Guidelines for Honorary Consuls in Australia
Amended March 2010
The Australian Government has a long tradition of accepting Honorary Consuls, and over half of the many consular posts established in Australian State and Territory capital cities are headed by Honorary Consular Officers. The Australian Government recognises that Honorary Consuls can make a substantial contribution to the conduct of individual bilateral relationships, especially in cases where the sending country does not maintain resident diplomatic representation in Australia. In many instances, an Honorary Consul's personal connection with each side is particularly valuable.
The appointment of an Honorary Consul reflects a formal agreement between a sending government and a receiving government, as outlined in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR). The Australian Government's role in reaching an agreement is undertaken by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Once the arrangement is agreed, the Honorary Consul and the Department's Protocol Branch become working partners in its implementation.
1. Establishment of Consular Posts headed by Honorary Consuls
1.1 The establishment of a consular post in Australia requires the Australian Government's prior consent and its approval of the seat, classification and consular district, in accordance with the VCCR (Articles 4 and 68). New post proposals should be addressed to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The request to establish a consular post must be made by the Foreign Ministry of the sending State.
1.2 Any proposal to establish a consular post headed by an Honorary Consul should be supported by an explanation of the scope and volume of consular services to be provided by the post. The Department expects that issue of passports and visas, or facilitation thereof, would be included among the functions covered. Unless there are special circumstances, establishment of consular posts outside State and Territory capital cities will not be approved.
2. Classifications of consular posts
2.1 Most consular posts in Australia are classified as Consulates or Consulates-General. Generally speaking, the latter title applies to posts that are deemed to be more substantial due to their size, jurisdiction, or status of the Head of Post. As a rule of thumb, if a country has several consular posts in Australia, there should be a mixture of Consulates and Consulates-General.
2.2 The Australian Government expects that the title of the head of a consular post will reflect the approved classification of the post.
3. Appointment of Honorary Consuls
3.1 The Australian Government will accept the appointment of Honorary Consuls if it is confident there is a need for the services to be provided by such officers. It will not agree to the appointment of honorary consular officers to meet the political or honorific imperatives of the sending government. Accordingly, when a country proposes to establish a new post headed by an Honorary Consul, or seeks to replace a long serving Honorary Consul, Protocol Branch will ask for comprehensive information on the range and volume of business to be conducted by the post, and the powers to be vested in the Head of Post by the sending government. The questionnaire which appears at Appendix 10 of the Department's Protocol Guidelines indicates the kind of information required.
3.2 A nominee for appointment as an Honorary Consul in Australia will normally be an Australian citizen or permanent resident who has some substantial connection with the sending State. He or she must reside in the city where the consular jurisdiction is seated. The nominee must be of sound character and should enjoy a good reputation in the local community. He or she should have the capacity to communicate and maintain good relations with the local authorities in the consular district. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in consultation with the relevant State or Territory Government authorities, will consider the personal qualities of each nominee and may reject a nomination where it has doubts about the nominee's suitability.
3.3 To minimise the possibility of a conflict of interest, either real or perceived, the appointment of Federal or State Government office holders as Honorary Consuls is not considered appropriate.
3.4 The Australian Government favours accreditation of either career officers or honorary officers, but not both, to individual consular posts.
3.5 Should an Honorary Consul's position become vacant, the Department will allow up to two years for another person to be nominated and installed. If the position concerned is for a Head of Post, and if it remains vacant for more than two years, the Department will deem the post to have closed.
4. Admission to functions
4.1 Honorary Consuls will normally be given a commission by the sending government, outlining the consular functions they are empowered to perform. These will include some or all of the functions specified in Article 5 of the VCCR.
4.2 Before they exercise functions, however, Honorary Consuls must be formally accepted by the Australian Government. Such formal acceptance is constituted by the exequatur issued by the Department and conveyed to the post when the nomination is approved.
5. Administrative and technical support arrangements
5.1 Each Honorary Consul should make contingency arrangements, such updating their website and telephone messages, for periods of absence from the post, so that clients may continue to receive consular services. This applies especially in cases where the Honorary Consul is the only representative of a particular country in Australia.
5.2 Many Honorary Consuls receive administrative and technical support from persons in their office or home. It is important to note that such persons are not accredited by either the sending or receiving governments, and are not empowered to perform substantive consular functions as described in the VCCR Article 5. Accordingly, they cannot act in the Honorary Consul's place should he or she be absent.
5.3 The Department expects to be notified in advance of long term absences or retirements of Honorary Consuls. Honorary Consuls are not free to appoint non-accredited persons to act for them or to succeed them. Should it be necessary to institute new arrangements to cover these situations, a formal proposal should be made to Protocol Branch by the resident diplomatic mission or the foreign ministry of the sending government.
6.1 Honorary Consuls, along with other members of the Consular Corps, are formally recognised by Protocol Branch. An identity card is issued by Protocol Branch as evidence of the Honorary Consul's status. To enable the card to be issued for the first time, newly appointed Honorary Consuls must complete and send to Protocol Branch or the relevant DFAT State office in the capital city concerned the arrival notification form that appears as Appendix 5 of the Protocol Guidelines, together with two passport sized, colour photographs, along with the completed "Acknowledgement – Honorary Consul Immunities in Australia" form, Appendix 24.
6.2 Identity cards are usually issued for five years at a time. Honorary Consuls should ensure that their identity cards remain valid. Requests for the issue of new cards should be made formally to Protocol Branch at least six weeks before the expiry date of existing cards.
