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Providing passport and consular services

Overview and Analysis

Our objective is to provide a modern, efficient and cost-effective passport and consular service. This is an important and complex task at a time when Australians are travelling overseas in unprecedented numbers.


The department’s passport services, delivered in Australia and overseas, meet the standards outlined in the Australian Passport Office client service charter (www.passports.gov.au/client-service-charter).

Enhancing the integrity and efficiency of the passport system

In the face of increased public demand, our challenge is to improve the efficiency of our passport services, while still maintaining the integrity and security of the Australian passport.

To streamline the passport application process, we are moving towards online application forms. We began rolling out the first interactive online passport application, which provides a more efficient and targeted service. Take-up rates have exceeded expectations, with the proportion of clients using any kind of online application rising from 57.1 per cent in 2016–17 to 74.3 per cent in 2017–18, peaking at 82.4 per cent in June. We also introduced a new software platform (developed in-house) for processing applications. As we phase out the two-decade-old legacy system, staff will be able to process applications more efficiently. These initiatives simplify the application process and minimise turnaround time.

To improve the integrity and security of the passport system the department is:

  • developing a new biometric system (to be implemented in 2018–19) to make better use of our database of more than 27 million passport photographs
  • connecting passport records to the government’s Face Verification Service
  • prohibiting spectacles in passport photographs from 1 July 2018. This will improve the biometric integrity of passport images and help travellers crossing borders that use automated facial recognition.

The department also upgraded its forms to comply with government guidelines on the recognition of sex and gender.

Table 4: Travel Documents Issued





Total number of travel documents issued





% produced in Australia





% of applications using online forms





Emergency passports issued by Australian diplomatic missions





Priority passports issued





% issued in 48 hours





Documents reissued due to natural disaster





Australian Passport Office facial recognition team hard at work [DFAT]

Supporting national security and law enforcement goals

To combat child sex tourism the department coordinated national implementation of the Passports Legislation Amendment (Overseas Travel by Child Sex Offenders) Act 2017. Under the new arrangements, which took effect on 13 December, the Minister for Foreign Affairs must deny passports to reportable offenders when requested to do so by a competent authority (usually state or territory police). The act also makes it a Commonwealth offence for reportable offenders to leave Australia without permission.

The department led work to develop new procedures, modify IT systems and set up new data links with authorities. At 30 June 2018, the Minister for Foreign Affairs had cancelled 12 passports to 11 individuals, and 31 offenders had been stopped at the border for attempting to travel without permission.

Acting for other national security and law enforcement reasons, the Minister for Foreign Affairs cancelled 55 passports, refused three passports and suspended two passports.


Over the past five years the number of Australian residents taking trips overseas has grown by about five percent a year. In addition to short-term travellers, there are an estimated one million Australian citizens residing overseas at any given time.

Only one in 1,000 Australians travelling or living overseas get into trouble and require government assistance. When Australians do require our help, we are committed to providing a modern, efficient and cost-effective consular service. The second Consular Strategy (2017–2019) ensures our resources are directed to those most in need and focuses our information and advice on empowering Australians to help themselves while travelling and living overseas.

Our performance in 2017–18

We provided consular services through our global network, managing on any given day around 1,500 cases involving Australians in difficulty overseas—and a total of 11,880 such cases. Our Consular Emergency Centre is an important point of contact for Australians at home and overseas, and managed more than 62,000 calls (down from 66,000 in 2016–17). We also delivered 199,448 notarial acts to the public.

Table 5: Consular services provided to Australians






Australian resident departures (1)






Cases of Australians hospitalised given general welfare and guidance






Cases of Australians evacuated to another location for medical purposes






Cases of next of kin of Australians who died overseas given guidance or assistance






Cases of Australians having difficulty arranging their own return to Australia given guidance and assistance






Inquiries made about Australians overseas who could not be contacted by their next of kin





2,510 (2)

Cases of Australians arrested overseas






Cases of Australians in prison





386 (3)

Cases of Australians given general welfare and guidance





4,137 (4)

Total number of cases involving Australians in difficulty who received consular assistance






Notarial acts





199,448 (5)

Total assistance - total number of cases of Australians provided with consular services






Australians in financial difficulty who were lent public funds to cover immediate needs (travellers' emergency loans)






1. Statistics for years 2013-14 to 2016-17 draw on ABS data. Statistics for 2017-18 draw on Home Affairs data. All figures include permanent long-term and short-term departures of Australian citizens and permanent residents.

