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Protocol Guidelines

7. Motor vehicles

Missions, posts and accredited diplomatic, administrative, and technical and consular staff may purchase motor vehicles under privilege. A staff member who is a citizen or permanent resident of Australia is not able to obtain exemptions from duties and taxes.

7.1 Tax concessions

Under the Indirect Tax Concession Scheme (ITCS – see chapter 6.2), the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) may refund some taxes on goods and services, including motor vehicles, purchased in Australia by diplomatic missions, consular posts and their privileged staff.

Taxes on motor vehicles are:

Refunds must be claimed from the ATO.

Whether or not a mission, post or privileged individual is eligible for a refund of GST and LCT will depend on the terms of the applicable ITCS package. Protocol Branch can also provide advice on eligibility.

7.2 Purchasing a motor vehicle under privilege

It is important to check available concessions under the relevant ITCS package on the ATO website before committing to purchase a new vehicle.

As Australian motor vehicle manufacturers ceased production in 2017, tax concessions on new Australian manufactured vehicles are no longer available.

7.2.1. Application

A separate Application for the Purchase of a Motor Vehicle Under Privilege form [PDF] should be completed for each vehicle to be purchased under privilege, signed by the Head of Mission or other authorised person and sent to Protocol Branch.

7.2.2 New imported motor vehicle, purchased from a vehicle dealership out of an onshore bonded warehouse

Diplomatic missions, consular posts headed by a career consul and privileged individuals may purchase a new imported motor vehicle under bond from a motor vehicle dealer in Australia free of customs import duty and taxes.
GST and (if applicable) LCT will still be payable as sales taxes to the dealer. Depending on the ITCS package that applies, the mission, post or privileged individual may be able to claim a refund of GST and LCT.

7.2.3 New motor vehicle imported by a vehicle dealership directly from overseas

Diplomatic missions, consular posts headed by a career consul and privileged individuals may  import a new motor vehicle through a motor vehicle dealer in Australia free of customs import duty and taxes.

GST and (if applicable) LCT will still be payable as sales taxes to the dealer. Depending on the ITCS package that applies, the mission, post or privileged individual may be able to claim a refund of GST and LCT.

7.2.4 New imported motor vehicle, purchased from a vehicle dealership off the showroom floor

Where a new imported motor vehicle is purchased from an Australian motor vehicle dealer off the showroom floor, customs duty and taxes have already been paid by the dealer. There is no mechanism to have these sums refunded. However, depending on the ITCS package that applies, the mission, post or privileged individual may be able to claim a refund of sales GST and LCT.

7.2.5 Directly importing a motor vehicle, not through a vehicle dealership

Where the mission, post headed by a career consul, or privileged individual has purchased a motor vehicle overseas and obtained legal title before the vehicle’s arrival in Australia, and directly imports it without going through a motor dealer, customs duty, GST and LCT are not payable. Vehicles paid for after delivery in Australia do not qualify.

Note that missions, posts and privileged individuals need prior approval from the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Communications (telephone: 1800 815 272) to import a new or used motor vehicle. DFAT cannot override that department’s decisions.

The imported vehicle must comply with Australia's biosecurity regulations. Clearance is obtained from the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment after the vehicle has arrived at the port of entry.

7.2.6 Used motor vehicle

Where a used motor vehicle is purchased from a registered motor vehicle dealer in Australia, GST and, if applicable, LCT must be paid. For all ITCS packages, GST and LCT may be refundable on application to the ATO.

Privileged individuals who purchase used imported vehicles that are less than two years old from a registered motor vehicle dealer in Australia will only be eligible to claim refunds of GST and LCT if their ITCS package allows them to claim tax refunds on new imported vehicles.

Used motor vehicles purchased in Australia from private sellers are GST-exempt.

7.2.7 Motor vehicle purchased from a mission, post or privileged individual

Where a vehicle originally purchased under privilege by a mission, post or individual is subsequently sold to another mission, post or privileged individual with the same or greater ITCS entitlements as the seller, customs duty, GST and LCT are not payable at that time. The new owner may dispose of the vehicle free of residual customs duty, GST and LCT three years after the vehicle’s date of entry to Australia or delivery to the original owner.

7.2.8 Purchasing a motorcycle under privilege

Motorcycles may be imported into Australia free of customs duty. Privileged individuals whose ITCS package allows them to claim tax refunds on new imported motor vehicles may seek a refund of GST paid on the purchase of a new imported motorcycle in Australia, subject to the applicable limits on the number of vehicles being met.

