Annual Report 2008-2009
 

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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 ::Client Service :: Outlook

Overview

The department offered passport services to Australian citizens both through our network of passport offices in nine cities around Australia and through our diplomatic and consular missions overseas. Our call centre, the Australian Passport Information Service (APIS), and 1705 Australia Post outlets (as at 30 June 2009) also helped in the service delivery.

The strong demand for passport services of recent years continued and the use of online passport services also increased. To manage projected growth in demand over the next five years, the department updated the Australian Passport Office Strategic Plan, undertook comprehensive business forecasting and developed a detailed program to introduce new systems and technology.

The department maintained a strong focus on client service. The average turnaround time for passport issue was 5.1 days, well within our advertised ten working days. We developed and began delivering an enhanced client service training program across the network.

Passport security remained a priority. We launched a new passport, the N series, Australia’s most secure and visually appealing travel document to date. The resources devoted to the department’s passport fraud detection, investigation and prevention programs resulted in the identification of 525 new fraud cases.

The department made significant contributions to international and inter-governmental efforts to promote security of travel documents and border security. We contributed to the work of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to develop technical standards for travel documents. We were active in ICAO’s Machine Readable Travel Document Technical Advisory Group and, as a member of the board, of the ICAO Public Key Directory (PKD) which confirms that electronic passports are genuine and unaltered.

Passport services

Demand for passport services continued to be strong, with 1 524 945 documents issued. A total of 1 472 674 passports were produced in Australia and a further 44 892 at our regional production centres in London and Washington. Australian diplomatic missions overseas produced 7379 emergency passports. The application rate for passports fell by 2.2 per cent in the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2007–08 and rose by 1.2 per cent in the second half. This fluctuating demand required careful management. Our forecast modelling continued to provide accurate data for such purposes.

The department trialled the centralisation of processing and passport production work from regional centres in London and Washington to Canberra. The results of this trial were encouraging and formed the basis of a proposal to extend the arrangement across the overseas network. This will see an overall reduction in costs as the majority of production and processing of overseas passports will be carried out in Canberra. The department also developed a proposal to establish an overseas support unit to assist posts to manage this change.

Programs to centralise passport production and processes to determine applicants’ eligibility delivered significant advantages to us in our management of the fluctuations of passport demand. We expanded our centralised data verification unit in the Sydney Passport Office. The unit began processing work across the entire domestic and overseas passport network.

Enhanced procedures to improve the integrity of the passport decision-making process were fully implemented across our domestic network. We also delivered specialist training programs to officers who, when there is a higher than normal risk profile, assess the eligibility of applicants for passports.

The identification and outsourcing of non-core functions continued to be a focus. We contracted a subsidiary of Australia Post to receipt, prepare and compile passport applications ready for processing, reducing the burden on passport offices across Australia.

The number of passports reported as lost or stolen dropped slightly to 34 788 (from 35 119 in 2007–08) and continued to be below the levels recorded prior to the introduction of the stringent measures in the Australian Passports Act 2005 to manage this issue. The number of passports missing in the mail was 128 compared with 123 in 2007–08. We worked closely with Australia Post to establish more robust tracking measures to reduce this incidence.

Figure 14. Travel Documents Issued

Figure 14. Travel Documents Issued

Use of our online passport services continued to grow, with 26 per cent of all passports issued using online forms. We engaged an IT consultancy firm to re-engineer our online services and are now poised to take forward improvements to our online services.

98.7 per cent of passport applications were processed within APO’s advertised client service commitment. The average turnaround time for passport issuance was 5.1 days. This was a slight increase on the average of 4.6 days recorded in 2007–08, due to the unexpected surge in demand in the second half of 2008–09. The turnaround time remained well within the department’s advertised client service commitment of ten working days and compared favourably with other countries.

The priority passport service was well subscribed. A total of 181 606 applicants paid the priority processing fee to obtain their passports within 48 hours compared with 178 318 in 2007–08. Fees were refunded to 17 applicants where the 48-hour turnaround service level was not met.

