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Protocol Guidelines

5. Privileges and immunities

5.1 Operation of the diplomatic and consular conventions in Australia

Under Australia's Diplomatic Privileges and Immunities Act 1967 ('the DPI Act') and Consular Privileges and Immunities Act 1972 ('the CPI Act'), diplomatic missions, consular posts, their staff and family members who form part of staff households, enjoy privileges and immunities in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963.

Privileges and immunities of consular officials, including honorary consuls, are more restricted than those of diplomatic staff. Immunities are generally limited to acts performed in the exercise of consular functions ('functional immunity').

In rare circumstances where an Australian national is given diplomatic or consular accreditation, their immunities will be limited to acts performed in the exercise of official functions.

Further information on immunities by category of representative can be found in the summary of Immunities of Foreign Representatives [DOCX 100 KB].

Under the DPI and CPI Acts, all or any privileges or immunities may be withdrawn from another country's mission, posts or personnel in Australia if the privileges and immunities accorded to Australia's mission, posts or personnel in that country are less than those accorded in Australia.

5.2 Missions and posts - freedom of communication

5.2.1 Diplomatic bags and couriers

Official diplomatic bags that are clearly marked and sealed, with appropriate accompanying documentation, will not be screened, opened or inspected by Australian authorities.

In accordance with worldwide practice for air travel, diplomatic bags may be screened and/or searched before international or domestic air travel is permitted. This is to ensure the safety of all air travellers and is not considered a breach of Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Aviation screening at Australian airports is not undertaken by representatives or agents of the Australian Government, but by security personnel acting on behalf of airlines. It is the responsibility of missions to liaise with the relevant airport and airline if they wish to request an exemption to aviation security screening for diplomatic bags.

Diplomatic couriers and their personal baggage are subject to normal aviation security screening procedures.

Where Protocol Branch has been notified by a mission of a diplomatic courier arrival, these details will be passed to Australian Border Force (ABF).

Airport facilitation will not be provided to couriers. Missions requiring tarmac access for the unloading of large diplomatic bags from the cargo hold should contact their airline well in advance to organise access. Protocol Branch are unable to liaise with airlines on behalf of the mission.

Mission staff must meet couriers in the public arrivals area of the airport and will not be granted escorted access to the baggage area to assist couriers.

Official diplomatic bags should only contain diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use. Any use of a diplomatic bag or courier to import or export items in contravention of Australia's laws, including firearms or illicit goods, will be treated with the utmost seriousness.

5.2.2 Radio transmitters

A licence is required to operate a radio transmitter.

A request for a licence should be made via note verbale to Protocol Branch stating the following:

  • reciprocal approval will be given to an Australian diplomatic mission or consular post in the country making the request
  • technical specifications and operating arrangements of the equipment will conform with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)'s requirements (missions and posts should seek ACMA's guidance before requesting a licence and inform Protocol Branch of the approach to ACMA)
  • any physical constraints and procedural requirements of relevant state and local government authorities will be met (state governments, local councils and other bodies exercise varying powers in this area and DFAT can neither override their requirements nor influence their decisions).

After giving in-principle approval to the request, Protocol Branch will refer it to ACMA for completion of technical requirements and licence issue.

Normal commercial arrangements apply to the installation and operation of communications equipment such as telephones and short-range VHF/UHF hand-held and mobile radio transceivers. Missions and posts should deal directly with a telecommunications carrier for telephone services and with ACMA for radios.

See chapter 15.6.1 for information on the carriage of communications equipment by foreign security personnel.

5.2.3 Satellite dishes

Missions should inform Protocol Branch of their intention to buy or import and install a satellite dish. In the ACT, the approval of the National Capital Authority (for premises on Crown Land) or the ACT Planning and Land Authority (for premises on ACT land) is required for any external works, even for a dish of minor size mounted on an existing roof. Outside the ACT, missions or posts should check with local councils on their requirements.

