Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Steady Hands Needed

Steady Hands Needed: Reflections on the role of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Australia 1979-1999

Trevor Wilson
Graham Cooke
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: ANU Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Steady Hands Needed
    Book Description:

    In this monograph, five former secretaries of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) reflect on their experiences and the challenges of their times. A far cry from the pukka fantasies of 'Yes Minister', their recollections reveal the realpolitik of the policy front line where the secretary must stay ahead of emerging themes and issues in Australia's international relations while simultaneously exercising governance oversight and providing leadership to a large, professional, diverse and dispersed organisation. From the Cold War to the War on Terror; from the floating of the dollar to GATT and the WTO; managing relations big and small, within our region and without; through relentless administrative reforms, technological change and changes of government; steering DFAT requires 'steady hands'. This collection of public lectures presented in 2006 to the Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) offers an invaluable resource for those with an interest in recent Australian history, foreign policy and public sector administration.

    eISBN: 978-1-921536-13-7
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. About the editors
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    Ian Dudgeon

    The Australian Institute of International Affairs (AIIA) is an independent, non-profit organisation seeking to promote interest in and understanding of international affairs in Australia. The AIIA was formed in 1924, established as a federal body in 1933, and is the only nation-wide organisation of its kind in Australia. It is financed by members’ contributions, a small government subvention, and tax-deductible donations from individuals and businesses. The Institute provides a forum for discussion and debate but does not seek to formulate or promote its own institutional views. It arranges programs of lectures, seminars, conferences and other discussions, and sponsors research and...

  6. Prologue: Steady hands needed for turbulent times – the DFAT secretaries 1979–99
    (pp. 1-12)
    Trevor Wilson

    Foreign ministries the world over have many similar features, but they all differ significantly in their operational and staffing needs from their domestic ministry counterparts. Their essential work is the management of all aspects of bilateral relations between countries; they are also deeply involved in the activities of multilateral organisations and are routinely called upon to respond to unpredictable international events over which they have little or no control. At the high policy level, the subject matter of their work ranges from trade and security to human rights and the environment. For most of these pursuits, foreign ministries function according...

  7. Peter Henderson, AC Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, 1979–84
    (pp. 13-26)

    The major international event over this period was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Australian foreign policy was affected not only because of the debate over sanctions leading up to the 1980 Moscow Olympics, but also because of general concerns about expanding Soviet activities in Australia’s nearby regions. In Asia, Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in 1979 and the flow-on from China’s 1978 ‘open door’ policy represented different challenges and Australia had varying success as it adjusted its policies towards Japan (embarking on its ‘resources diplomacy’) and Indonesia (which was hyper-sensitive about internal stability).

    Before taking up his appointment as...

  8. Stuart Harris, AO Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, 1984–87, and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 1987–88
    (pp. 27-38)

    Stuart Harris was secretary through a time of considerable upheaval in the Australian Public Service: changes that also had a major direct impact on the Department of Foreign Affairs. From 1983, the Hawke Government instituted major reforms to the Canberra bureaucracy seeking to make it more performance oriented, better focused on client service and, generally, more efficient and effective. As secretary, Harris was determined to introduce these reforms into the department on the grounds that it could not remain aloof from such changes as it might have in the past.

    The second upheaval resulted from the 1987 changes to the...

  9. Richard Woolcott, AC Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 1988-92
    (pp. 39-52)

    Richard Woolcott’s tenure as secretary coincided with one of the most active periods of Australian foreign policy under Gareth Evans, who began what would become an eight-year term as Foreign Minister the day after Woolcott was appointed.

    Several Australian policy initiatives were active simultaneously. They included Prime Minister Hawke’s efforts to bring APEC into being, Evans’s determination to contribute to the Cambodian peace process, the development of a security dialogue in the Asia Pacific region (which was to become the ASEAN Regional Forum), attempts to inject more substance into Australia’s relations with Indonesia, and Trade Minister Michael Duffy’s push to...

  10. Michael Costello, AO Secretary, Foreign Affairs and Trade, 1993–96
    (pp. 53-66)

    Michael Costello was secretary in the last years of the Keating Labor Government, years characterised, above all, by an intensification of Australia’s engagement with Asia. This ambition for more comprehensive relationships with Asia was occasioned partly by the end of the Cold War but was also generated by the need felt by Australia — along with most other countries — to define its role in the new global order. The debate about civilisation and values sparked by Samuel Huntington’s 1993 ‘Clash of Civilizations’ article was a foretaste of the challenges of terrorism and the ‘rise’ of Islam.¹

    Internationally, this period marked some...

  11. Philip Flood, AO Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 1996–99
    (pp. 67-82)

    The advent of the Howard Government in March 1996 was very significant in foreign policy terms because foreign policy was seen as one of the issues that led to the defeat of the Keating Labor Government. Howard, with Alexander Downer as his Foreign Minister, brought significant changes to the priorities and conduct of Australian policy.

    Philip Flood was appointed as secretary by the Howard Government at the beginning of its term of office. He had already had a distinguished career serving governments of both political persuasions in high-level positions, including as director-general of the Office of National Assessments (ONA) (1995)...

  12. Epilogue: `The job is never done’
    (pp. 83-94)
    John Butcher

    In his prologue, Trevor Wilson observes that the period covered by the tenure of the five former DFAT secretaries encompassed times of ‘intense and relentless public stress’ for the department. During the years 1979–99, the application of ‘new public management’, with its emphases on performance, accountability and responsiveness, led to major transformations in the way Australian governments do business. The profound cultural changes wrought in the Australian Public Service (APS) over this period shaped the institutional and operational platform from which their successors, Dr Ashton Calvert (who served as secretary from 1998–2006) and Michael L’Estrange (the current DFAT...

  13. Appendix 1: Data on DFAT staff numbers and budget allocations
    (pp. 95-96)