Sunday 14 Aug 2022 | 13:52 | SYDNEY
Sunday 14 Aug 2022 | 13:52 | SYDNEY

DFAT should embrace the digital age


Fergus Hanson


31 October 2012 08:55

Stop procrastinating and throw away the typewriters. That's the message from the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade's inquiry into Australia's overseas representation, which has just recommended DFAT establish an office of ediplomacy, modeled on that of the US State Department.

Having looked at DFAT's use of ediplomacy several times over the years, this time the Committee showed a little more frustration with the pace of modernisation.

After noting the Lowy Institute comment that DFAT's websites are 'among the worst websites hosted by any arm of the Federal government', the Committee went on to observe: 'DFAT agreed that some of the Lowy Institute's criticisms of their websites were justified.'

It went on to state:

The Committee notes DFAT’s advice that in the current budgetary situation improving its websites was less of a priority than increasing on-the-ground diplomatic representation. The Committee responds that it is not a competition between e-diplomacy and increasing on-the-ground representation.

It went on to recommend DFAT 'immediately refurbish Australian embassy websites'.

Although it recommended DFAT's 'funding be increased in the long term to a set percentage of gross domestic product', it simultaneously dismissed DFAT's argument for putting off innovation, noting:

The Committee is sympathetic with DFAT's view that it would put any additional funding into increasing Australia's diplomatic footprint rather than into an office of e-diplomacy. The Committee considers, however, that better engagement with e-diplomacy requires cultural change and is not necessarily resource intensive. It should not be a choice between extending Australia's diplomatic network and an office of e-diplomacy.

And while the Committee recommended the Department make better use of social media and take note of the importance of preparing for national brand-damaging incidents, it also took an appropriately broad view of ediplomacy:

E-diplomacy is commonly perceived as the use of social media to promote government messages overseas. The Committee, however, agrees with the Lowy Institute that e-diplomacy encompasses a far broader range of activities and raises the issue of the balance between DFAT controlling information as opposed to exchanging information.

It's a strong report, worth reading and worth taking action on.

Photo by Flickr user Foxtongue.