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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade :: 2001-2002 Annual Report
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Output 2.1 Quality and quantity information

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Consular Services

Passport Services

Consular services

Quality indicators

  • Satisfaction of the public and travel industry with consular services.
  • Extent to which highly developed crisis management procedures are in place and tested.
  • Client satisfaction with the suitability and effectiveness of contingency plans at overseas posts.
  • Response time to consular issues.

Quantity indicators

  • 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 and Inter-Departmental Emergency Task Force meetings held, and the duration of Crisis Centre operations.

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Satisfaction of the public and the travel industry

The department is committed under the Consular Services Charter Click to view related information - opens in new window to providing a fair, honest, equitable and courteous service to clients and to protecting their privacy in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988. Consular client feedback on our consular and information services remains very positive. We received 153 unsolicited letters and emails of thanks from the public commenting positively on the consular services we provided. Of these, almost 70 per cent praised our handling of specific consular cases. The remainder registered appreciation for the consular information services that we provided to Australian travellers, including through our website and travel advice notices. We received a further 489 letters and emails of general enquiry.

Only a small number of letters and emails-less than five per cent of the total received-expressed dissatisfaction with the levels of service we provided. Some criticism reflected inaccurate expectations that we should pay the costs of hospitalisation and medical evacuation or could intercede on the behalf of Australians who were refused visas or entry into countries overseas.

The department continued to work to promote greater awareness of the limits of consular assistance, including through the establishment of a special section on the website outlining what consuls can and cannot do.

In all cases of negative feedback we followed up directly with clients, explained the circumstances and, where appropriate, provided apologies.

Feedback from the travel industry about the department's public information efforts has been positive. This has been reflected in the willingness of the industry to stock departmental publications and to use the department's travel advice notices. Increased industry use of our website and brochures contributed to the significant increase in registered use of the department's website and demand for our publications in 2001-02.

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Consular crises and crisis management

The department manages responses to crises through its Emergency Task Force and Inter-departmental Emergency Task Force. This was complemented by the introduction of an emergency call centre and of crisis centre training programs to equip staff with the skills to manage crisis situations. In 2001-02 the Inter-departmental Emergency Task Force was activated 17 times. We convened 13 meetings on the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, one on the escalating tensions between India and Pakistan and three on general contingency planning issues.

The department's Crisis Centre was activated for nine days to manage the Government's response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. The department also responded to a number of major consular events including:

  • a hostage situation involving Shell oil workers in Nigeria (August 2001)
  • the detention of two Australian aid workers by the Taliban in Afghanistan (September 2001)
  • an airport bus hijack in Kuala Lumpur (February 2002)
  • bus and rail accidents in Norway (June 2002), Japan (June 2002) and the United Kingdom (May 2002) resulting in injury to Australians
  • an earthquake in Vanuatu (January 2002)
  • an avalanche in Nepal (March 2002).

During the year the department handled more than 100 higher profile cases requiring the drafting of media talking points. The department upgraded travel advice notices where concerns were held for the welfare of Australians overseas. We responded with travel warnings to increased tensions in Nepal following the deaths of the Nepalese Royal Family (July 2001), threats from suicide bombings in Israel (March-April 2002), election-related unrest in Zimbabwe (March 2002) and during the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan (May-June 2002). We also responded to events in Indonesia (July 2001) and Venezuela (April 2002) with upgraded travel warnings for Australian travellers and overseas residents.

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Client satisfaction with the suitability and effectiveness of contingency plans at overseas posts

In 2001-02 we conducted an intensive global review of our contingency plans for all posts to ensure our ongoing capacity to deal with crises. We undertook visits to nine posts in South-East Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Pacific to evaluate contingency plans in place there. Feedback from posts on these regional visits, and through dialogue with posts on contingency planning more generally, was mainly positive. Gaps in contingency plans were addressed through ongoing review in consultation with posts. Feedback from consular partners with whom we maintain a shared interest on contingency planning issues, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada and New Zealand, was also positive. Mr Downer was kept closely informed of our contingency planning activities, and expressed satisfaction with our approach.

