia's interests
  • foster public understanding of Australia's foreign and trade policy and project a positive image of Australia internationally
  • manage efficiently the Commonwealth's overseas owned estate.

Operational activities

The functions of the department are broadly classified into the following matters as laid out in an Administrative Arrangements Order issued on 18 September 2013:[8]

  • External Affairs, including:
    • relations and communications with overseas governments and United Nations agencies
    • treaties, including trade agreements
    • bilateral, regional and multilateral trade policy
    • international trade and commodity negotiations
    • market development, including market access
    • trade and international business development
    • investment promotion
    • international development co-operation
    • diplomatic and consular missions
    • international security issues, including disarmament, arms control and nuclear non-proliferation
    • public diplomacy, including information and cultural programs
  • International expositions
  • Provision to Australian citizens of secure travel identification
  • Provision of consular services to Australian citizens abroad
  • Overseas property management, including acquisition, ownership and disposal of real property
  • Tourism industry (international)
  • International development and aid
  • Development and co-ordination of international climate change policy
  • International climate change negotiations


The department is responsible to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Trade and Investment; currently Julie Bishop and Andrew Robb, respectively. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is also assisted by a Parliamentary Secretary.

The department has a staff of around 3,300 employees, of which 1,300 are foreign staff employed by missions directly, and 1,500 are Australian employees based in Australia, and some 500 are diplomats serving overseas.

Department Secretary

DFAT is administered by a senior executive, comprising a secretary and five deputy secretaries. On the recommendation of the Prime Minister, the Governor-General has appointed the following individuals as a Secretary of the department:

Order Official Official title Date appointment
Date appointment
Term in office Ref(s)
1 Stuart Harris AO Secretary to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 23 July 1987 (1987-07-23) 3 July 1988 (1988-07-03) 346 days [9][10]
2 Richard Woolcott AC 1 September 1988 (1988-09-01) 15 February 1992 (1992-02-15) 3 years, 167 days [10][11]
3 Peter Wilenski AC 15 February 1992 (1992-02-15) 14 May 1993 (1993-05-14) 1 year, 88 days [11][12]
4 Michael Costello AO 27 May 1993 (1993-05-27) 8 March 1996 (1996-03-08) 2 years, 286 days [13][14]
5 Philip Flood AO 8 March 1996 (1996-03-08) 31 March 1998 (1998-03-31) 2 years, 23 days [14]
6 Ashton Calvert AC 1 April 1998 (1998-04-01) 4 January 2005 (2005-01-04) 6 years, 278 days [15]
7 Michael L'Estrange AO 24 January 2005 (2005-01-24) 13 August 2009 (2009-08-13) 4 years, 201 days [15][16]
8 Dennis Richardson AO 13 August 2009 (2009-08-13) 18 October 2012 (2012-10-18) 3 years, 66 days [16][17]
9 Peter Varghese AO 18 October 2012 (2012-10-18) incumbent 2 years, 124 days [3][17]


The department maintains offices in each state and mainland territory to provide consular and passport services, and to perform an important liaison service for business throughout Australia. In addition, it has a Torres Strait Treaty Liaison Office on Thursday Island. Additionally, the department manages a network of over 90 overseas posts, including Australian embassies, high commissions, consulates-general and consulates.

DFAT also manages several agencies within its portfolio, including:

DFAT also manages foundations, councils and institutes including:[18]

See also


  1. ^ CA 5987: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Central Office, National Archives of Australia, retrieved 27 December 2013 
  2. ^ Australian Public Service Commission (2014), Main features:APS at a glance, archived from the original on 5 October 2014 
  3. ^ a b c "Mr Peter N Varghese AO - Biographical details". Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.  
  4. ^ "Abbott Ministry" (PDF).  
  5. ^ a b c "History of the Department". Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Retrieved 2007-08-08. 
  6. ^ Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, 20th ed, 1978, pp. 289-290
  7. ^ "What We Do". Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Retrieved 2007-08-08. 
  8. ^ "Administrative Arrangements Order" (PDF).  
  9. ^  
  10. ^ a b  
  11. ^ a b  
  12. ^  
  13. ^  
  14. ^ a b  
  15. ^ a b  
  16. ^ a b  
  17. ^ a b  
  18. ^

External links

  • Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Website
  • National Indigenous Times article on Trent Smith who was dismissed by DFAT then re-employed after lengthy legal proceedings
  • A site on public sector accountability in Australia with documentation obtained under Freedom of Information on several issues relating to the Code of Conduct in DFAT

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