The relatively small number of negative letters to ministers regarding passport matters, as well as more general positive feedback from clients, confirmed public satisfaction with passport services.

Passport security

The department launched the new N series passport in May 2009, continuing our reputation for travel documents among the most secure in the world. The N series is the second generation ePassport, following the release of Australia’s first ePassport in 2005. More than 5 million ePassports are now in circulation and over 1.5 million are issued annually.

The N series offers advantages in terms of security, integrity, visual design and environmental responsibility. Highly advanced printing and manufacturing techniques, the use of carbon-neutral paper, and state-of-the-art physical and digital security features have created Australia’s most sophisticated passport to date.

Since the release of the N series, other Australian travel documents such as our Certificates of Identity and our United Nations Convention Travel Documents have been issued under ICAO’s ePassport standards. These additional edocuments are among a number of initiatives to combat abuse of genuine documents by impostors.

We began research and development work on the next generation Australian passport (the P series) in accordance with our Australian Passport Office Strategic Plan and consistent with our program to improve the integrity of the passport and issuance processes. We held discussions with industry and government agencies over ways of replacing ageing production systems with processes that will complement existing whole-of-government identity management and border security programs.

N series passport launch

Photo - See caption below for description
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, and the Executive Director, Australian Passport Office, Mr Bob Nash, at the launch of Australia’s new N series passport in Canberra on 28 May 2009.
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, officially launched the new N series passport in May 2009 at an event attended by business partners involved in the manufacture of the passport, artistic contributors and state and federal government agencies responsible for identity security. In his speech Mr Smith noted that the N series was the culmination of a long and successful partnership between government and business to continually improve Australia’s passport.

The N series was designed and printed by Note Printing Australia using expertise and technologies developed in printing Australia’s bank notes. The images of Australia (flora and fauna, and lifestyle) printed throughout the passport make each visa page unique and therefore difficult to falsify through page substitution or other tampering. The N series is Australia’s most visually impressive passport since Australian travel documents were first issued in 1901.

Yumari 1981, the famous Papunya painting by Indigenous artist Uta Uta Tjangala, features in the artwork of the N series. The original canvas, held in the collection of the National Museum of Australia, was kindly loaned by the museum for the launch of the new passport.

The passport uses a laminate developed exclusively for Australian travel documents. The laminate incorporates several tamper-resistant technologies to assist international border control authorities to distinguish the document as a genuine Australian passport. A security information section in the document alerts border control officials to some of the readily identifiable security features that will help them to detect attempted fraud.

Active Authentication technology on the Radio Frequency Identification chip in the passport lets border authorities determine the passport’s digital data are being read from the genuine original chip and not a copy or clone. It also offers passport holders confidence that personal details contained on the chip are secure.


Every Assistance and Protection: A History of the Australian Passport

Photo - See caption below for description
The then Secretary, Mr Michael L’Estrange AO, speaking at the November 2008 launch of the departmental publication and display Every Assistance and Protection: A History of the Australian Passport.Photo: Norman Plant
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

The Australian passport is not only a travel document; it is also a historical record of political and social change and the evolution of our national identity. This was reflected in a departmental publication and related exhibition, both titled Every Assistance and Protection: A History of the Australian Passport, which were launched in November 2008.

The book and display trace the story of Australia’s passport from its origins in travel documents of antiquity, and the development of Australia’s passport service from the British system. Originally issued to British subjects in the Commonwealth of Australia, the passport evolved into a document attesting to the bearer’s membership of an Australian identity.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, launched Every Assistance and Protection: A History of the Australian Passport and highlighted Australia’s role in developing technologies that have enhanced the security of travel documents and thereby the security of Australia’s borders. He noted the significant contribution made by Australia to international efforts to develop machine-readable passports and biometric technology, culminating in the introduction of Australia’s first ePassport in 2005.