2. Figure includes crisis-related whereabouts cases, including for the Barcelona terror attack in August, Mexico earthquake in September and Las Vegas shooting in October.

3. This figure shows the total number of cases of Australians in prison during the year. The 'snapshot' of the number of cases of Australians in prison overseas on 30 June 2018 was 237.

4. Welfare and guidance figure includes the following sub-categories: general (10), welfare and other serious matters (3,062), theft (533), assaults (269), and welfare of children (263).

5. Figures include notarial acts performed by overseas posts, in Canberra, and at state and territory offices in Australia.

* Correction from 2016–17 Annual Report.

We know things can go wrong overseas, and major events that bring together large numbers of Australians can increase the risks and the consequences. For these reasons we conduct crisis contingency planning. This year our program included planning for major events such as the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and Paralympics in the Republic of Korea, the FIFA World Cup in Russia and Anzac Day commemorations in France and Turkey.

We continued to review and refine the format of our Crisis Action Plans for overseas posts and worked with commercial partners and other government agencies on contingency planning. We delivered two contingency planning workshops in Europe and Latin America, 12 overseas contingency planning and crisis management courses in Canberra, and participated in joint exercises with the Department of Defence. We also delivered comprehensive training programs to support best consular practice across our global network.

After 12 months of operation, the Global Watch Office is now regarded as an important whole-of-government resource. It has enhanced the efficiency and effectiveness of the government’s response to consular emergencies, humanitarian disasters and major political developments overseas that affect Australian interests.

Engaging with our international and domestic partners

We work closely with our consular colloque partners—Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States—to develop best practice and benchmark our services. We collaborated to develop a joint training package to help build resilience among our consular officers. We also cooperated with non-traditional partners, including through bilateral consultations with Indonesia, Vietnam, the United Arab Emirates and the European Union, enabling improved engagement on issues of mutual consular interest.

We continued work with the outbound tourism sector through regular meetings of the Consular Consultative Group, which the department co-chairs with the Australian Federation of Travel Agents. This provides important industry input into our Smartraveller messaging by identifying changing travel trends and improving consular services delivery.


Performance criteria



The high-quality delivery of passport services to clients, including by providing efficient processing of regular and urgent passport applications:

  • percentage of passports processed within 10 business days[1]
  • percentage of priority passports processed within two business days
  • number of reports of faulty passports
  • client satisfaction survey
  • average speed of answering calls to the Australian Passport Information Service.


Partially Met

PBS 2017-18, Program 2.2 p. 44

Corporate Plan 2017-18, p. 20

The provision of high standards of interoperability of Australian passports and services, measured by compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Doc 9303.



Assess our performance in continuing work with the Department of Home Affairs to develop the concept of a digital passport (for both inbound and outbound Australians).

Case study: Digital Passport


Corporate Plan 2017-18, p. 20

Prevention, detection and prosecution of passport fraud.



PBS 2017-18, Program 2.2 p. 44

Assess performance in providing timely and effective delivery of consular services to Australians overseas, including during crises.

Case study: Consular Strategy 2017–19

Partially Met

PBS 2017-18, Program 2.1, p.43

Corporate Plan 2017-18, p. 21

The timeliness and accuracy of information provided to the public, including on responding to incidents and updates to travel advice.



[1] Processing time does not include delivery time.

Review: Review the high-quality delivery of passport services to clients, including by providing efficient processing of regular and urgent passport applications

The department monitors the number and accuracy of passports issued and the time it takes to process applications.

With passport demand increasing the department issued a record 2,082,127 passports in 2017–18, including 8,431 emergency travel documents. Of these passports, 39 per cent were adult renewals. We also helped 43,790 Australians who reported lost or stolen passports.

We processed 97.6 per cent of routine passport applications within the 10 business day client service charter standard and 98.4 per cent of priority applications within the two-business-day service standard.

