The department made high-quality consular services available 24/7, through posts overseas and staff in Australia.

We provided assistance to 15,740 Australians in difficulty overseas in 2015–16, including through Canadian posts in some countries, under a reciprocal consular sharing agreement (see Appendix 13). The Consular Emergency Centre was an important point of contact for Australians both at home and abroad, taking more than 60,000 calls during the period.

The Consular Strategy 2014–16 provided the framework for delivery of prompt, effective and courteous consular services. We refined policies and developed new tools to support our focus on particularly vulnerable clients, such as a checklist for staff assisting in cases of sexual assault. We underpinned this with a comprehensive training strategy for front line consular staff in Canberra and overseas, including preparing staff for working with clients with possible mental health concerns. We also enhanced mechanisms to support the welfare of consular staff.

The department strengthened public outreach to help Australians understand our consular role and to manage expectations about what the department is able to provide. We published the first consular ‘State of Play’ report in November, providing data on recent trends and selected case studies. This was well received by media and stakeholders and helped inform media coverage of consular issues. Our cooperation with Embassy Productions on the observational documentary The Embassy also reinforced messages on safe travel and prompted discussion on social media of travel issues.

We streamlined processes for collecting and collating feedback on consular services and used this information to improve communication with consular clients. We made it easier for Australians to obtain an apostille by authorising overseas posts to legalise the signatures and seals on Australian public documents. We also launched an online verification of apostilles, assisting Australians to use their public documents overseas.

With the CEO of the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, we co-chaired two meetings of the Consular Consultative Group, bringing together key stakeholders in government, private industry and academia. The group contributed to policy development and helped improve the reach of consular messaging.

Our engagement with the Global Consular Forum enabled deeper cooperation with other countries and good access to global best practice. We continued cooperation with our Consular Colloque partners, including through a new MOU on crisis cooperation with Canada. We broadened our dialogue with Indonesia, extended the scope of our consular agreement with China to include Macau and joined an informal international working group on honorary consuls.

The department provided whole-of-government leadership on international crises, including Australia’s response to terror attacks in Paris in November and Brussels in March and the kidnappings of Australians in Burkina Faso, Afghanistan and Nigeria. We coordinated one of Australia’s largest ever humanitarian responses to an overseas crisis following Tropical Cyclone Winston in February.


Providing prompt, effective and courteous consular services to Australian citizens travelling or living abroad

Launch of Smartraveller Phase IV

Case Study
Still from new Smartraveller television advertisements. [DFAT]
Still from new Smartraveller television advertisements. [DFAT]

Launch of Smartraveller Phase IV

On 2 November 2015, the Foreign Minister launched Phase IV of our Smartraveller Campaign, a new-look website and a new app for Android devices to better communicate key consular messages to support the safety and security of Australians travelling overseas or living abroad.

The Smartraveller campaign uses television, digital, video, social media, print and public transport advertisements to direct Australians to the Smartraveller website for comprehensive consular messages and advice. It aims to assist preparation and build resilience and self-reliance among Australian travellers, including by emphasising the importance of purchasing the right travel insurance.

We extended the reach of the campaign by translating and adapting advertising material for multicultural audiences. We also extended outreach to other target groups, such as school and university students, travel agents and travel industry stakeholders.

The innovative new ‘need help?’ option on the updated Smartraveller website provides quicker and more effective access to information for travellers. It also provides the contact details for 24/7 consular staff, if required. Our updated website received positive comment on social media and through our consular feedback line.

The new Android app, together with the updated app for iOS, further increases access to comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date travel advice, helping travellers stay better informed.

Early indications are that the advertising campaign has affected behaviour. In the six months following the launch, website page views increased by 46 per cent, with a 36 per cent increase in users of the website. More Australians accessing this information will support our longer term aim to see Australians better prepared for situations overseas.

The department also enhanced our internal Consular Information System to support the delivery of prompt, courteous and effective assistance to Australians overseas.

Leading the Government's response to international crises including humanitarian emergencies in the Indo-Pacific region

The effectiveness of our crisis management mechanisms in delivering a coordinated crisis response and the provision of consular support to affected Australians

DFAT crisis response team member Simon Mamouney (left), with Australian Army Sergeant Nicki Morgan (centre), works to process an evacuee at an evacuation assembly area during Exercise Sea Raider, Evans Park, Atherton, North Queensland, 27 September 2015. [DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE/CPL David Cotton]

The effectiveness of our crisis management mechanisms in delivering a coordinated crisis response and the provision of consular support to affected Australians

The department’s leadership of whole-of-government, rapid responses to Tropical Cyclone Winston and terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels demonstrated the effectiveness of our crisis management mechanisms and our ability to provide high-quality consular support to Australians overseas.

