OUTCOME 2: The protection and welfare of Australians abroad and access to secure international travel documentation through timely and responsive travel advice and consular and passport services in Australia and overseas
Program 2.2: Passport services (departmental)
Program 2.2 Objective
- To provide Australians access to secure international travel documentation through the delivery of high-quality passport services.
Program 2.2 Deliverables
- High-quality passport services to Australians, including processing new passport applications, registering lost or stolen passports, issuing emergency passports, and detecting passport fraud.
- Rollout of a new passport series with enhanced security features and a more durable design.
- Effective management of an increasing workload, including maintenance of security standards, promotion of web-enabled services, and adherence to the client service commitment of passport issue within ten working days.
Program 2.2 Key performance indicators
- Public and travel industry clients are satisfied with the department’s efficiency and effectiveness in delivering passport services, with routine passports issued within ten working days and urgent passport issues dealt with in a timely and responsive manner.
- The demand for passport services is managed effectively, including in a way that maintains security, efficiency and responsiveness, and that builds on information technology capabilities and innovative solutions.
Program 2.2. Passport services (departmental)
During a year of record demand, the department worked to provide an efficient and responsive passport service for Australian citizens. To achieve this, we used our network of passport offices in nine cities around Australia, diplomatic and consular missions overseas, our call centre (Australian Passport Information Service) and 1700 Australia Post outlets.
While the number of passports issued was 16 per cent higher than in 2008–09, we maintained our ten-day internal turnaround time service level and reduced our average internal turnaround time from 5.1 days last year to 4.1 days this year.
To ensure our processes would remain responsive to ongoing growth in demand and emerging security challenges, we planned a program to introduce new systems and technology, which will be funded over six years. Funding of $100.8 million for this program was announced in the 2010–11 Budget.
We began designing new online and interview systems to strengthen the integrity of the issuing process, to improve productivity and to provide more streamlined passport services. To enhance the security of our travel documents, we also tested and rolled-out new passport printers and continued design work on the next-generation ‘P-series’ passport.
Incidents of abuse of Australian passports in 2009–10 intensified the need to keep improving security. We increased the resources dedicated to tackling passport fraud, and the number of fraud cases detected and investigated grew as a result. We gave greater emphasis to high-value cases, and better intelligence capabilities opened a new stream of fraud identification.
We took part in national identity management initiatives, particularly through the National Identity Security Strategy and the Strategic Border Management Plan. We contributed to international programs to promote the security of travel documents and border security, including through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the Five Nations Passport Conference.
The surge in demand for passports evident in the second half of 2008–09 continued throughout 2009–10, with the total number of passports issued increasing to a new annual record of 1 774 224. As a result, the number of valid Australian passports currently on issue rose to 10 412 587 (as at 30 June 2010), as compared with 9 950 061 (as at 30 June 2009).
By using more clearly defined risk-based assessments and decision-making, we were able to manage the substantial growth in demand without compromising the integrity of our issuing processes. The expansion of our Business Assurance Unit contributed to overall enhancements to the quality assurance of our systems and procedures.
The department responded effectively to increased workloads. In 2009–10, the average internal turnaround time for passport production was 4.1 days, well within our advertised commitment of 10 working days. This compared favourably with benchmark countries (the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand).
To obtain their passports within 48 hours, 191 532 applicants paid the priority processing fee. We refunded fees to 10 applicants where we did not meet the 48-hour turnaround service level.
Uptake of our online services continued to grow, with 28 per cent of all passports issued using online forms. We advanced the design of an enhanced online application process and streamlined interview arrangements. These will strengthen and automate identity confirmation practices and help us manage the growth in demand efficiently.
Following successful trials, we introduced centralised overseas passport processing arrangements, diverting some functions from our London and Washington regional production centres to the Canberra Regional Eligibility Centre. This program delivered a greater level of consistency and integrity in the passport issuing process.
We produced 1 753 197 passports in Australia and 21 027 at our production centres in London and Washington. In 2009–10, Australian diplomatic missions abroad issued 7500 emergency passports to Australians who required consular assistance.
Responding to the significant increase in demand for passport services on our overseas network, we established a dedicated unit to support overseas posts with their passport operations.
To improve the integrity of the passport issuing process, we released a new e-learning system across the network. We expanded our overseas training program, providing face-to-face training twice a year for staff in all regions. We launched new training for experienced eligibility officers (who assess passport applicants’ eligibility for travel documents) to further enhance the consistency of decision-making. These Eligibility Leaders Forums will be run throughout 2010–11 following successful pilots in 2009–10.
