Annual Report 2003-2004

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Your location: Performance > Outcome 2 > Output 2.1 > Output 2.1 Quality and quantity information

OUTPUT 2.1: Consular and passport services

Output 2.1 Quality and quantity information

2.1.1 Consular services

Quality indicators

Quantity indicators

Satisfaction of the public and the travel industry

The department, through its network of overseas posts, helps Australians in trouble overseas. The department's Consular Services Charter signifies our commitment to delivering effective, prompt and courteous service in an equitable way to all Australians as well as our obligation to protecting their privacy in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988. Client feedback on our consular and information services is, for the most part, positive. As part of our continuous improvement program, and consistent with a recommendation by the Australian National Audit Office, we are developing our complaints handling mechanism, which will be introduced in the second half of 2004.

We received 363 952 public inquiries in 2003–04, a fall of 15 per cent from 2002–03. There was increased interest from people seeking information before they travel—one of the main aims of the smartraveller public information campaign.

In Canberra, we received 50 letters and emails commenting positively on services provided for particular consular cases and on our information service. We received a further 400 letters and emails containing general inquiries. This represents a fall of 55 per cent from 2002–03, which was dominated by correspondence on the Bali bombings and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus.

We received 68 items of correspondence expressing either dissatisfaction or misunderstandings about elements of our service. The majority of this correspondence related to our travel advice. This reflected, in part, the greater public awareness of travel advice generated by the smartraveller public information campaign. Some clients expressed dissatisfaction about navigating the website. In all instances, we responded to complaints after investigating the concerns and, where warranted, have taken corrective action. Following a comprehensive review, we redesigned our smartraveller webpages to take account of a number of issues raised by clients.

The department's relations with the travel industry were strengthened during the year. We worked closely with the industry through the voluntary government–industry Charter for Safe Travel, which now extends to over 1150 industry participants. We established a 'smartraveller Consultative Committee' to: review implementation of the goals of the Charter for Safe Travel; channel industry and traveller feedback on the smartraveller campaign; and discuss the presentation and dissemination of travel advice.

We received positive feedback on our training for travel agents in Sydney and Melbourne and Branch managers from the Student Travel Association (STA). Peak travel bodies commended the department for our program of consultations on issues related to travel advice and the safety of Australian travellers, including attendance at eleven travel industry expositions. The Australian Federation of Travel Agents strongly endorsed both the content and reach of our public information activities in support of the smartraveller campaign. The Eastern Mediterranean Tourism Association described the department's dialogue with the travel industry as 'groundbreaking'.

We commissioned market research on the impact of the smartraveller campaign. Results indicated that:

Consular crises and crisis management

The department manages responses to crises through its Emergency Task Force, an Inter-departmental Emergency Task Force (IDETF) and the department's Crisis Centre. In 2003–04 the IDETF met on six occasions—in response to the hostage taking in Manila in July 2003 and the Marriott hotel bombing in Jakarta in August 2003.

The Crisis Centre was activated on two occasions for a total of five days during 2003–2004 to manage the Government's response to the hostage taking incident in Manila and the Marriott bombing in Jakarta. The IDETF mechanism was tested in August 2003 for a hostage-taking training exercise to ensure staff were prepared in the event of another crisis.

We responded to a number of major consular events including:

During the year, we handled more than 145 high-profile consular cases and upgraded our travel advice where concerns were held for the welfare of Australians overseas. The department exceeded the 'best practice' benchmark for issuing travel advisories set by the Australian National Audit Office (quarterly review of each advice). We carefully scrutinised and updated our travel advisories in response to changing security environments. A number of travel advisories were updated on several occasions to advise Australians of changing security environments, including Indonesia (14 issues), Saudi Arabia (10 issues), Philippines (eight issues) and Iraq (8 issues).

Suitability and effectiveness of contingency plans at overseas posts

During the year, we conducted an audit of all contingency plans to ensure they were up-to-date. We introduced a more formal mechanism for critical evaluation of post contingency plans, which provides clearer and more consistent feedback to posts on the quality of their plans. We continued our efforts to improve contingency planning—developing a number of event-specific plans for occasions where Australians were expected to gather in numbers. In the lead up to the Olympic Games in Athens we established a consultative committee involving other government and non-government agencies with a stake in contingency planning arrangements, including the Australian Olympic and Paralympic Committees.