Although we consistently met service standard processing times, increasing demand for passports means we must improve the application process. In 2017–18 the rollout of our online forms is improving efficiency and helping to mitigate risk, but it has increased the number of phone calls managed by the Australian Passport Information Service (APIS).

APIS handled 1,238,501 telephone and 151,640 email enquiries. While this represented a 20 per cent decrease year-on-year, complex enquires about the new interactive online form contributed to an increase in the average waiting time to answer calls, an increase in average call handling times and higher abandonment rates. The average waiting time to answer calls for 2017–18 was 784 seconds. We expect these outcomes to improve as we refine the interactive form.

We monitor client satisfaction through qualitative monthly feedback collected by APIS but did not conduct a formal client satisfaction survey in 2017–18. We are updating our surveys to reflect the new interactive online service.

In line with previous years, a small number of passports issued (0.17 per cent) were faulty. Of these, 16 per cent involved physical problems with the booklet, while inaccurate data or photos accounted for 84 per cent.

Passport applicationsPassport applications

Review: The provision of high standards of interoperability of Australian passports and services

All Australian passports in circulation met specifications set by the:

  • International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in ISO/IEC 7501
  • International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in ICAO Document 9303.

These standards prescribe the layout, format and dimensions of travel documents, including the parameters for each element on the data page and the interoperability and cryptography requirements for storing and securely accessing data in the ePassport electronic chips.

To help shape future directions in passport development, and ensure these take Australian policy and technical interests into account, we participated in specialist ISO and ICAO forums, including the:

  • ISO working groups on biometrics and machine-readable travel documents
  • ICAO Public Key Directory Board
  • ICAO New Technologies Working Group
  • ICAO Implementation Capacity Building Working Group.

Our input covered issues ranging from minimum mandatory distances for accurately capturing face biometrics in passport photographs to private sector use of the Public Key Directory to authenticate ePassports and future standards for virtual travel credentials.

Assess our performance in continuing work with the Department of Home Affairs to develop the concept of a digital passport

Case Study: Digitial Passport

In 2005 we became one of the first countries to issue an e-Passport, and played an important role in developing the international standards. Several hundred million are now in issue worldwide. In 2016 the department launched the digital passport concept as a way to promote the untapped potential of these documents.

An ePassport chip reproduces the holder’s printed passport details, biodata and photograph in a digital file protected by public key cryptography that makes fraud easy to detect. The file can be stored and transmitted separately from the passport booklet and functions as securely as a booklet.

The potential of this technology has guided government and industry thinking internationally about the future of contactless movement through airports and across borders. In domestic and international forums we encouraged this interest, advocated deployment scenarios that fully use ePassport security features, and discouraged less secure vectors such as scans of the physical data page. The department also participated in an ICAO sub-group that explored possible standards for virtual travel credentials compatible with mobile devices.

We also provided practical support and technical advice to the Department of Home Affairs, and supplied digital passports to facilitate a successful trial of contactless SmartGate technology at Canberra Airport in May and June.

Review: Prevention, detection and prosecution of passport fraud

The objective of the department’s passport issuing process is to ensure fraud prevention and detection, including through electronic document validation, face comparison technology and risk-based fraud profiles. We train all passport processing staff in fraud awareness and refer cases of concern to specialist investigators, forensic examiners and compliance officers.

In 2017–18 the department assessed 429 allegations of passport fraud and commenced criminal investigations in 119 of these, resulting in nine referrals for prosecution. In a further 179 cases, the department refused to process an active passport application. Of these refusals, 149 (83 per cent) involved forged parental consent for a child passport.

Assess performance in providing timely and effective delivery of consular services to Australians overseas, including during crises

Case study: Consular Strategy 2017–19​

A consular meeting in Sydney in May with colleagues from Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States highlighted the challenge of how best to assess and benchmark performance in a dynamic environment with many external factors.

Australia continues to deliver a world-class consular service. To further improve this, the Minister for Foreign Affairs launched the second Consular Strategy 2017–2019 in July. It sets out a modernised framework to develop greater self-reliance among the increasing number of Australians travelling overseas. The strategy identifies a series of measures to mitigate the risks Australians face, including by ensuring travellers are better informed and prepared. Its implementation will allow the department to focus resources on helping those most in need.