7. The Consular List
7.1 Honorary Consuls' names and contact details appear in the Consular List maintained by Protocol Branch. The List is published annually in hard copy, in an abridged form as of October 2010. Its contents also appear in full on the Department's website at www.dfat.gov.au/protocol/ConsulateList.pdf. The website is updated daily. The Word version of the List, which can be down-loaded, is updated regularly.
7.2 In order to ensure that the website is up-to-date, Honorary Consuls are asked to advise Protocol Branch as soon as possible of any changes to contact details, hours of business etc, and Protocol Branch faxes/emails a copy of the current entry to each consular post in advance of each hard copy update, requesting advice of necessary amendments. It is essential that posts respond to this communication, even if no change to their Consular List entry is required. Failure to answer casts doubt on a post's accessibility and could result in the entry being deleted from the List.
7.3 As foreign honours or awards cannot be officially recognised by the Australian Government, post nominals or titles associated with them in the country of origin cannot be published in the Consular List. Australian honours may of course be reflected in the List.
8. Contact details
8.1 The Consular List gives telephone, fax and e-mail details for use by members of the public. Honorary Consuls' private contact details are not published in the Consular List. However, after hours and mobile telephone numbers are required in case of an emergency.
8.2 In order to ensure that its records are correct and comprehensive, Protocol Branch undertakes an update exercise (known as the "annual staff return") at the end of each calendar year. All posts are required to respond to the exercise, even if the information recorded for them remains correct.
8.3 Should their business or personal contact details change in the course of the year, Honorary Consuls are requested to advise the Department promptly of the new arrangements.
9. Privileges and immunities
9.1 In accordance with the provisions of the VCCR, Honorary Consuls' privileges and immunities are limited. Honorary Consuls' privileges and immunities do not extend to family members or to support staff.
9.2.1 Honorary Consuls in Australia enjoy immunity from jurisdiction in respect of official acts, and from giving testimony concerning matters connected with the exercise of those official functions, producing official documents, or serving as expert witnesses with regard to Australian law. It is important to note that Honorary Consuls are not immune from arrest or detention. However, should they be arrested, detained or prosecuted, they have the right to have this fact promptly notified to the sending State. If arrest, detention or prosecution relates to acts of an official nature for which immunity applies, the government of the sending State may waive the immunity possessed by the Honorary Consul.
9.2.2 It should also be noted that driving a motor vehicle is not considered to fall within the definition of a consular function under Article 43 of the VCCR, and therefore consular immunity does not apply to traffic or parking offences committed by Honorary Consuls. For the same reasons, Honorary Consuls are expected to comply with police requests to undergo breath tests. The normal laws in regard to payment of fines, demerit points or suspension of driver's licences or vehicle registrations apply.
- Honorary Consuls may of course contest such matters with the appropriate authorities or through the courts if they wish.
9.2.3 The consular premises of posts headed by an Honorary Consul are not inviolable, although the Australian Government is obliged to protect them from intrusion, damage, or impairment of dignity. Inviolability of consular archives and documents is contingent on their being kept separate from the Honorary Consul's private and business papers.
9.3.1 Exemption from customs duties is granted only to specified articles imported for the post's official use, such as coats of arms, flags, signboards, seals and stamps, and official printed matter. Neither Honorary Consuls nor posts headed by them may purchase motor vehicles free of customs duty or other taxes.
9.3.2 As a courtesy, the Department will consider requests for duty-free purchase of limited amounts of alcohol and tobacco products for consumption at national day celebrations hosted by Honorary Consuls. Applications should be made to the Customs and Border Protection Service and must be supported by a letter giving details of the proposed function, including the number of guests invited.
9.3.3 The Indirect Tax Concession Scheme under which diplomatic missions and consular posts headed by career officers are able to seek refunds of GST and related indirect taxes on goods and a limited number of services, is not extended to consulates headed by Honorary Consuls.
10. Vehicle licence plates
10.1 Honorary Consuls may be eligible to obtain consular licence plates for their cars. As the regulations and processes involved are determined by State or Territory authorities, Honorary Consuls should consult the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade office in the relevant State or Territory for advice on the appropriate authority to approach.
11. Airport access
11.1 Honorary Consuls may be accorded access to restricted areas in international airports should this be necessary for the conduct of official business. Enquiries on the procedures for airport access should be directed to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade office in the relevant capital city.
12.1 Consular posts headed by Honorary Consuls may display the national flag and coat of arms of the country they represent. This practice is useful in designating the consular premises for the purposes of both clients and the local authorities.
12.2 While the relevant Australian legislation has not extended an entitlement for this practice, the Australian Government would normally have no objection to an Honorary Consul displaying the national flag and coat of arms on his or her residence, provided this is a single family dwelling. Car pennants, however, should not be flown except on specific occasions (eg. Head of State visits) when the vehicle is being used solely for official business of the sending State, and the arrangements have the prior agreement of the police.
13. Contact with the Department
13.1 Protocol Branch and DFAT's State offices welcome contact with Honorary Consuls and are happy to assist with enquiries about any matters concerning their status and operations. Honorary Consuls may consult Protocol Branch or the relevant DFAT State office at any time during working hours (see listing at Appendix 15 of the Protocol Guidelines for contact details), and may also, in case of emergency, contact the after hours Protocol Duty Officer on telephone 02 6273 1355.
13.2 Further information is available in the Protocol Guidelines