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.

PERFORMANCE INFORMATION FOR OUTCOME 2

Outcome 2 strategy

With more Australians travelling overseas each year, the department will continue to give high priority to delivery of effective consular services. The department will help Australians make informed decisions about their security, safety and wellbeing by maintaining its comprehensive system of travel advisories. The department's consular outreach program will continue in 2012–13, promoting safe travel messages and delivering accurate and timely travel advice, including through the smartraveller campaign.

Practical planning for contingency and rapid crisis response will remain a focus through 2012–13. The department will work to enhance its ability to respond quickly to consular incidents, particularly in remote locations or where consular representation is less concentrated. It will also continue to lead whole-of-government responses to future consular crises and serious incidents overseas, activating the department's crisis centre as needed.

The department in 2012–13 will continue work on the detailed design and scheduling of the new 'P-series' passport to ensure the government can continue to deliver a contemporary, secure travel document. Increased funding flowing from the renewed three-year funding agreement for passport services will meet the costs of expected increasing demand and provide resources to mitigate the growing risks of identity fraud and child abduction. In addition, the department will take forward the National Security – Improved Passport Integrity and Strengthened Issuance Systems program, announced in 2010–11, to enable it to meet the projected increase in demand for passport services in forward years.

Program 2.1 Objective
  • To support and assist Australian travellers and Australians overseas through high-quality consular services, including accurate and timely travel advice, practical contingency planning and rapid crisis response.
Program 2.1 Deliverables
  • High-quality consular services to an increasing number of Australian travellers and Australian citizens living overseas, including notarial services and assistance with welfare issues, whereabouts enquiries, arrest or detention matters, deaths, medical emergencies and payment of travellers' emergency loans to Australians in need.
  • High-quality travel advisory services, including issuing accurate and timely travel information on travel destinations, promoting this information through continuation of the smartraveller campaign and effectively managing an online travel registration service.
  • Effective consular contingency planning for major events or high-risk scenarios, including through regular reviews of procedures and available resources, training of staff, and coordination with other government agencies and foreign governments.
  • Coordination of whole-of-government responses to large-scale crises involving conflict, civil unrest, natural disasters or terrorist incidents.
Program 2.1 Key performance indicators
  • The department's delivery of consular services is effective, efficient, timely and responsive, and within the scope of Australian government responsibility.
  • Accurate and timely travel advisories which provide clear guidance to a broad audience of potential risks and the extent of Australian government assistance, and continued growth of public use of the smartraveller website and the online registration service.
  • Consular contingency planning accurately anticipates high-risk events and scenarios, necessary resources for response are readily available, procedures and networks remain valid and viable, and plans are tested and reviewed regularly.
  • Timely and effective consular support to Australians through well-coordinated implementation of whole-of-government responses to large-scale crises.

Program 2.1: Consular services

Overview

There was continued high demand for consular advice and assistance from Australians and their families around the world. The department provided assistance to 11 927 Australians in difficulty overseas in 2012–13. A number of high-profile cases involving detention and legal proceedings required a significant resource commitment. The department led the whole-of-government effort to resolve successfully a long-running kidnapping case in the southern Philippines.

The department executed the third phase of the smartraveller public information campaign with a focus on encouraging Australians to plan for their own safety and welfare overseas. Our advertising emphasised the importance of travel insurance, particularly for younger and less risk-averse travellers. We maintained accurate and timely travel advice on the smartraveller website. A new Facebook page and iPhone app for travel advice and registration helped to increase the penetration of our messages.

We strengthened our capacity to respond to crises and emergency situations. The department consolidated its Emergency Response Team (ERT), including through joint training and field exercises with the Australian Defence Force (ADF). We established new crisis response linkages with regional governments through the East Asia Summit and ASEAN Regional Forum.

Consular services

At 30 June 2013, Australians had access to consular services around the world through 171 diplomatic and consular missions and honorary consuls managed by the department and Austrade. In addition, 17 Canadian diplomatic missions offered consular services to Australians under a reciprocal consular sharing agreement between the two governments.