The strategy prioritises cases involving particularly vulnerable Australians, such as children, victims of assault or people who are less able to help themselves because of mental health. It explores ways to expand support services and seeks new opportunities to reach out to Australian travellers, from schoolies to cruise passengers and retirees.

It also identifies new tools to help travellers help themselves. It encourages continued cooperation with private sector partners, NGOs and other governments to identify new and better ways to deliver our services.

Our key tools remain the department’s network of overseas posts, our 24/7 Global Watch Office and Consular Emergency Centre in Australia, and the Smartraveller service. Smartraveller (see review below) provides up-to-date advice and information on safety and security overseas, including in a crisis.

In the first year of the strategy we:

  • worked with the Insurance Council of Australia and the consumer organisation Choice to advocate greater travel insurance take-up and better understanding of policy exclusions
  • partnered with the Cruise Line Industry Association of Australia to ensure travel agents are providing customers with travel advice and encouraging the right insurance
  • ceased consular services to permanent residents
  • teamed with Telstra to send smart travel messages to its customers in Australian international airports. This resulted in an additional 200,000 visits to the Smartraveller website
  • began exploring alternative ways to contact and assist Australians affected by a crisis overseas. This includes potential IT-based solutions, better public messaging and tools to encourage self-reliance
  • focused staff training on dealing with mental health issues and worked with key consular partners to develop a comprehensive mental wellbeing support program
  • targeted and increased outreach to improve understanding of global kidnap risk among selected high-risk groups.

All of these initiatives aim to increase self-reliance among Australians, reduce the consular workload and allow us to focus on those most in need.

The impact of these measures in many cases will only become evident over the long term. In the meantime, we are exploring ways to:

  • better obtain and measure feedback and expectations from those we assist (such as through client satisfaction surveys)
  • assess the results of our preventative measures
  • set targets where our work is measurable, particularly for communications.

These steps will position the department, Parliament and Australians travelling overseas to assess how effectively we deliver consular services.

Review: The timeliness and accuracy of information provided to the public, including on responding to incidents and updates to travel advice

As we seek to increase self-reliance among Australians, the timeliness and accuracy of our communications to the public are crucial.

Our Smartraveller service is often the first source of information and advice for Australians affected by a major incident overseas. As Australians travel in greater numbers to more destinations—and seek their news from more sources—we have to work harder and smarter to ensure we reach our audience.

The department maintained a 24/7 capacity to review and update our travel advisories on Smartraveller. In 2017–18 we issued 742 updates to our 176 destination travel advisories and 18 travel bulletins for events and commemorations such as the FIFA World Cup and Anzac Day. During the Bali volcano eruption in November and December we updated the Indonesia travel advice and Mt Agung bulletin 13 times. We also published 16 Facebook and 21 Twitter posts to inform Australians of likely disruptions to their travel plans.

The Smartraveller website was viewed over 20 million times in 2017–18, averaging almost 16,000 unique visitors a day. Over one million travellers had a Smartraveller account to register their travel plans and 389,000 subscribers received regular email alerts. Smartraveller had 168,800 Facebook fans (up from 142,000 in 2016–17) and 23,720 Twitter followers (up from 19,500).

The department is improving the Smartraveller service, editing all 176 travel advisories to improve readability and accessibility.

We published the 2016–17 Consular State of Play report (dfat.gov.au/about-us/our-services/consular-services/Pages/consular-state-of-play-2016-17.aspx) in October to provide data on the number and types of consular situations managed by the department. The report is a valuable resource for media and the public on our work and its limits. We also engaged with parliamentarians and the media to explain our consular role. Around 40 per cent or just under 1,000 of the media enquiries we received related to consular matters.

We enhanced our industry partnerships, including to better target the growing cruise sector through work with the Cruise Line Industry Association and the Australian Federation of Travel Agents. Smartraveller had a presence at 10 travel expos in all capital cities and attended community festivals to promote smart travel messages directly to the public. Through the Smartraveller grants program, we funded four community partners to engage different traveller types—including school leavers and senior Australians—and to encourage smarter and safer travel.