For governments in Westminster political systems, White Papers are a convenient, formal way to set out for public discussion their policy positions and legislative agendas on significant issues. The 2015 White Paper on agricultural competitiveness and the Defence White Paper of 2016 were recent Australian examples.
In foreign policy, which operates in a fluid and contingent environment and seldom requires legislation, White Papers have been much rarer. Declaratory policy on international affairs has more usually taken the form of statements and debates in parliament, or speeches or reports issued by individual ministers. The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper is only the third of its sort in Australia, all of them the product of Coalition governments. The first appeared in 1997 and the second in 2003. The Gillard government’s ‘Australia in the Asia Century White Paper’, which came out in 2012, addressed some international policy issues but was primarily a domestic policy document.