The number of passports reported as lost or stolen rose to 36 099 (from 34 788 in 2008–09), but remained below the levels recorded before the introduction of stringent measures in the Australian Passport Act 2005 to manage this issue.
The number of passports reported as missing in the mail following despatch from our production centres was 115, compared with 128 in 2008–09. We worked closely with the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman regarding an inquiry into passports lost in the mail. While this inquiry related primarily to the operations of Australia Post and the handling of passports by holders and other parties, we welcomed and implemented two recommendations to improve our advice to the public about the secure handling of travel documents.
To meet projected passport demand and improve security and fraud prevention, the department continued to develop a new, centralised passport business system.
In the 2010–11 Budget, the Government announced funding of $100.8 million over six years for a new passport system to underpin the Passport Redevelopment Program (PRP). In January 2010, we issued a Request for Expressions of Interest (EOI) for this program. We began evaluation of the responses to the EOI and will invite a shortlist of respondents to participate in a select Request for Tender (RFT) process in 2010–11. We also continued to consult closely with other agencies to ensure the PRP follows industry best practice.
We trialled new passport printers in the Canberra Production Centre. Once these are installed in all passport offices, our travel documents will be more secure and durable.
We continued development work on the next-generation passport, the ‘P-series’. The continual evolution of our passports enables us to stay ahead of efforts to forge our travel documents.
Passport redevelopment program
The Australian passport is the most widely held identity document in the Australian community and is an essential element of the Government’s National Identity Security Strategy. In 2009–10, DFAT issued more than 1.7 million passports. Demand is projected to exceed 2 million by 2012 and to rise by between 70 and 100 per cent within 10 years.
The Passport Redevelopment Program will provide a more secure, efficient and responsive passport system through four key elements:
- eScan—which will enable large-scale scanning of passport application forms and supporting documents
- eFlow—which will manage the flow of data through the stages of the passports approval processes, ensuring quality decision-making
- eCase—which will provide significantly enhanced fraud investigation, analytical and intelligence capabilities and case management functions
- ePrint—which will allow for quality-assured, bulk centralised printing of personal information into passports (including biometric chip encoding).
The new system will take advantage of the latest technologies and will improve the integrity of Australia’s travel documents as demand for them increases. It will enable efficient and economical production of high volumes of passports, combat identity theft and improve secure passport operations.
Fraud detection and prevention
The department continued to detect, investigate and prosecute passport fraud offences under the Australian Passports Act 2005. In 2009–10, we investigated 644 new cases. The increase over 2008–09 (525 cases) was attributable to the higher application rate and an increased emphasis on fraud detection. Work was also undertaken in early 2010 to establish an operational intelligence capability to assist in the prevention of passport fraud.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Smith, cancelled 118 Australian passports under the Passports Act during the year for reasons concerning law enforcement, security and child sex tourism. We conducted a review of the management of passport cancellations under section 13 of the Passports Act and implemented procedural improvements.
We assisted in the investigation of the abuse of Australian passports in relation to the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010. The integrity of the Australian passport system, the protection of the Australian travelling public and our national security interests were key issues underpinning the investigation.
We worked actively with state and federal agencies on elements of the National Identity Security Strategy (NISS). Our examination of issues surrounding the national management of death records led to the establishment of a Commonwealth Reference Group within the NISS to investigate these matters further.
Client Service Charter
Under our Client Service Charter, we used a range of methods to obtain and respond to feedback on the passport services we provide to the Australian public. These included feedback forms available at passport offices, online feedback facilities, in-house surveys and mystery-shopper exercises (in which researchers pose as genuine users of our services) conducted by an independent market research firm. The feedback we obtained remains an essential element of our business improvement program.
Our 2009–10 mystery shopper exercise began in April 2010. As a result of the previous exercise, we rolled-out a client service training program at passport offices and the department’s emergency call centre. This training program will be delivered to the department’s overseas network in the second half of 2010.
The perennial challenges of security and rapid growth in demand will underpin the department’s passport service agenda in 2010–11.
We will continue to be under pressure to respond promptly to shifts in demand for passport services. We will undertake a comprehensive review of our forecasting mechanisms in 2010–11 to ensure they remain responsive to changing economic circumstances.
Following funding announcements in 2009–10, we will issue a select RFT for the Passport Redevelopment Program. Taking advantage of emerging identity capture and confirmation technologies, these systems will assist the department to identify and manage security risks and respond to increasing demand for passport services.
Fraud prevention will guide the development of Australia’s next-generation passport. We will also participate actively in the NISS and related forums to improve identity management in Australia.