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Consular and passport services
Output 2.1 Quality and quantity information
- Satisfaction of the public and travel industry with consular and passport services
- Extent to which highly developed crisis management procedures are in place and tested
- Response time to consular issues/crises
- Turnaround time for passport issue, including urgent issues
- Number of Australians assisted overseas, including the number of public enquiries handled, notarial acts performed and travel advisories issued
- Number of unexpected events or crises handled by the department, number of associated Departmental Emergency Task Force/Inter-Departmental Emergency Task Force meetings held, and the duration of Crisis Centre operations
- Number of passport enquiries handled by the Australian Passport Information Service
- Number of travel documents issued, including urgent issues
Satisfaction of the public and the travel industry
The department is committed under the Consular Services Charter to providing a fair, honest, equitable and courteous service to clients and to protecting their privacy in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988. Client feedback during the year on the department’s consular assistance and related information services was strongly positive. There were 123 unsolicited letters from clients, of which 89 per cent praised the consular services provided by the department. Eleven per cent of the letters were critical.
Praise highlighted the dedication and compassion of consular employees in their dealings with clients. Criticism generally reflected negative perceptions about the level of service provided, and inaccurate expectations that the department could access databases maintained by agencies such as Centrelink, the Australian Taxation Office and registries of births, deaths and marriages.
In accordance with the standards of service prescribed in the Consular Services Charter, the department responded to all complaints as quickly as possible. The department investigated each complaint and sought advice from relevant posts and employees. We followed up all cases of negative feedback directly with clients and explained the circumstances. In cases where performance had fallen short of the standards set in the Consular Services Charter, the department provided apologies. These cases represented 5 per cent of all consular-related correspondence received by the department. During the year the Ombudsman inquired into one complaint and found that the department had acted appropriately.
Survey results on the department’s primary consular publication, Hints for Australian Travellers , which is distributed with each new Australian passport issued, were positive. In March 2001, a survey of 1,350 people who received passports delivered the following findings about the booklet:
- 84.8 per cent of respondents recalled (unprompted) the booklet;
- 65.9 per cent said they had read it;
- 68 per cent of those who hadn’t read it stated their intention to do so;
- 78 per cent of respondents intended to carry it with them during overseas travel; and
- 89.6 per cent or respondents thought it was a useful publication.
As a broad measure of the department’s continued effectiveness in communicating safe travel messages to the travelling public, 0.62 per cent of the 3.5 million Australians travelling overseas turned to the department for assistance in 2000–01, compared to 0.86 per cent of the 2.4 million Australians travelling overseas who required assistance in 1994–95.
The findings of an independent customer satisfaction survey carried out during February and March 2001 are reported under ‘Customer satisfaction with passport services’. Fewer than one per cent of people who participated in the independent survey had made a complaint during the application or renewal process. Half of all respondents were able to suggest improvements, ranging from simplification of the process to the provision of clearer and more accessible information. Work is under way to address these concerns and suggested improvements. It will include online services to improve access to passport information and assistance.
Customer complaints about difficulties in getting through to the Australian Passport Information Service (APIS) call centre dropped markedly during the year, following the appointment of a new service provider in 1999–2000 and the introduction of robust service standards.
Figure 17: Calls to the Australian Passport Information Service, 1996–97 to 2000–01
Source: Compiled by DFAT from departmental data
Consular crises and crises management
In 2000–01, we strengthened our capacity to deal with crises by introducing formal emergency management instructions to all our overseas posts and State offices (see also output 1.3). This was complemented by an expansion of training programs to equip staff with the skills to manage crisis situations, and a program of regional visits to evaluate the contingency plans in place at posts. This year’s program included visits to seven ‘high-risk’ Asia-Pacific posts.
The department manages responses to crises through our Emergency Task Force and Inter-department Emergency Task Force. In 2000–01, the Inter-department Emergency Task Force was activated five times. We convened two meetings on the situation in Solomon Islands, two on Papua New Guinea, and one on Fiji.