Client satisfaction with plans was consistently high:

Response time to consular issues

The department's consular operations are structured to allow immediate response to consular cases and international crises. Australians within Australia have free call access to assistance 24 hours a day for seven days a week. Outside the opening hours of their nearest consular post, Australians overseas have free-call or reverse-charge access to assistance from our 24âÄ‘hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra or to local consular duty officers. We have enhanced our emergency call unit facilities through new telephone technology allowing us to monitor queues more precisely and divert calls appropriately to help ensure our clients receive assistance in a timely manner.

The ability of the department to respond promptly to incidents in which Australians were injured or killed overseas was demonstrated on a number of occasions during the year. In September 2003, the high commission in London responded promptly following the crash of a bus in Scotland in which a number of Australians were injured, some seriously. London despatched three consular officers within the day, one each to the hospitals where the injured Australians were transferred and one to the site of the crash where welcome support was provided to survivors.

In many locations where the department is not represented, we engage the assistance of consular partner governments—particularly Canada, with which we have a formal consular sharing agreement—and other government agencies that may be better placed to respond quickly. Our ability to respond promptly to situations in countries where we have no representation was demonstrated by our response to the murder of an Australian in Afghanistan, which presented particular challenges for our post in Islamabad. Working with US authorities in Afghanistan, our post tasked Australian defence officials to ensure the safe return of his remains to Australia. We registered through our embassy in Washington our interest in the progress of the investigation into his murder.

Quantity information for output 2.1: consular services

Indicator 2003–04 2002–03
Number of Australians assisted overseas:
Consular cases1 12 946 19 196
Public inquiries2 363 952 430 349
Notarial acts performed3 87 545 73 514
Travel advice notices issued 527 593
Number of unexpected events or crises handled by the department 26 39
Number of associated departmental Emergency Task Force and Inter-departmental Emergency Task Force meetings held 6 129
Duration of Crisis Centre operations 5 days 39 days

1 These statistics refer to inquiries about actual cases at posts and do not include general inquiries on non-case-related consular matters (eg travel advice). These are now reported under public inquiries.

2 Public inquiries include inquiries on non-case-related matters made at overseas posts and through the 1300 and 1800 call numbers in Australia.

3 These figures include notarial acts performed at overseas posts, in Canberra and in state and territory offices.

2.1.2 Passport services

Quality indicators

Quantity indicators

Satisfaction of the public and the travel industry

Feedback from clients on the quality of passport services indicated that 91.7 per cent of all customers surveyed were satisfied with the service they received and indicates that a high level of service was maintained despite the considerable challenges posed by the rollout of the new passport and a substantial increase in demand.

A successful information campaign was undertaken both in Australia and overseas to explain changes in the passport production arrangements to the travelling public. This campaign included writing to travel agents in Australia, running video clips in all passport offices, addressing key groups overseas and advising those Australians registered with Australian missions.

The priority processing service that allows customers to pay an additional fee to ensure their passport is issued within a 48-hour timeframe again proved popular and demand for this service rose by 35 per cent to 173 893.

Turnaround time for passport issue

Passport application rates in 2003–04 rose by 16.6 per cent over the previous year. This increase in issue rates—together with a major re-engineering of the passport-issuing process—placed considerable pressures on passport offices. As a result, the turnaround time in 2003–04 increased from an average of 6.7 days to 9.4 days. While this remained within the ten-day turnaround time outlined in the Client Service Charter, the majority of complaints received concerned delays in receiving passports.

The number of travel documents issued in 2003–04 was 1 086 366—up 16.6 percent over the previous year (906 049).

The Australian Passport Information Service (APIS) provides advice and assistance to the public on all passport matters seven days a week. The centre handled 1 496 907 calls in 2003–04, an increase of 33 per cent from the previous year. All APIS contract performance indicators were met for the year. Arrangements are in place to expand the APIS network to handle passport calls from Australians resident in New Zealand.

Quantity information for output 2.1: passport services

Indicator 2003–04 2002–03
Number of passport inquiries handled by the Australian Passport Information Service1 1 496 907 1 123 133
Number of travel documents issued, including urgent issues2 1 086 366 906 049

1. The increase in the number of inquiries handled reflects a catch-up in demand following the substantial drop experienced after the tragic events of 11 September 2001, the Bali bombings and the outbreak of SARS.

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

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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report 2003–2004
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