Annual Report 2005-2006
 

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1. Overviews2. Performance3. Corporate4. Appendixes5. Financials6. Glossaries and Compliance Index

Your location: Performance > Outcome 2 > Output 2.1 > 2.1.2 Passport Services

OUTPUT 2.1: Consular and passport services

2.1.2 Passport Services

On this page: Overview :: Passport services :: Passport security :: Fraud detection and prevention :: Governance arrangements :: Outlook

Overview

The department continued to deliver high-quality passport services to Australian travellers and expatriates living abroad. While the strong demand experienced in recent years continued, the number of passports issued in 2005–06 was marginally lower than in 2004–05. Client service remained a major focus with the average time for passport issue reduced to 4.1 days, well within the department's advertised ten working days service level.

The Australian Passports Act 2005, which came into effect on 1 July 2005, and the microchip-enabled ePassport, which was rolled out in October 2005, have ensured that the passport issuing system and the passport itself continue to be among the most secure in the world. The adoption of facial recognition technology strengthened our capacity to confirm identity and to detect fraud. New measures in the Act aimed at combating the problem of lost or stolen passports contributed to a 12.8 per cent reduction in the number of passports reported lost or stolen compared to 2004–05.

The use of online passport services continued to grow. In 2005–06, 11.3 per cent of applications for passports issued were lodged on internet-generated forms, compared with 7.5 per cent in 2004–05. The Australian Passport Information Service call centre continued to provide advice and assistance to Australian travellers, handling a similar volume of calls to the previous year.

In accordance with the Australian Passports Act 2005, the Minister for Foreign Affairs cancelled 80 Australian travel documents for reasons relating to Australian and international law enforcement, security and potentially harmful conduct including terrorism, child sex tourism, child abduction or drug or people smuggling. The number of passport fraud cases detected was 61 per cent higher than the previous year. The department worked in partnership with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs on the APEC Regional Movement Alert List program to detect and prevent the illegal use of lost, stolen or otherwise invalid passports. We continued to work closely with the Attorney-General's Department and other agencies as a member of the Commonwealth Reference Group on Identity Security, developing a national approach to identity protection, including through a pilot Data Verification Service.

In December 2005 the department commissioned an external review of governance arrangements relating to passport operations. The review made a number of recommendations which the department is implementing. The former Passports Branch was re-formed as the new Australian Passport Office in July 2006. The new organisational structure will further enhance our client service and document integrity capabilities.

Passport services

Demand for passport services continued to be strong with 1 259 692 documents issued compared with 1 260 831 in the previous year. Of these documents, 1 198 678 were issued in Australia and 61 014 were issued at our regional production centres (London, Washington and Canberra) and returned to our overseas posts for distribution.

The number of passports reported lost or stolen by the bearers decreased to 33 022 from 37 616 in the previous year. The reduction in reports of lost or stolen passports reflected the more stringent measures contained in the new Australian Passports Act 2005 to counter this problem. Penalty payments relating to lost or stolen passports amounted to $1 972 382 for the year. Our efforts to reduce the number of passports lost in the mail contributed to a decrease in these numbers from 129 in 2004–05 to 101 in 2005–06.

Uptake of our online passport services increased, with 216 248 applications completed online, compared with 179 403 in 2004–05. A total of 670 686 applicants were advised by email that their passports were ready, compared to 372 327 in 2004–05. The department began work on a strategy to streamline online passport renewal procedures. We developed a content management system to enhance the timely distribution of accurate information to clients and staff.

The Australian Passport Information Service call centre continued to provide information and advice on passport matters seven days a week. It handled 1 281 105 calls this year compared with 1 303 822 in 2004–05. The department re-appointed Centrelink in May 2006 to operate the call centre for a further three years.

We trialled a new appointment system at the Passport Office in Brisbane which will significantly improve efficiencies in our service delivery. The new system will be introduced at passport offices around Australia in the second half of 2006.

FIGURE 14. TRAVEL DOCUMENTS ISSUED

Figure 14: Travel Documents Issued

Australian Passports Act 2005

The integrity of the Australian passport system was significantly enhanced with the entry into force of the Australian Passports Act 2005 on 1 July 2005. The new Act replaced the Passports Act 1938 and provides a contemporary legal foundation for the provision, through rigorous issuing processes, of a world-class, highly secure Australian travel document.