The department's Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) provided public access to consular services 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The centre received 52 214 calls in 2012–13, a two per cent increase over 2011–12 levels.

Notarial services continued to be available through the department's state and territory offices and passport offices.

We continued work to replace the department's consular management information system to support services to travelling Australians. We entered into a contract to acquire a client relationship management software application which will form the basis of the new system.

Assisting Australians overseas

In 2012–13, consular staff assisted 11 927 Australians in difficulty overseas, a decrease from 14 574 in 2011–12.

Our consular staff provided assistance and support to 1 479 Australians arrested or imprisoned. A number of complex and protracted cases attracted high levels of media and public attention and were highly resource-intensive. We provided advice on the availability of local legal representation and monitored trials to seek to ensure due process. Consular officers made regular visits to Australians in detention to confirm their well-being and access to adequate services. We assisted 1 372 Australians who were hospitalised and provided advice and assistance to families of 1 247 Australians who died overseas. We also assisted Australians with 195 470 notarial acts, an increase from 188 149 in 2011–12.

We led a whole-of-government effort to resolve successfully a long-running kidnapping case in the southern Philippines, while maintaining the government's strict policy against the payment of ransoms.

We reviewed some aspects of consular processes following the Minister for Foreign Affairs' response to a report on the department's handling of the consular aspects of a case involving a dual Australian–Israeli national who died in detention in Israel in 2010. One of the results was the conclusion of a whole-of-government protocol on the handling of sensitive information in cases where Australians are detained overseas on intelligence-related charges.

Travellers' emergency loans

In 2012–13, the department extended emergency loans to the value of $209 126 to 298 Australian travellers, a small decrease from last year. Loans were provided on a case-by-case basis, and extended only following a rigorous needs assessment and evaluation of alternative sources of funding. All recipients were required to sign legally enforceable deeds of undertaking-to-repay. These undertakings make clear the link between eligibility for a new passport and repayment of outstanding loans.

We also provided $42 838 to 34 Australians imprisoned overseas under the Prisoner Loans Scheme to assist with the purchase of essential supplies not available from prison authorities.

The department worked to improve follow-up and recovery processes with debtors to ensure the repayment of loans. In 2012–13, we recovered $242 415 from Australians who had been issued loans, compared to $207 963 in 2011–12.

Consular emergency services

The department granted payments of $4 102 to three Australian travellers under the consular emergency services financial support mechanism. Introduced in 2007–08, this mechanism enables financial assistance to be extended when it is not practical or legally possible for individuals to sign an undertaking-to-repay.

Consular cooperation

The department maintained close consular and crisis response relationships with Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and New Zealand. We also extended cooperation with other partner countries, including through training for consular practitioners from Indonesia, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom. Departmental officers also delivered training to Vietnamese foreign ministry and provincial government officials.

We convened annual consular consultations with China, Indonesia, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates. We also co-chaired with Indonesia a crisis management workshop in Bali for East Asia Summit countries, strengthening consular crisis cooperation in the region. With AusAID and the ADF, we represented Australia in an ASEAN Regional Forum disaster relief exercise in Thailand, helping build regional capacity in civil-military disaster response.

Consular policy

Working with other government agencies and non-government organisations, we updated policies to strengthen the delivery of consular services to the most vulnerable Australians, including victims of child abuse, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. We developed practical guidance for consular officers on the management of cases of child welfare and forced marriage overseas. We led whole-of-government work to deliver clear public advice on emerging issues related to international commercial surrogacy.

We refined policies on the delivery of notarial services, including addressing concerns about fraudulent documentation.

Table 10: Travellers' emergency loans

2009–10
2010–11
2011–12
2012–13
Number of Australian travellers assisted by emergency loans
286
345
365
298
Amount provided in emergency loans
$320,456
$356,246
$218,470
$209,126
Amount recovered in debt recovery activities
$196,447
$136,564
$207,963
$242,415

 

Consular training

To ensure that consular officers have the knowledge and tools to provide appropriate assistance and advice, the department delivered 106 consular training sessions attended by over 1 000 departmental officers.