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Response time to consular issues

The establishment in 2001-02 of an emergency call centre enhanced our ability to provide 24-hour consular services to Australians in difficulty, and to respond to surges in demand such as those experienced immediately following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Within three hours of the terrorist attacks, the department responded by:

  • strengthening support for the 24-hour Consular Operations Centre which immediately began taking incoming calls
  • activating the Crisis Centre to manage the response to events
  • establishing a specific 24-hour 1800 number to handle incoming calls from concerned Australians.

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Quantity information

Indicator 2001-02 2000-01
Number of Australians assisted overseas:    
  Consular cases. 24 158 21 723
  Public enquiries. [Note 1] 133 665 89 000
  Notarial acts performed. [Note 2] 74 932 67 319
Travel advice notices issued. 705 406
Number of unexpected events or crises handled by the department. [Note 3] 12 5
Number of associated departmental Emergency Task Force and Inter-departmental Emergency Task Force meetings held. 17 5
Duration of Crisis Centre operations. [Note 4] 9 days 0 days

1. These figures include public enquiries made to state offices, which were not counted in the 2000-01 annual report.

2. These figures include notarial acts performed by state offices. The figure reported in the 2000-01 annual report, 43 510, did not include notarial services provided by state offices.

3. These were: terrorist attacks in the United States (September 2001), Pakistan/India tensions (May-June 2002), Vanuatu earthquake (January 2002), Nepal avalanche (March 2002), suicide bombings in Israel (April-June 2002), Zimbabwe pre-election tensions and unrest (March 2002), Ansett collapse (September 2001), China Airlines crash (May 2002), criminal activity in Solomon islands (May 2002), tensions in Jakarta, including bombing which occurred at the Australian International School (November 2001), bus explosion in Karachi (May 2002), and a landslide on Nias Island, Sumatra (July 2001).

4. The Crisis Centre was activated for nine days to manage the Government's response to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.

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Passport services

Quality indicators

  • Satisfaction of the public and travel industry with passport services.
  • Turn-around time for passport issue, including urgent issues.

Quantity indicators

  • 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

Feedback throughout the year-most of it collected through the Australian Passport Information Service-showed that 95 per cent of clients rated the passport service as good to very good. There were ten complaints classed as substantive and all were satisfactorily resolved. In addition, there were two negative findings from the Commonwealth Ombudsman relating to incorrect advice and slow processing.

Each passport production staff member (that is, non-management staff at passport offices) produced on average 6335 passports in 2001-02, an increase on the previous year.

An Australia Post outreach training program was developed and implemented to improve the standard and consistency of services and information provided to passport clients by staff at the 1600 postal outlets authorised to conduct passport interviews. A random survey of the quality of passport services provided by postal outlets began in 2001-02 and provided us with an independent assessment of the service levels delivered by them. Initial results of these initiatives have been positive with the number of postal interview errors declining to less than five per cent of all postal applications.

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Turnaround time for passport issue

The average passport turnaround time was 6.4 days, well under the 10 day service level stipulated in our Client Service Charter. This was a marked improvement in service on the previous year. It was due partly to a revision of the turnaround formula to reflect more accurately the actual processing time, by removing from calculations delays caused through incomplete applications.

The events of 11 September 2001 resulted in a fall in demand for Australian travel documents. Passports issued for the year were down 9.4 per cent to 986 316. Of this figure:

  • 68 077 were issued overseas compared to 73 844 for the previous year
  • 127 871 urgent passports were issued compared to 139 700 last year, with 564 of these being issued after hours
  • 32 497 passports were reported lost or stolen throughout the year, of which 11 502 were lost or stolen overseas
  • 586 cases of passport fraud were detected compared to 472 the previous year. Five people were deported and 7 successfully prosecuted as a result of investigations into passport fraud.

The Australian Passport Information Service (APIS) received more than 1.2 million calls during the year of which 30 per cent were answered by the integrated voice response system and the remainder by a passport adviser. The majority of calls related to the renewal of a travel document. APIS mailed out over 276 400 renewal applications for the year. The service levels achieved by APIS were well within contractual performance benchmarks with caller waiting times averaging 48.5 seconds and call duration averaging 120.7 seconds.

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Quantity information

Indicator 2001-02 2000-01
Number of passport enquiries handled by the Australian Passport Information Service. 1 206 736 1 371 370
Number of travel documents issued, including urgent issues. [Note 1] 986 316 1 088 574

1. Travel documents include passports, documents of identity, certificates of identity and convention travel documents.

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