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Protocol Guidelines

2. Heads of mission

This chapter provides information about the nomination and accreditation of new heads of diplomatic missions in Canberra.

2.1 Agrément

Requests for agrément for new heads of mission (ambassadors or high commissioners) should be submitted to Protocol Branch. Such requests may be made by note verbale or letter from the mission in Canberra or from the foreign ministry of the sending state. For non-resident missions, requests may be made through the Australian mission in the city where the nominee usually resides. A detailed curriculum vitae should be provided with the request. A formal response can usually be expected within six to eight weeks.

Australia has a strict practice of maintaining confidentiality regarding head of mission nominations until agrément has been granted.

2.2 Australian citizens and permanent residents

An Australian citizen or permanent resident will not be accepted as a head of mission (HOM) by the Australian Government unless there are exceptional circumstances. If agrément is given for such an appointment, the privileges and immunities of the HOM will be those provided for in Article 38(1) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, that is solely in respect of 'official acts performed in the exercise of his/her functions'.

2.3 Multiple accreditation

In accordance with Article 5(1) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Protocol Branch should be formally notified of any proposal by a sending state to accredit a head of mission (HOM) concurrently to another country.

A Canberra-based HOM is expected to present credentials in Australia before presenting in other countries of accreditation.

2.4 First arrival

When a HOM-designate arrives in Australia for the first time, facilitation at the international airport can be arranged. This facilitation is also available to HOMs on their final departure from Australia.

On arrival, an Australian Border Force officer will meet the HOM-designate planeside and accompany them through arrivals procedures (immigration and baggage customs and quarantine clearance). One official from the mission may accompany the Australian Border Force officer.

To request facilitation, missions should complete an Airport Facilitation Request form (see chapter 14) and email it to Protocol Branch at least five working days before the HOM-designate's arrival.

Facilitation does not extend to escorting the HOM-designate to a domestic flight (which at some airports, notably Sydney, will require a change of terminal).

The mission is responsible for meeting the HOM-designate at Canberra airport on first arrival, and for all practical arrangements such as baggage collection and transport.

If missions wish to access VIP rooms, they should contact the airport directly. Charges usually apply. Protocol Branch does not book airport VIP rooms in Canberra or other cities.

2.5 Order of precedence and assumption of official duties

HOMs-designate officially take up their functions and assume their place in the order of precedence within the diplomatic corps on presentation of their credentials to the Governor-General (see section 2.6). Credentials are presented strictly in the order that HOMs-designate arrive in Canberra (not their date of arrival in Australia). Until credentials are formally presented, the title 'Ambassador-designate' or 'High Commissioner-designate' should be used.

Different arrangements apply to precedence and credentials for high commissioners who represent countries where His Majesty The King is the Head of State (see section 2.7).

HOMs-designate may perform some official acts before presenting credentials, such as calling on senior officials of the department, the Dean of the Corps and other HOMs. Generally, it is not appropriate for a HOM-designate to host official functions or to call on ministers until credentials have been presented. The Chief of Protocol will consider requests for exemptions in exceptional circumstances.

2.6 Presentation of credentials to the Governor-General

Credentials ceremonies take place at Government House in Canberra. For resident HOMs, they are tentatively scheduled every two months from late February/early March. (For non-resident HOMs, see 2.6.4 and 2.11.) As participation in credentials ceremonies is determined by the order in which HOMs-designate physically arrive in Canberra and a minimum of three participants is required, a firm commitment on the date and time of the ceremony can usually only be given closer to the occasion.

Participants in the ceremony may wear national costume, a dark business suit or a day dress (no hats or gloves), or military uniform with full decorations (no sword).

Gifts are not exchanged.

2.6.1 Form of address for letters of credence and recall

Letters of credence and recall should be addressed to:

His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd)
Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia

2.6.2 Meeting with the Chief of Protocol

Working copies of letters of credence and recall (in the original language with English translations) should be handed over before or during the HOM-designate's initial call on the Chief of Protocol, soon after arrival in Canberra.

During the meeting, to which the HOM-designate may bring one or two colleagues from the mission, the Chief of Protocol will provide a briefing on the ceremonial procedures for the presentation of credentials.

This video shows the credentials ceremony for resident HOMs.

Missions should complete the questionnaire provided by Protocol Branch covering practical details such as dietary restrictions, the need for interpreters, and spouse's curriculum vitae well in advance of the ceremony.

Government House will deliver a detailed program for the ceremony to the HOM-designate the day before the ceremony.

2.6.3 Presentation of credentials by resident heads of mission

The HOM-designate may be accompanied at the ceremony by their spouse and up to three members of accredited staff from the mission or a consular post interstate.

On the day of the ceremony, the HOM-designate and accompanying party are escorted to Government House by the Deputy Chief of Protocol. Transport is provided in Australian Government vehicles.