The Crisis Centre was not activated, but the department handled a range of major consular events involving death or injury to Australians, including:
- a Singapore Airlines aircrash in Taipei (October 2000);
- an avalanche in Nepal (March 2001);
- the Swissotel hostage incident, Istanbul (April 2001, 11 Australians involved);
- the sinking of a Greek ferry near Paros (September 2000, 14 Australians involved);
- a United Kingdom train crash (February 2001); and
- earthquakes in India (Gujarat January 2001); central Japan (October 2000); PNG (Rabaul November 2000); USA (Seattle February 2001); southern Peru (June 2001). (No Australian casualties).
The department also handled more than 60 higher profile cases requiring the drafting of media talking points.
Response time to consular issues
The range of issues handled on a daily basis by the department varies significantly. The department’s overseas posts network and Canberra-based 24-hour Consular Operations Centre (COC) enables us to respond immediately to consular issues as they arise. In 2000–01, 89 per cent of unsolicited feedback from the public on the quality and timeliness of the department’s consular services was positive.
Turnaround time for passport issue
The average passport issue turnaround time was 12 working days, which is outside the 10-day turnaround time stipulated in the Client Service Charter.
The number of urgent passports issued in Australia has grown significantly. Such passport issues (139,685 in 2000–01) now represent 14 per cent of passport business (8 per cent last year). Within Australia, 77 per cent of such applications were processed in less than two days, with the majority being processed in one day. This short-notice passport demand reflects a trend for last-minute travel arrangements and placed considerable pressure on our public counters. It contributed to the longer turnaround times recorded this year for normal passport applications.
A total of 1,088,574 passports were issued during 2000–01 compared to 1,139,451 in 1999–2000.
- 73,844 of these were issued overseas by diplomatic and consular missions.
- 139,700 urgent passports were issued this year compared to 52,900 last year, with another 447 issued after normal office hours.
- More than 30,600 passports were reported as stolen or lost, consistent with the figures recorded last year.
- Productivity of staff at passport offices in Australia increased eight per cent, from 4,894 passports per staff member to 5,274.
APIS received 1,371,370 calls, down one per cent from last year. Of these, 924,218 calls or 67.4 per cent, were responded to by passport advisers, with the remainder being handled by our integrated voice response system (see figure 17). The average waiting time for callers to connect to APIS was 95 seconds and the average call duration was 118 seconds.
Quantity information [Note 1]
Number of Australians assisted overseas, including the number of public enquiries handled, notarial acts performed and travel advisories issued. [Note 2]
Number of unexpected events or crises handled by the department, number of associated departmental Emergency Task Force meetings held, and the duration of Crisis Centre operations. [Note 3]
Number of passport enquiries handled by the Australian Passport Information Service.
Number of travel documents issued, including urgent issues.
1 Several of the indicators used for 1999–2000 were revised for 2000–01 (see page 20). Changes of collection methodology or in the definitions of items being counted are indicated in footnotes
2 We provided consular assistance to 21,723 Australians in difficulty, and notarial services to a further 43,510 Australians. In addition, we issued 406 travel advisories in 2000–01, an increase of 181 from the previous year. The 24-hour Consular Operations Centre handled approximately 89,000 public enquiries.
3 The Inter-department Emergency Task Force was activated five times in response to developments in Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea and Fiji. The Crisis Centre was not activated, but the department handled a range of major consular events including: the sinking of a Greek ferry near Paros (September 2000, 14 Australians involved, all safe); a Singapore Airlines crash (October 2000); a UK train crash, near Selby (February 2001); an avalanche in Nepal (March 2001); the Istanbul Swissotel hostage incident (April 2001, 11 Australians involved, all safe); a rafting accident in Bolivia (May 2001); and earthquakes in India (January 2001), central Japan (October 2000), Papua New Guinea (November 2000), USA (Seattle—February 2001), and southern Peru (June 2001)—no Australian casualties.