Some training courses built on existing programs, including psychological preparedness training introduced in 2012 aimed at assisting consular officers prepare for potentially traumatic events. We also introduced new initiatives, including workshops in the Middle East and South America for honorary consuls. Canberra-based consular case managers participated in Lifeline's specialised Accidental Counsellor training, which will be a permanent inclusion in training for case managers and CEC staff.

We reinforced crisis contingency planning at posts through regional crisis management workshops for staff in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. We also delivered further training for members of the department's consular crisis cadre and ERT members.

Staff Profile

Dr Cristina Fernandez

In December 2009, I was appointed Australia's Honorary Consul in Bolivia. Since then I have provided consular and passport services to hundreds of Australians.

I have been required to visit and assist Australians who have been arrested or are in prison and to provide timely, on-the-ground information for inclusion in the travel advice for Bolivia. I was involved in the search for a group of Australians, missing briefly in the Uyuni salt plains, and I contributed advice and support in other complex cases.

I am the point of contact in La Paz between the Australian and Bolivian Governments and local authorities. I work very closely with the Australian embassy in Lima which has non-resident accreditation to Bolivia.

Serving the Australian Government is a privilege and complements my activities as a physician. I would like to see more Australians travelling to Bolivia and they can be reassured that I will be here to help should they find themselves in need of consular assistance.

Profile

Consular Emergency Centre

Established in 2007, the department's Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) provides a 24/7 global service of consular and passport advice and assistance.

Consular Emergency Centre team member, John Newton, assists a client on the phone, while Centre Manager, Caroline Golding, and team member, Michael Nangle, discuss a case, June 2013. [DFAT]

The switchboards of all Australian overseas posts are configured to redirect out-of-hours consular and passport callers to the CEC, enabling the department to provide prompt advice and assistance in these core areas of its agenda. CEC staff provide advice to posts on the handling of complex and sensitive consular and passport cases.

The CEC plays a crucial role as the department's initial point of contact in a major international incident such as a natural disaster, transport accident, terrorist attack or kidnapping. It coordinates the receipt and dissemination of information and alerts ministers and senior officers to immediate developments. This provides the department with a unique capability to deliver a coordinated and timely whole-of-government response to crises and emergency situations.

CEC staff have extensive experience of consular and passports operations in Canberra and overseas—between them, the 13 staff currently working in the centre have had postings in 25 countries. Their professional experience is bolstered by an ongoing and targeted training program to keep their skills up to date.

Caroline Golding, the manager of the CEC, says that while it can be challenging in times of acute distress and crisis, staff in the CEC find it very rewarding to deliver advice and assistance that makes a tangible difference to the lives of the people with whom they come into contact.

Responding to and preparing for consular crises

The department's purpose-built crisis centre remains pivotal to our ability to deliver a coordinated whole-of-government response to an international crisis. It can be activated at short notice to operate on a 24-hour basis, staffed on rotation by 180 trained officers. This includes teams rostered on standby duty throughout the year. We commenced a comprehensive review of our crisis facilities and will continue work on improvements in the coming year.

We activated crisis response mechanisms for natural disasters in Fiji and Samoa, violence in Gaza and southern Israel and for individual consular cases, including the release of an Australian kidnapped in the southern Philippines. Overseas, our network of posts assisted Australians directly affected by major incidents. For example, the Consulate-General in Hong Kong assisted Australians affected by a ferry boat sinking and the High Commission in Apia ascertained the safety of Australians in the country after Cyclone Evan, despite damage sustained at the High Commission.

In addition to annual contingency planning for Anzac Day events in Gallipoli and Villers-Bretonneux, we worked with the Department of Veterans' Affairs and other agencies on plans for the 100 year Anzac Day commemorations in 2015. Consular support staff were present at these locations and other events involving large numbers of Australians, including the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games and the 10th anniversary of the 2002 Bali Bombing.