Our swift and effective incident response reflected robust and comprehensive contingency planning. We oversaw the development of location-specific Crisis Action Plans by all our posts and conducted Contingency Planning Assistance Team visits to five posts in four countries to enhance response capacity in large-scale crises and high-risk scenarios. We conducted lessons-learned exercises after Tropical Cyclone Winston and the Paris terror attacks, feeding the conclusions into our procedures for future contingency planning and crises. We found we needed to strengthen crisis monitoring capacity.

We continued to improve the capability of our Crisis Response Team through targeted training programs, including cooperation with Australian Defence Force (ADF) exercises.

More broadly, the department strengthened and tested whole-of-government coordinated response procedures through joint exercises with the ADF. We participated in Exercise Sea Raider in September–October, which certified HMAS Canberra for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts, as well as non-combatant evacuation operations. We also participated in Exercise Vital Prospect in May.

We improved our cooperation and dialogue with private sector and non-governmental organisations. We worked with the Council of Australian Tour Operators to help improve their members’ procedures and preparations for different crisis scenarios. We collaborated with NGO Hostage UK to enhance our capacity to provide support to the families of Australians involved in international kidnapping incidents.

We also undertook comprehensive planning and provided consular support for major events, including Australian government commemorations at Gallipoli and for the centenary of the battles of Fromelles and Pozières.

Leading the Government's response to international crises including humanitarian emergencies in the Indo-Pacific region

The timeliness and accuracy of providing information, response to incidents and updates to travel advice and the quantitative measures of website visits, social media users and subscribers to travel advice


Drawing on a variety of sources, we offered timely and accurate travel advice in response to developments potentially having an impact on the safety and security of Australians overseas. We issued 773 updates to travel advice for 172 destinations and 44 travel bulletins on a range of subjects, including the Zika virus and terrorism threats.

Some travel advice updates were scheduled reviews while others were in response to specific developments. We reissued the travel advice for France three times in the 12 hours following the November terror attacks in Paris, in response to fast-moving developments on the ground.

We also issued updates where possible to warn of impending crises, such as natural disasters. We reissued travel advice for Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu nine times in advance of, and in response to, Tropical Cyclone Winston.

We commissioned an online discussion forum as part of a review of the readability of our travel advice. The feedback from Australian travellers and travel agents was very positive, including comparing our advisories favourably to those of other countries. We will use this feedback in our continuous improvement of travel advice.

The Smartraveller website was an important avenue for providing travel advice updates, with 21,013,608 hits, an increase of more than five million from last year. We also used the Smartraveller smartphone apps, the travel advice subscription service and social media to promote consular messages, particularly to young Australians. Smartraveller’s social media presence grew significantly with Facebook ‘likes’ increasing from almost 60,000 to over 100,000 and Twitter followers from 8,758 to 13,809.

We introduced account-based registration and subscription services on Smartraveller. Further changes are being implemented in response to public feedback. The new system is designed to make it easier for travellers to register their trips and subscribe to travel advice updates for their destinations.

Analysis and outlook

More Australians are travelling overseas and demand for consular services is strong. Total case numbers remained steady, but case complexity grew and the average length of time to resolve individual cases increased. On any given day, the department looked after around 1,600 active cases. We sought to manage unrealistic expectations, including through the implementation of the Consular Strategy and the Smartraveller campaign. The department will develop a second three-year Consular Strategy to guide consular policy and practice for the period 2017–19. This will include policy changes on providing consular assistance to dual nationals and permanent residents in their country of other nationality, announced in the 2016–17 Budget.

Terror attacks in Paris, Brussels, Ankara and Istanbul highlighted the increasingly diffuse terrorist threat to Australians overseas and the growing expectation of quick and authoritative responses to crisis events. On 15 May, Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop announced the establishment of the Australian Government Global Watch Office to strengthen Australia’s capacity to monitor and respond to emerging overseas events on a 24-hour basis. The Watch Office will be operational as of 1 July 2017.

We will continue to conduct lessons-learned exercises after each incident, identifying strategic and procedural improvements to guide future crisis responses. We will draw on our significant contingency planning to provide consular services during the Olympics and Paralympics in Brazil in August and September.

We will continue to improve our Smartraveller registration and travel advice subscription service. We will focus on the user experience and implement a project to improve the readability of our travel advice. We will also deliver enhancements to online information for Australians seeking legalisation of documents for use overseas. Smartraveller advertising and outreach, including through social media, will remain a key focus of our consular information effort. We remain committed to improving services to clients with mental health concerns.

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