The department provided Australians with a secure, efficient and responsive passport service, in line with the Client Service Charter of the Australian Passport Office (APO).

We issued our largest ever number of travel documents—1,961,666 (6.89 per cent more than the previous year). Regular surveys indicated strong client satisfaction.

Intense activity continued on the Passport Redevelopment Program–a program that will deliver a modernised online system for passport applications, improved processing and analytics capabilities as well as highly-efficient passport printing equipment.

In 2015–16, we undertook significant non-production activities to strengthen the passport system and enhance client service. Legislative amendments in late 2015 necessitated policy and procedure changes, good communication across our network of offices and agencies and a wide-reaching public information campaign.

We re-launched the passport website in December 2015 with updated content. The new design provides better pathways for clients to access information about eligibility requirements and to start a passport application online. We used general and targeted outreach initiatives to give clients clear advice and guidance. We reviewed the introductory script for our telephone helpline to streamline our messaging to address common inquiries more efficiently.

We progressed the digital capture of passport applications to provide the best means of importing clean data to our systems. A new high volume passport printing and dispatch system reached the final test stage.

Combatting passport fraud was a key priority in both processing and innovation aspects of our work. Every passport application was checked against identity records and images to prevent the issue of a genuine document in a false identity. We worked closely with intelligence and law enforcement partners to detect and prosecute passport fraud. We refused to process 80 suspected fraudulent passport applications, most containing forged signatures. We investigated 150 allegations of fraud and referred 29 cases to prosecuting authorities.

Our participation in international standards bodies helped drive best practice in passport security and interoperability. We were one of the first agencies to test the Government’s proposed national facial biometric matching capability—a data sharing hub that will facilitate the validation of citizenship and image data of passport applicants. Security enhancements are a priority in design work for the next generation of Australian passports, due for release in 2020.

In response to competent authority requests, the Foreign Minister cancelled 96 passports, refused eight and suspended 24 on national security or law enforcement grounds.

In conjunction with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, we began developing the concept of a digital passport—an electronic travel identity that Australian citizens could use instead of a physical passport when leaving Australia. Laboratory testing is underway to ensure that this will be compatible with the SmartGate automated border processing system.

Passport offices are located in all state and territory capitals. We closed the Newcastle passport office on 30 June 2016.


Providing a secure, efficient and responsive passport service

The implementation of new passport legislation

Case Study
The new passport website appears on a mobile device. [DFAT/David Chadwick]
The new passport website unveiled in December 2015 provides better access for mobile devices. [DFAT/David Chadwick]

The implementation of new passport legislation

The department drove legislative change to reflect contemporary social circumstances, address problems with passport applications and misuse, and strengthen our passports service. Changes include:

  • an amended definition of persons with parental responsibility which simplifies consent procedures for up to one-third of complex children’s passport applications
  • a right to refuse to process a passport application if fraud, such as a forged parental consent signature, is suspected
  • a decision to issue child applicants aged 16 or 17 years with 10-year passports instead of the 5-year passports issued to children under 16, delivering deregulatory savings to families
  • new approaches to serial passport losses designed to encourage greater passport security and timely reporting of loss or theft.

Many of the changes took effect on 1 January 2016, along with annual fee increases.

To ensure a seamless cutover, we:

  • adjusted passport IT systems to enable the smooth collection and processing of applications
  • provided information and training on the new provisions, policies and systems to Passport Office and overseas mission staff, 1,650 Australia Post outlets accredited as passport agencies and Australian Passport Information Service helpline operators
  • amended the content of the passport website, updated electronic application forms and promoted the use of online services to the public.

At a time of peak demand we assimilated the new arrangements quickly into business as usual. We maintained high client service standards and improved the availability and transparency of eligibility information. By strengthening the integrity of our system, we reaffirmed the passport’s status as Australia’s premier identity document.

Providing a secure, efficient and responsive passport service

The absolute number and accuracy of passports issued and the time taken to process regular and urgent applications

Consul-General to Phuket Craig Ferguson with the first passport client at the new Consulate-General in Phuket. [DFAT/Wootikrai Jitsmark]
Consul-General Craig Ferguson (right) with the first client to apply for a passport at the new Consulate-General in Phuket, Thailand, 24 June 2016. [DFAT/Wootikrai Jitsmark]

The absolute number and accuracy of passports issued and the time taken to process regular and urgent applications

The department proactively monitors the number and accuracy of passports issued and the time taken to process applications.

Growth in passport applications was led by continuing high demand for children’s passports, with children under two years accounting for 6.3 per cent of total applications.

While we received an average of 7,732 applications each working day, we received more than 8,000 on 79 days during the reporting period. The highest number in a single day was 9,337.

Priority service was requested in 11.96 per cent of applications. We issued 234,525 priority passports and met the processing standard of two business days in 99.09 per cent of cases.

Our diplomatic missions and consulates issued 8,140 emergency passports to Australians overseas.

The Australian Passport Information Service (APIS) provided a telephone helpline to clients and arranged appointments with passport offices in Australia on our behalf. APIS handled 1,751,698 telephone and email enquiries.

In 2015–16, 43.2 per cent of clients used the passport forms available at www.passports.gov.au, compared with 38 per cent the previous year. We continue to encourage clients to start their applications online because, compared with handwritten forms, the data capture is cleaner and enables more efficient and accurate processing.

In line with previous years, a small number of passports issued—0.16 per cent—were reported as faulty. Of these, 40 per cent involved physical problems with the booklet, while inaccurate data or photos accounted for 60 per cent.

Analysis and outlook

Record high passport application rates in 2015–16 resulted in a heavy processing workload. The ‘work in progress’ figure, comprising applications under assessment and passports in production, peaked at 81,783 in April 2016. To help keep turnaround within standard timeframes (passport delivery within approximately three weeks of application), we activated surge measures, including tasking qualified non-production staff to perform eligibility and quality assurance checks and offering overtime to maintain workflow.

Productivity was affected as some experienced staff worked offline to help design and test systems enhancements being developed in various projects under the Passport Redevelopment Program. Necessary training on legislative, policy and systems changes also affected operational activity but promotion of the revamped website and online applications helped minimise error rates and disruption to clients.

We reconsidered several measures scheduled for introduction in 2015–16. We moved away from the rollout of a new paper application form in favour of development of a new and improved online application process, and focused on the digital capture of applications instead of bulk scanning. We decided to put new categories of replacement passports on hold pending the new online capability.

Delivery of enhanced capabilities under the Passport Redevelopment Program will be our key priority in 2016–17. Aligning business needs and technical solutions will be important to ensure the seamless introduction of the new passport issuance system by 30 June 2017.

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