Public Diplomacy in an Australian Context : a Policy-based Framework to Enhance Understanding and Practice

  • Caitlin Byrne

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The Australian Government’s Joint Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade observed in 2007 that, when it comes to Australia’s program of public diplomacy, ‘perhaps the whole is not as great as the sum of its parts’.1 Public diplomacy recently defined for the Australian context as, ‘work or activities undertaken to understand, engage and inform individuals and organisations in other countries in order to shape their perceptions in ways that will promote Australia’s foreign policy goals’ Such a compelling observation is the central hypothesis for this thesis. It comes at a time of increasing international discussion around the emerging role of modern public diplomacy as an important tool for nations in advancing foreign policy priorities, a discussion from which Australian foreign policy practitioners and academics have been noticeably absent. Closer examination of Australia’s output focussed public diplomacy program, coordinated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) reveals that public diplomacy is generally not well understood or supported within Australia’s political, bureaucratic and academic circles; is lacking in strategic leadership and coordination, and is consistently under-resourced. When considered together, these issues point to an underlying systemic failure in Australia’s public diplomacy program, that is, a fundamental lack of connection between public diplomacy and strategic foreign policy priorities. Without such strategic alignment, public diplomacy floats around the fringe of foreign policy, appearing only at a superficial level in rhetoric and symbolic gestures, one off or randomly planned events and activities, and crisis media management. This significant gap raises concerns about Australia’s ability to leverage international image, reputation and soft power to deliver on current foreign policy priorities and future challenges. The overall lag in Australia’s take up and understanding of public diplomacy is the central issue of concern for this thesis. Taking the 2007 Senate Inquiry into Australia’s public diplomacy program as the launching point, the responsibility of this thesis in broad terms is twofold: i) to extend the contemporary body of Australian knowledge in the field of public diplomacy, with the aim of bridging a gap between theory and practice; and ii) to suggest a policy-based framework that might facilitate coherent and consistent consideration of public diplomacy as a strategic instrument of Australian foreign policy. The thesis explores the current role and structure of public diplomacy in Australia’s foreign policy, to better understand why the Senate Inquiry concluded that the whole of Australia’s program of current diplomacy is less than the sum of its parts. In doing so, the thesis moves beyond existing literature to establish a policy-based framework to support better understanding and utilisation of public diplomacy in a way that might contribute to the achievement of strategic foreign policy objectives. 1 Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Committee Hansard, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, 15 March 2007, p.9. 2 The Senate Committee definition of public diplomacy was presented to the Australian Senate on 16 August 2007 upon the conclusion of the Inquiry and delivery of the Committee’s Final report. Australian Senate, Hansard, 16 August 2007, p.42.
Date of Award19 Jun 2010
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorAnne Cullen (Supervisor)

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