Australian Passports Act 2005

Increased powers to combat passport fraud and tougher penalties for individuals who fail to safeguard travel documents are key features of the Australian Passports Act 2005. The new Act explicitly allows the Minister for Foreign Affairs to refuse to issue or to cancel passports in cases where an Australian is likely to engage in, is charged with, or has been sentenced for crimes including terrorism, child sex tourism, child abduction or drug or people smuggling. The new Act also clarifies procedures for resolving disputes between parents about their children's international travel. Such disputes are now to be dealt with by the courts rather than by passport officers, as was the case under the previous Act.

Other key elements of the Act are:

Passport security

The Australian ePassport was introduced on 24 October 2005. The passport's use of microchip technology and sophisticated facial recognition systems has produced Australia's most secure travel document yet. These advances provided the department with a more robust system for identity verification and the bearer with improved protection against identity theft. Facial matching systems also delivered an enhanced capability for the detection and prevention of passport fraud. These developments represented a quantum leap forward for the integrity of the passport issuing process and the security of the document itself. Of the 1 259 692 passports issued in 2005–06, 822 781 were ePassports.

The Australian ePassport

Australia is a leader in the development of biometric passport technology and one of the first countries in the world to introduce an ePassport.

The Australian ePassport has a microchip embedded in its centre pages and is identifiable by the international ePassport symbol which appears on its front cover. The microchip stores the same information that appears on the data page. A special code is used to write this information to the microchip and the data is protected by an electronic 'key'. An access code guards against unauthorised access to the information on the microchip.

Facial recognition technology has been introduced to coincide with the release of the ePassport as a means of improving identity verification and reducing identity fraud. This technology uses measurements of the face to match an image against a 'gallery' of existing images. Electronic matching also allows a facial image to be checked against a watch list of images of known terrorists and other transnational criminals. It represents a significant step forward in identity security, helping to protect Australian travellers.

As processing facilities—known as 'smartgate'—are introduced at borders, this technology will strengthen border security and streamline the movement of passengers through check points.

Fraud detection and prevention

Additional resources have enhanced the department's capacity to detect and investigate passport fraud. We detected 485 new passport fraud cases in 2005–06, representing a 61 per cent increase in detection over the previous year. The department worked in partnership with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs on the pilot APEC Regional Movement Alert List program which enhances traveller and border security by detecting and preventing the illegal use of lost, stolen or otherwise invalid Australian, United States and New Zealand passports. We continued our cooperation with the Attorney-General's Department and other agencies as a member of the Commonwealth Reference Group on Identity Security, developing a national approach to identity protection and verification of documents of identity. As part of our contribution to that initiative, we participated in a pilot Data Verification Service—a scheme to authenticate identity documents—and chaired an interdepartmental committee on the establishment of national security standards for proof-of-identity documents.

Governance arrangements

In December 2005, the department commissioned an external review of the governance arrangements relating to passport operations. The review was completed in April 2006. The consultant's recommendations were framed with reference to the governance principles set out in the Australian Public Service Commission's publication Foundations of Governance in the Australian Public Service. While the review did not identify any major deficiencies in the existing arrangements, it made several recommendations designed to improve the passport issuing process. The department's Senior Executive endorsed the consultant's findings in May 2006. One of its major recommendations—the establishment of the Australian Passport Office as a new division within DFAT—was implemented in July 2006. This new organisational structure will further enhance our client service and document integrity capabilities.

Outlook

We have begun research and development for a new version of the Australian passport to incorporate enhanced security features and design elements.

We will continue to improve the passports website in response to growing public interest in online services and extend this service to enable online lodgement of applications for passport renewals. We have implemented a content management system to enhance the quality and timeliness of passport information provided to staff and clients.

The department will expand its fraud detection programs. The introduction of an intelligence-based system designed to gather information and determine trends will facilitate a more proactive approach.

We will make a number of enhancements to the passports issuing system drawing on the recommendations of the review of governance arrangements. For example, we will update processes determining applicant eligibility, develop a compliance and business assurance capability, expand our training program, and develop strategic plans for staffing, systems design and IT management.

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