7.3 Claims

7.3.1 Customs duty exemption

Claims for customs duty exemptions on imported vehicles should be submitted as to Protocol Branch early as possible before the vehicle is imported.

7.3.2 Refunds of GST and LCT

All claims for refunds of GST and, if applicable, LCT, including on Australian-manufactures and second-hand vehicles, should be made following delivery of the vehicle using ATO form
NAT 3155 Motor Vehicle Claim: Application for refund under Indirect Tax Concession Scheme. A claim must be accompanied by a copy of the Application for the Purchase of a Motor Vehicle Under Privilege form [PDF] approved by Protocol Branch and the Australian Border Force (ABF) and the original tax invoice, and submitted to:

ITCS Claims Processing Team
Australian Taxation Office
GPO Box 9977
BRISBANE QLD 4001
Email: itcs@ato.gov.au

7.4 Limits on numbers of vehicles under privilege

7.4.1 Official vehicles

Protocol Branch applies a quota of one vehicle for the head of mission or post and one vehicle for every two diplomatic or consular officers (but not administrative and technical staff and consular employees).

7.4.2 Personal vehicles

Accredited diplomatic and consular officers may import or purchase under privilege one vehicle for their personal use. A diplomatic or consular officer who is accompanied by one or more dependent family members may import or purchase a second vehicle under privilege, provided the dependant is a licensed driver and not an Australian citizen or permanent resident. A photocopy of the dependant's valid and current driver's licence (with, if necessary, an English translation certified by the mission or post) should accompany the application for the purchase of a second vehicle.

Administrative and technical staff and consular employees may import or purchase one vehicle under privilege within the first six months of their arrival in Australia.

Where a foreign official and spouse are both posted to Australia as diplomatic staff, consular officers, administrative and technical staff or consular employees, the mission or post should seek advice from Protocol Branch protocol.branch@dfat.gov.au as to their joint or individual entitlements to import or purchase motor vehicles under privilege.

7.5 Replacement of a motor vehicle under privilege

Where a diplomatic or consular officer has been in possession of a vehicle purchased under privilege for three or more years, they may seek approval from Protocol Branch to replace the vehicle with another vehicle purchased under privilege. The application must be made before the vehicle is sold and accompanied by a statement from the head of mission or post that the officer is expected to remain in Australia for at least a further 18 months. This facility is not available to administrative and technical staff or consular employees.

Where a vehicle purchased under privilege has been stolen, damaged beyond repair or returned as defective, concessional disposal (see section 7.9) may be approved. In such a case, any residual duty and/or GST and LCT (where applicable) must be paid before the purchase of a replacement vehicle under privilege will be approved.

7.6 Purchase of a motor vehicle not under privilege

Where a motor vehicle is purchased from a private seller – that is, a person who is neither a registered dealer nor a privileged individual – an Application for the Purchase of a Motor Vehicle Under Privilege form is not required as customs duty, GST and LCT concessions are not available.

Missions and posts should provide details of such non-privileged motor vehicle purchases by note verbale to Protocol Branch or the relevant DFAT state or territory office, which will organise for diplomatic or consular plates to be issued.

7.7 Registration, Compulsory Third Party Insurance and number plates

7.7.1 Registration

All motor vehicles to be used in a public place in Australia, including those owned by missions, posts, staff and dependants, must be registered. Vehicle registration must be renewed every 12 months (as per the Motor Vehicle Standards Act). In the ACT, registration is free for missions, staff and dependants. In the states and the Northern Territory, registration costs vary.

7.7.2 Compulsory Third Party Insurance Registration (CTPI)

Compulsory Third Party Insurance (CTPI) is personal injury insurance that is mandatory for every motor vehicle registered in Australia. It is collected at the time the motor vehicle is registered, or registration is renewed. CTPI covers the driver at fault in a motor vehicle accident for personal injury claims by other road users - such as other drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and pillion passengers.

Missions, posts, staff and dependants are required to pay CTPI (even where, as in the ACT, vehicle registration is free) as it is not a government fee, charge or tax. Rather, CTPI is paid in full to a licensed insurer. It is an offence to drive a vehicle without CTPI.

7.7.3 Number plates

Motor vehicles owned by missions, posts, diplomats, administrative and technical (A&T) officers and consular officers, whether or not they were purchased under privilege, must carry diplomatic (DC/DX) or consular number plates (CC).