The rapid expansion of international travel at a time when the security environment has deteriorated presents particular challenges for our passport service. Our dual commitments to protect the integrity of Australian travel documents and to provide an efficient and responsive passport service to Australians found practical effect in our issuing of more than 1.52 million passports in 2008–09.

Fraud detection and prevention

We continued to detect, investigate and prosecute offences under the Australian Passports Act 2005. A total of 525 new passport fraud cases were detected by, or referred to, the department for investigation. While the number of cases fell slightly from last year, the matters being referred or investigated were of a more serious nature. This change is a result of improved targeting and prioritisation, more effective partnerships with law enforcement agencies and enhanced analysis of intelligence about cases of fraud.

In accordance with the Australian Passports Act 2005, the Minister for Foreign Affairs cancelled 71 Australian travel documents during the year. These documents were cancelled for reasons relating to Australian and international law enforcement, security and potential harmful conduct, including terrorism, child sex tourism, child abduction or people smuggling.

The department continued to work closely with the Attorney-General’s Department on elements of the National Identity Security Strategy. Our work continued on the development of a national Document Verification Service that will enable users to electronically validate key Australian identity documents such as birth certificates, drivers licences, citizenship certificates and passports. We worked with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to increase the coverage and effectiveness of the APEC Regional Movement Alert System, which was designed to detect and prevent the illegal use of invalid travel documents.

Client service

We provide services to the Australian public in accordance with our Client Service Charter. We use a range of mechanisms to obtain and respond to feedback on these services and through that feedback to improve service provision. These mechanisms include feedback forms available through passport offices, online feedback facilities, in-house surveys and mystery shopper exercises conducted by independent market research firms at our key service delivery channels (Australia Post, APIS, passport offices, the passports website and the department’s emergency call centre).

In September 2008, we surveyed clients’ understanding of the passports Client Service Charter through all state and territory passport offices and selected overseas missions. Ninety-eight per cent of respondents reported that information in the charter is clear and easy to understand and adequately explains the level of service clients can expect. In response to feedback from mystery shopper exercises conducted in 2008, we developed a client service training program to be delivered to all passport officers by the end of 2009.

Facial recognition technology

The department’s introduction into its passport production and issuing systems of facial recognition (FR) technology has provided a robust tool for identity verification and delivered an enhanced capability for the detection and prevention of passport fraud. A number of the passport fraud cases we investigated in 2008–09 were detected as a result of FR technology.

In late 2008, for example, during processing of a passport application the department’s FR technology linked the applicant’s photo to another passport application lodged several years earlier under a different name and date of birth. An investigation, in conjunction with other government agencies involved in identity document issuance, established that the applicant had used fraudulent documents to obtain passports dating back more than a decade—and before the introduction of FR technology.

Our investigations found five identities had been used by the suspect. An inter-agency search of the suspect’s house unearthed evidence, including fraudulent Australian and foreign passports. It also found firearms and financial records registered in false identities, and fraudulent Centrelink payments totalling more than $300 000.

Before the introduction of FR technology the suspect’s fraudulent activities would have been virtually undetectable. With FR checks now conducted routinely across all passport applications, many federal and state agencies are benefiting from the department’s identity fraud detection systems.

Outlook

Despite the uncertain global economic outlook, we anticipate that passport growth will remain strong throughout 2009–10. We predict passport application rates will grow by about nine per cent in 2009–10. To cope with increasing demand and to maintain security and service standards, we will continue to work closely with our client service delivery partners to simplify and improve the passport application and interview process. Central to this will be enhanced online capabilities including application procedures.

We will continue to explore options to centralise business operations in order to promote the efficiency, security and responsiveness of our services. Integrity of the passport issuing process will feature prominently. The expansion of our Business Assurance Unit and programs to improve the skills of our more experienced eligibility officers (who assess passport applicants’ eligibility for travel documents) will also be a focus. Our systems and procedures will continue to be developed in the direction of risk-based assessments and decision-making.

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