5.3 Personal baggage – accredited officials and dependants

5.3.1 Aviation screening

In accordance with worldwide practice for airline passengers, the personal baggage of diplomats – both check-in and carry-on – will be screened and/or searched before air travel is permitted. This is to ensure the safety of all air travellers and is not considered a breach of Article 36.2 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.

Moreover, airlines may require as a condition of carriage that passengers, including diplomats, and their baggage are screened. Aviation screening at Australian airports is not undertaken by representatives or agents of the Australian Government, but by security personnel acting on behalf of airlines.

Missions concerned about special items (for example, official gifts that have been wrapped for presentation), may wish to notify airline security in advance that these items are being carried. This can be done via an email or letter addressed to the relevant airline.

5.3.2 Unaccompanied personal effects – customs and quarantine processes

Australia is free from many of the major pests and diseases of animals and plants found elsewhere. To maintain Australia's unique environment, all travellers entering the country must adhere to Australia's strict quarantine rules.

All staff should familiarise themselves with the requirements of the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Agriculture before personal effects, including packing material, are packed and consigned to Australia. Goods will be inspected on arrival and staff will be liable for any costs associated with inspection or fumigation processes. These charges are for specific services, not taxes or duties, and cannot be waived.

5.3.3 Import and export

Heads of missions and posts are asked to ensure staff do not import or export prohibited items.

Items of animal or plant origin that are being brought into Australia must be declared to a Department of Agriculture and Water Resources officer at the point of entry. Some items may need to be inspected, treated or, if necessary, destroyed.

Many of Australia's animal, bird and plant species are rare; some are in danger of becoming extinct. To protect them, their export is strictly controlled and, in some cases, illegal.

Similarly, there are controls on the export of some items deemed important to Australia's cultural heritage. Further information is available on the Department of Communications and the Arts website, by calling 1800 819 461, or via email:

5.4 Employment in Australia

Members of the Diplomatic and Consular corps, and representatives of international organisations, may not seek secondary employment or undertake activities for personal gain.

5.4.1 Dependants' employment

Dependants of diplomatic and consular officials,  are not permitted to work in Australia unless:

  • there is an arrangement in place between the sending State and Australia on bilateral employment of dependants; and
  • notification of an intention to work is received by DFAT.

Arrangements are established by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). A model MoU [DOCX]. Missions wishing to commence negotiations should write to the Chief of Protocol.

A mission is required, on behalf of the dependant, to notify DFAT of their intention to commence employment using the Notice of Intention to Engage in Gainful Employment form [PDF 5.56 MB], which should be emailed to Protocol Branch prior to commencing employment. The dependant must agree to:

  • pay Australian tax on the income earned
  • remain part of the diplomatic or consular official's household
  • have his/her immunity waived, should the need arise in relation to an issue relating to his/her employment.

Where a dependant seeks additional employment or a change of employment, the mission is required to submit a new Notice of Intention. Where a dependant seeks a type of employment that requires a qualification or approval from an Australian professional or industry organisation, the dependant will need to seek separate approval from the relevant organisation.

International organisations should contact Protocol Branch to make appropriate arrangements if they wish for the dependants of accredited representatives to work in Australia.

5.4.2 Claiming a refund of Australian superannuation contributions

Dependants can claim a refund of superannuation contributions they have made while employed in Australia. The Australian Tax Office (ATO) recommends dependants lodge claims two to three weeks after departing Australia, as refunds will not be made until their subclass 995 visa has ceased.

Dependants should call the ATO superannuation hotline on 13 10 20 (in Australia) or +61 2 6216 1111 (overseas) for information on the refund process.

5.4.3 Voluntary work

Diplomatic and consular officials and their dependants do not require prior approval from DFAT to undertake voluntary work. They do need to be aware, however, that should any legal matters arise in relation to their voluntary service, a waiver of diplomatic immunity could be requested.

Information on volunteering in Canberra is available from Volunteering ACT.


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