The growth of the diplomatic and consular corps in Australia gave the department additional avenues through which to achieve our bilateral, regional and multilateral foreign policy and economic diplomacy objectives.

Our professional delivery of protocol services ensured compliance with Australia’s obligations under the Vienna Conventions on diplomatic and consular relations and assisted the work of foreign diplomatic and consular posts in Australia. It also provided an important first impression of the department and Australia.

The department facilitated the establishment of one new high commission (Zambia) in Canberra, one new consulate (China) in Adelaide, and five new consulates headed by honorary consuls around the country. We provided services to 106 diplomatic missions, 41 non-resident diplomatic missions, and 364 consular posts; representing 165 countries and 13 international organisations.

We administered formalities for the appointment of diplomatic and consular staff accredited to Australia, including issuing 3,009 diplomatic visas. We provided services relating to privileges and immunities, such as airport facilitation for foreign dignitaries, taxation, employment issues, customs and quarantine, diplomatic property and motor vehicle registration.

We managed ceremonial and representational functions for the corps, including credentials ceremonies for 29 incoming heads of mission (HOMs). We also represented the Government at 79 national day celebrations. The Secretary’s annual end-of-year reception was attended by over 400 guests from the diplomatic corps, academia, media and civil society. A record number of the Canberra-based diplomatic corps travelled to Tasmania as part of the Foreign Minister’s annual visit to a regional centre to showcase the state’s innovation in education, business and technology.

Working closely with law enforcement agencies, the department continued to send a strong message to the corps that abuses of privileges and immunities were unacceptable, and to remind them of their obligations to respect Australian laws, including in relation to traffic violations and drink driving. We took action, consistent with our international obligations, against the small number of breaches, managing several sensitive cases involving members of the corps or their families, including seeking waivers of immunities.

We worked closely with the Australian Federal Police and the Attorney-General’s Department to provide advice and assistance to diplomatic missions on security matters. We developed new ways to improve the coordination of security and airport arrangements for visiting foreign dignitaries.

The department strengthened protections for private domestic workers employed in Australia by the corps and ensured that contracts between private domestic workers and their employers met Australian standards of wages and employment conditions. We also met individually with new private domestic workers to explain their rights.

We finalised more flexible property leasing arrangements in Canberra, including co-location of diplomatic missions, sub-division of blocks allocated to missions and use of commercial building space, which have been welcomed by the corps. We concluded construction and renovation agreements with Japan, Colombia, Pakistan, Cyprus and Finland, which will allow Australia to receive tax concessions when constructing or renovating diplomatic premises in these countries.

We negotiated reciprocal arrangements with Nigeria and Kosovo that would allow dependants of DFAT officers posted to those countries to work locally, taking the total number of agreements to 46.


Building personal networks and institutional links to enhance Australia’s influence, reputation and relationships internationally and promote Australia’s economic, cultural, educational, scientific and other national assets

Diplomatic Corps visit to Tasmania

Case Study
Foreign Minister Bishop and DFAT Secretary Peter Varghese with heads of foreign missions visiting Tasmania. [OSBORNE IMAGES/Nick Osborne]
Secretary Peter Varghese AO (7th left, front), Chief of Protocol Lyndall Sachs (2nd right, front), Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop (centre, front), and heads of foreign missions, visit LifeRaft Systems Australia, Derwent Park, Tasmania, 28 April 2016. [OSBORNE IMAGES/Nick Osborne]

Diplomatic Corps visit to Tasmania

In a sign of their strong interest in economic opportunities on offer in regional Australia, 81 Canberra-based HOMs travelled with the Foreign Minister to Hobart and Launceston in Tasmania in April 2016. This was the largest ever visit by members of the corps to a state or territory. The department organised the visit to showcase Tasmania’s rich arts and culture, innovative maritime and scientific industries, economic opportunities and enterprising agricultural and local businesses.

The HOMs experienced firsthand the contribution that the Museum of Old and New Art has made to the resurgent tourism industry in Tasmania. They met with representatives from local and international scientific research organisations to learn about Tasmania’s role as the ‘gateway to the Antarctic’. The corps also visited the Australian Maritime College in Launceston, which highlighted Australia’s expertise in highly-specialised tertiary education with strong links to global industries. A visit to Cataract Gorge demonstrated the state’s eco-tourism and environmental credentials.

With its strong economic diplomacy focus, HOMs met with a broad range of local businesses showcasing Tasmania’s growing entrepreneurial business and investment environment. The opportunity to foster overseas networks, increase brand recognition, and expand international linkages was welcomed by the visitors and businesses alike.

The visit successfully promoted Tasmania’s economic, cultural, education and scientific assets to an influential international audience, helped cultivate personal networks and strengthened institutional links. In view of the very positive feedback, we will develop further visit programs to regional destinations to showcase Australia’s economic opportunities.

Analysis and outlook

The department’s protocol services continued to receive good feedback from the corps. With many complex and diverse questions from a growing diplomatic and consular corps, missions expressed satisfaction with the department’s responsive and pragmatic approach to concerns relating to immunities and protections. Foreign officials charged with establishing new embassies or consular posts welcomed our support and guidance in post opening procedures.

Delivering high quality advice and services relating to visas, accreditation and other protocol services within clear timeframes remained a priority. Our arrangements for the arrival and presentation of new resident and non-resident HOMs attracted positive comment, as did our prompt assistance with documentation and introductory calls.

We postponed the rollout of a Protocol Online Services portal to enable redeployment of vital ICT-related resources to other departmental priorities but will continue to explore options to improve efficiency and data integrity.

The department will continue to provide service excellence, including responding to the corps’ security concerns, negotiating tax concessions, and processing vehicle purchases and registrations. We will expand the network of bilateral arrangements allowing dependants of DFAT staff on posting overseas to work locally.

We will continue to look at ways to strengthen enforcement of traffic infringements by the diplomatic corps given the impact of such infringements on safety in the community. We will work with other agencies to develop targeted information and advice to the corps on their obligations towards local staff and private domestic workers.

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