On arrival at the State Entrance to Government House, the HOM-designate is greeted by the Chief of Protocol and an aide-de-camp to the Governor-General. The spouse of the HOM-designate is greeted by a Government House official. The HOM-designate and party stand at the State Entrance to receive a salute with musical honours from the Guard of Honour.

After the salute, the HOM-designate and party move inside to the drawing room. The Chief of Protocol presents the HOM-designate to the Governor-General. With a few suitable words, the HOM-designate hands the letters of credence and recall to the Governor-General. The Governor-General shakes hands with the HOM and photographs are taken. The Governor-General then presents Mrs Hurley to the HOM, followed by the Foreign Minister's representative (usually a DFAT Deputy Secretary) and the Official Secretary to the Governor-General.

The HOM in turn presents their spouse to the Governor-General and Mrs Hurley. The HOM then presents accompanying officials to the Governor-General and Mrs Hurley.

The Governor-General, accompanied by the minister's representative and the Official Secretary, invites the HOM to his study for a private discussion lasting approximately 10 minutes, while Mrs Hurley invites the HOM's spouse to the morning room. The HOM's colleagues remain in the drawing room with the Chief of Protocol, the Governor-General's staff and protocol officers.

Photographs are taken outside (or in the drawing room in the event of bad weather). After re-entering the house, the HOM and spouse take leave of the Governor-General and Mrs Hurley, and exit via the State Entrance.

The HOM is escorted onto the lawn to a saluting point in front of the Guard of Honour, where a national or royal salute is given, the national flag is broken and the national anthem of the HOM is played. The HOM is invited to inspect the Guard of Honour and the Military Band. On completion of the inspection the HOM and party are shown to the official vehicles. The national anthem is played again as the motorcade leaves Government House.

In the event of rain, aspects of the ceremony involving the Guard of Honour and the Military Band are modified.

The Governor-General hosts a lunch on the same day as the ceremony for participating HOMs, each accompanied by their spouse and one official. HOMs return to Government House for the lunch in their own vehicles.

Before the lunch, local Indigenous Elders offer a Welcome to Country. This takes place in the presence of the Governor-General on the lawn in front of Government House. The Welcome to Country can include a smoking ceremony. Guests are not required to participate in any particular way but may greet or thank the Elders in their own language.

Photographs taken at the ceremony are provided electronically to missions as soon as they become available. Protocol Branch will advise of an email link and an individual password to access the images. Missions are welcome to download photographs for their own use.

A set of printed photographs will be sent to the HOM approximately one week after the ceremony.

2.6.4 Presentation of credentials by non-resident heads of mission

Non-resident HOMs-designate are offered a date and time for an individual call on the Governor-General to present credentials. They may be accompanied by their spouse and/or one official either from their mission or a consular post in Australia.

The HOM-designate is driven to Government House in an Australian Government vehicle and accompanied by a representative of Protocol Branch. They are presented to the Governor-General by the Chief of Protocol. After presenting the letters, the HOM-designate will be invited to have a short discussion with the Governor-General. Tea or coffee will be served. Photographs are taken but there are no speeches or ceremonial elements.

Photographs taken during the call are available electronically as soon as they become available. Protocol Branch advise of an email link and an individual password to access the images. Missions are welcome to download photographs for their own use.

Protocol Branch will arrange delivery of a set of printed photographs following the presentation of credentials.

See section 2.11 for further details on credentials visits by non-resident HOMs.

2.7 Presentation of letters of introduction to the Prime Minister

High commissioners from realm countries (where His Majesty The King is the Head of State) present letters of introduction to the Prime Minister rather than credentials to the Governor-General. They assume their place in the order of precedence from the date of their arrival in Canberra and may immediately perform all official functions.

Protocol Branch arranges an appointment for a high commissioner to call on the Prime Minister for this purpose. There are no ceremonial elements to this call but, subject to the preferences of the Prime Minister of the day, photographs are usually taken.

2.8 Introductory calls

2.8.1 Portfolio ministers and DFAT

After the HOM has presented credentials, the mission can contact the offices of portfolio ministers and the Secretary of DFAT to request introductory calls. The ministers and the Secretary may agree to introductory calls, but they do not do so as a matter of course. If a HOM has instructions to raise substantive issues with ministers or the Secretary, this should be noted in the request.

New HOMs should arrange to make introductory calls on other relevant senior staff of the department at an early opportunity. Such calls may be made prior to presenting credentials, but after meeting the Chief of Protocol.

2.8.2 Prime Minister

It is not customary for HOMs to make introductory or farewell calls on the Prime Minister (high commissioners who present letters of introduction are an exception - see section 2.7).

If a HOM receives instructions during their posting to raise a substantive matter with the Prime Minister, the mission should request an appointment through the International Division of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

2.8.3 Other government ministers, departments and office holders

HOMs should make their own arrangements to call on other ministers of the Australian Government with whom they expect to have dealings. They may do the same with senior officials of other government departments and agencies, subject to standard international practice that policy matters are conducted through, or with the knowledge of DFAT (Article 41(2) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations).