Crisis preparedness and exercise rehearsal remained a priority. In two major activities with the ADF, the department's ERT members practised and refined procedures for the evacuation of Australian citizens from crisis zones. The inclusion of a range of government agencies in these exercises helped maintain our whole-of-government focus to international crisis response.

Second Secretary in Seoul, Duncan Lockie, engages with Principal Medical Advisor, Department of Health and Ageing, Dr Jennifer Firman, in the ABLE RESPONSE 13 situation room, Seoul, June 2013. [DFAT/Melissa Stenfors]

Second Secretary in Seoul, Duncan Lockie, engages with Principal Medical Advisor, Department of Health and Ageing, Dr Jennifer Firman, in the ABLE RESPONSE 13 situation room, Seoul, June 2013. [DFAT/Melissa Stenfors]

 

In June 2013, departmental staff joined staff from the Department of Health and Ageing and civilian and military staff from the Department of Defence in the Australian delegation to Exercise ABLE RESPONSE 13, a United States–Republic of Korea-led civil–military contingency planning exercise in Seoul. ABLE RESPONSE was established in 2011 to strengthen both countries' ability to manage a biological incident on the Korean peninsula.

In cooperation with the ADF, we continued our program of Contingency Planning Assistance Team (CPAT) visits to test crisis response preparedness in specific locations and refine posts' contingency plans. In 2012–13, we sent CPATs to Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Egypt, Turkey, Samoa, Tonga and Nepal. As with all our contingency planning work, we worked closely with government agencies and relevant private sector bodies.

Keeping Australians informed

The department's travel advisory services provide accurate and up-to-date information to help Australians plan for their own safety and welfare overseas.

In 2012–13, we issued 774 updates to travel advisories for 167 destinations as well as travel bulletins, reflecting changes in the security situation and other significant developments. We improved information for Australian travellers by focusing more closely on destinations with heightened or more complex security risks. We reissued advisories for these destinations more frequently, at least every three months. We also reviewed and reissued bulletins on issues such as kidnapping and piracy, as well as event-specific bulletins for Anzac Day commemorations.

We drew on information from a range of sources, including diplomatic and intelligence reporting, for the travel advisories and continued to apply the no double standards principle—our advice to the public is the same as our advice to departmental staff and to the private sector. To the fullest extent possible, we pass on credible and specific threat information to the public.

We reviewed and reorganised other information for travellers on the smartraveller website, including on climate, health and travelling with children. In response to legislative developments and community concerns, we produced new webpages on forced marriage and female genital mutilation, emphasising the extraterritorial application of Australian laws. We improved the accessibility of information on the website, including through the implementation of audio software to enable the public to listen to individual advice pages.

Senator Carr launched new targeted advertising and other outreach activities for the ongoing smartraveller public information campaign in November. Reflecting the campaign theme of turning awareness into action, advertising focused on young and less risk-averse travellers and highlighted the importance of buying travel insurance appropriate for activities. It featured the story of young Australian, Erin Langworthy, whose bungee cord broke in Zambia, but who had registered with smartraveller and fortunately taken out comprehensive travel insurance. Erin's story attracted substantial media coverage for the campaign. Anecdotal reports from industry sources indicate a subsequent increase in insurance take-up by Australian travellers.

The campaign included a round of mass media advertising in November–December on television and in print, as well as ongoing online advertising in both digital display and search formats. The decision to increase the focus on digital advertising reflected the increasingly internet-based nature of travel planning and booking. We also reinforced smartraveller messaging to travellers through display advertising and sponsorship of free Wi-Fi at Australian airports in the peak holiday periods of November–December and May–June.

To increase the penetration of our messaging, we launched a smartraveller iPhone app, complementing the existing desktop and mobile versions of the smartraveller website, and the RSS and XML feeds of travel advice for use in third party websites and apps (see 3.1). We also launched a smartraveller Facebook page, extending our use of social media to promote both key travel advice updates and the overall campaign messages.