Vehicles owned by diplomats and A&T officers in the ACT, whether or not they were purchased under privilege, can be registered with DC/DX plates to a dependant, but the application must be in the name of the official.

In most states and the Northern Territory, consular employees and the dependants are not issued with CC plates.

Motorcycles, trailers and caravans are issued with standard state or territory number plates, not diplomatic or consular ones, except for NSW.

7.7.3.1 ACT - DC and DX number plates

Diplomatic number plates issued to foreign missions and staff in the ACT display the letters DC or DX followed by four or five numerals. Official vehicles and those owned by diplomatic staff and dependants carry DC number plates. Vehicles owned by administrative and technical, and service staff and dependants carry DX plates.

Requests for DC and DX number plates should be made to Protocol Branch via note verbale, which should include the owner's name and the vehicle details. Protocol Branch will allocate the registration number and arrange for number plates to be issued. Once the plates have been issued, they cannot be changed while the vehicle is owned by a mission or staff member.

7.7.3.2 States and the Northern Territory - CC number plates

In the states and the Northern Territory, motor vehicle registration authorities issue CC number plates for vehicles owned by consulates-general, consulates headed by career consuls and consular officers. Honorary consuls may also be issued with CC number plates, although the situation varies from state to state/Northern Territory. Consular employees are generally not issued with CC plates.

Requests for vehicle registration should be made via note verbale to the relevant DFAT state or territory office.

7.8 Comprehensive insurance

Compulsory Third Party Insurance (CTPI) is mandatory (see section 7.7.2). In addition, DFAT strongly recommends the purchase of comprehensive insurance for all motor vehicles purchased under privilege. Comprehensive insurance should cover the full market value of the insured vehicle (including customs duty and taxes) against theft or accident, as well as repairs to other vehicles and property in the event of an accident.

7.9 Disposal of a motor vehicle carrying diplomatic or consular number plates

If a mission, post or privileged individual wishes to sell a motor vehicle to a non-privileged person or otherwise dispose of a motor vehicle, a completed Disposal of a Motor Vehicle form [PDF] must be submitted to Protocol Branch. Protocol Branch will forward the form to ABF for approval. Any residual duty and/or taxes must be paid to ABF.

Vehicles purchased under privilege may be sold without payment of customs duty or GST/LCT three years after the date of entry to Australia (where the vehicle is imported) or from the date of delivery to the purchaser (where the vehicle is Australian-manufactured).

Where a privileged individual is transferred from Australia before the three-year period expires, they will be charged, pro rata, the duty and/or GST/LCT that would have been payable at the date of purchase, unless the vehicle is sold to another privileged individual.

The ABF will calculate the residual duty and/or taxes payable and send the applicant a Vehicle Liability Report indicating the amount. When payment is received, the Disposal of Motor Vehicle form can be approved and returned to the applicant.

Where the early sale of a vehicle purchased under privilege is approved, and the owner intends to purchase a replacement vehicle under privilege, the owner must provide reasons for the proposed change of vehicle and demonstrate that no excessive profit will be made on the sale of the original vehicle. The 18-month rule (section 7.5) would also apply.

Diplomatic number plates are not transferable when a motor vehicle is sold or otherwise disposed of. They must be surrendered, together with the completed Certificate of Registration Notice of Disposal slip and a completed and approved Disposal of a Motor Vehicle form [PDF], to any Access Canberra shopfront.

Consular number plates of vehicles that are sold or otherwise disposed of must also be surrendered, together with the completed Certificate of Registration Notice of Disposal slip and a completed and approved Disposal of a Motor Vehicle form [PDF], to the relevant state or Northern Territory motor vehicle registry.

Diplomatic or consular number plates must also be surrendered when a privileged individual remains in Australia after the termination of his or her posting.

A diplomatic or consular plated vehicle must not be sold or transported interstate with the plates still on it. The vehicle's registration should be cancelled before it leaves the state or territory where it is registered. The plates should be returned to the relevant motor vehicle registry, which can issue a temporary unregistered vehicle permit to allow the vehicle to be transported to the intended place of sale or port of embarkation.

7.10 Disposal of a motorcycle, caravan or trailer

If a mission, post or privileged individual wishes to dispose of a motorcycle, caravan or trailer, a completed Disposal of a Motor Vehicle form [PDF] must be submitted to protocol.branch@dfat.gov.au.

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