HOMs may also seek meetings directly with the following offices, if they wish:

  • the Speaker of the House of Representatives
  • the President of the Senate
  • the Leader of the Opposition.

2.8.4 States and Northern Territory

HOMs are encouraged to make official visits to state and territory capitals early in their tour of duty. They should arrange such visits directly, through the respective Premier's or Chief Minister's Department.

2.9 Absences - appointment of chargés d’affaires a.i. / acting high commissioners

The nomination of a chargé d'affaires a.i. or an acting high commissioner should be made as provided for in Article 19 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Where the nomination is made by the HOM, a note verbale to Protocol Branch will suffice.

If the HOM is already absent from Australia and a chargé d'affaires a.i./acting high commissioner has to be either nominated or replaced, the relevant foreign ministry must provide that advice. The ministry's advice can be sent to Protocol Branch via the mission in Canberra or to the Australian mission in the country concerned.

2.10 Departure

The Chief of Protocol should be formally notified of the final departure of a HOM at least six weeks in advance. Protocol Branch can seek, on behalf of the HOM, a farewell call on the Governor-General if missions request it.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Trade and Tourism, and the Secretary of DFAT do not receive farewell calls as a matter of course and there should be no expectation that these can be arranged. Missions should advise Protocol Branch if a departing HOM wishes to call on either Minister and/or the Secretary, and should then contact the relevant office directly to negotiate a time.

A senior departmental representative usually hosts a farewell function for the departing HOM.

Departing HOMs are welcome, but not obliged, to make a farewell call on the Chief of Protocol.

HOMs are free to make farewell calls on other dignitaries, ministers and officials in Canberra or other states and territories by direct arrangement.

Protocol Branch should be notified by note verbale of chargé/acting high commissioner arrangements before the departure of the HOM in accordance with section 2.9.

Facilitation can be arranged at the international airport through which the HOM finally departs Australia. To request this service, missions must complete an Airport Facilitation request form (see chapter 14) and email it to Protocol Branch at least five working days before the HOM's departure.

As the departure of a HOM is considered a private occasion, DFAT staff are not involved in airport farewells.

As per standard procedures for all staff (see chapter 4.5), a Departure Notification – Accredited Officials and Dependants form should be completed and submitted to Protocol Branch together with their diplomatic identity cards.

2.11 Non-resident heads of mission

To expedite their accreditation, a non-resident HOM-designate may present credentials to the Governor-General via Webex or Zoom. Such virtual presentations can be arranged by Protocol Branch, after copies of the letters of credence are provided and verified.

Alternatively, a non-resident HOM may present credentials in an individual call on the Governor-General. As it may take some time to organise a mutually convenient time for a call, the HOM-designate should give plenty of notice and indicate a range of dates when they are available to travel to Australia. HOMs should arrive in Canberra at least one working day ahead of their presentation, in order to meet the Chief of Protocol and hand over the working copies of the letters of credence and recall.

A representative of Protocol Branch will meet the HOM-designate and party on arrival in Canberra if this occurs during normal business hours. Airport facilitation can be requested at the points of entry and departure on the first visit to Australia ( see section 2.4 and section 2.10). Protocol Branch will arrange transport from Canberra airport to the hotel. HOMs are not farewelled when they depart Canberra.

Except for the transfer to their hotel on arrival in Canberra, and travel to and from Government House for presentation of credentials, non-resident HOMs must organise their own transport, including on departure. Information about car hire, taxis and limousine services in Canberra is available online. HOMs are also responsible for organising their accommodation in Canberra. There are several hotels in Barton within short walking distance of DFAT; other hotels are located at Canberra airport and in Yarralumla, Canberra City and New Acton.

Non-resident HOMs may be accompanied when presenting their credentials by their spouse and/or one official, such as a colleague from their mission or an honorary consul who represents their country in Australia. The party will be escorted to Government House by a representative of Protocol Branch. The HOM-designate will be introduced to the Governor-General by the Chief of Protocol. After presenting the letters, the HOM-designate will be invited to have a short discussion with the Governor-General. Tea or coffee will be served. Photographs are taken but there are no speeches or ceremonial elements.

The relevant geographic branch in DFAT will arrange a program of visits and meetings in Canberra. Suggestions for particular meetings are welcome and will be accommodated if possible.

Non-resident HOMs are usually issued with multiple-entry diplomatic visas that are valid for three years. A diplomatic identity card is provided when they meet the Chief of Protocol. Non-resident HOMs are asked to inform Protocol Branch when they depart the country of their resident accreditation. They are not expected to visit Canberra for farewell calls.

Should non-resident HOMs wish to contact members of the Canberra corps, the Diplomatic List published on the department's website gives details of all HOMs accredited to Australia.

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