Smartraveller registrations continued to increase, with 1 179 335 during 2012–13, compared with 943 426 in 2011–12, although it remains the case that only a minority of Australian travellers register their travel. Smartraveller subscriptions also steadily increased, reaching 122 338 as at 30 June 2013, compared to 84 807 as at 30 June 2012.

We continued to work with the travel industry to promote travel advice and the smartraveller campaign messages. We convened the Smartraveller Consultative Group to seek industry feedback on the performance and direction of the campaign. We continued our sponsorship of a smartraveller e-newsletter to travel agents and sponsored a number of other industry events and activities. We also attended 15 travel expos to convey the smartraveller message directly.

Consular Services Charter

The Consular Services Charter sets out the services that are available to Australians when they confront difficulties overseas. It also outlines those activities not covered by the consular role. As set out in the charter, Australians had a variety of options to provide feedback on consular services, including via the smartraveller website, in correspondence, over the phone or at the counter and, increasingly, through social media. The department welcomed constructive feedback to support the continuous improvement of our consular service delivery.

Outlook

We will review the Consular Services Charter as part of the preparation of a consular strategy for the 2013–16 period. The strategy will outline how to deliver efficient consular services. An important aim will be sharpened messaging to help improve traveller self-reliance, enabling the department to focus resources on the most challenging consular cases.

We will improve guidance and training to posts on the management of complex consular cases, such as those involving mental health considerations. We will continue work on the development of a new consular information system to deliver efficient case management and more robust statistical information.

Continual improvement in crisis preparedness and response will remain a priority. We will continue our program of CPAT visits and enhance regional crisis cooperation and coordination. Along with a key group of other countries, we will convene a consular workshop in the United Kingdom in September 2013 that will launch a dialogue among more than twenty governments on consular challenges and the prospects of closer international cooperation on some issues, such as multiple citizenship and emergency management.

We will maintain outreach to gauge public expectations, satisfaction with service delivery and the effectiveness of our public messaging. Partnerships with the private sector and non-government organisations to improve consular services will remain a priority.

Table 11: Consular services provided to Australian travellers

2008–09
2009–10
2010–11
2011–12
2012–13
Australian resident departures1
6,009,033
6,938,303
7,609,300
8,452,924
8,856,210
Cases of Australians hospitalised given general welfare and guidance
1,480
1,467
1,203
1,265
1,372
Cases of Australians evacuated to another location for medical purposes
32
29
28
24
28
Cases of next of kin of Australians who died overseas given guidance or assistance with disposal of remains
1,038
1,143
1,142
1,138
1,247
Cases of Australians having difficulty arranging their own return to Australia given guidance and assistance
39
29
478
46
53
Whereabouts – inquiries made about Australians overseas who could not be contacted by their next of kin2
17,966
9,310
12,899
4,154
1,829
Cases of Australians arrested overseas
1,019
1,086
1,069
1,181
1,136
Number of Australians in prison as at 30 June
223
252
236
236
2293
Cases of Australians given general welfare and guidance
5,992
7,679
7,054
6,440
5,9194
Total number of cases involving Australians in difficulty
27,861
20,995
24,186
14,574
11,927
Notarial acts5
166,662
165,240
177,474
188,149
195,470
Total number of cases of Australians provided with consular assistance
194,523
186,235
201,660
202,723
207,397
Australians in financial difficulty who were lent public funds to cover immediate needs (travellers' emergency loans)
334
286
345
365
298

1. Figures draw on ABS and DIAC data, and includes permanent long-term and short-term departures of Australian citizens and permanent residents.

2. Figures include crisis-related whereabouts cases.

3. The total number of cases of Australians in prison during 2012–13 was 343. Some of these cases may have been resolved during the year. The 'number of Australians in prison as at 30 June' is a 'snapshot' of the Australian overseas prisoner population on 30 June 2013.

4. Welfare and guidance figure includes the following sub-categories: general (2,242), welfare and other serious matters (2,037), theft (1,225), assaults (228) and welfare of children (187).

5. Figures include notarial acts performed by overseas posts, in Canberra and at state and territory offices in Australia.