Chapter 3 Outcome 2
DFAT describes Outcome 2 as focusing on:
The protection and welfare of Australians abroad and access
to secure international travel documentation through timely and responsive
travel advice and consular and passport services in Australia and overseas.
This outcome outlines the Department’s support to Australians overseas
through the provision of readily available services. As such, these include
passport and consular services, timely travel advice, practical contingency
planning, and rapid crisis response.
During the Review, issues raised in relation to Outcome 2 and its
- the effectiveness of
programs like the Smartraveller service in delivering responsive travel
- the criteria
determining the administration of travel warnings; and
- the provision of
services to Australians living, working and travelling overseas.
Responsive travel advice
DFAT’s provision of clear, current and practical information on safety
and security overseas helps assist Australians in making well-informed travel
plans. DFAT advised that its travel advice was issued after close cooperation
with the National Threat Assessment Centre (NTAC) and consular partners. The
aim was to ensure that they were supported by the best available information.
DFAT’s travel advice is communicated through published travel bulletins,
consular publications, flyers and the Smartraveller website. In
addition, DFAT has continued its close relationship with the travel industry to
promote travel advice and Smartraveller messages.
The department has begun to experiment with mainstream social media
technologies in delivering responsive travel advice during times of crisis.
This has been displayed in
- 2010 World Cup in
- 2010 Commonweal Games
- 2010 earthquake in
The Smartraveller service is a public information campaign to
help Australians prepare for their travel and promote safe travel messages such
as the importance of subscribing to their travel advice, registering travel
plans online and taking out travel insurance. It also includes a telephone
service for those without internet access.
The service reflects DFAT’s digital approach in providing responsive
travel advice to Australians abroad. The website recorded 27.9 million
page-views in 2009–10. However the percentage of
Australian travellers registering for the service was low in relation to the
total number travelling.
In 2009–10, the automated Smartraveller telephone service
received 16 292 calls from Australians without internet access or with visual
The third phase of the Smartraveller campaign will draw upon
department research on traveller behaviour, needs and expectations to improve
DFAT’s provision of responsive travel advice. This phase will start in
DFAT is responsible for administering travel warnings should a level of
risk be involved for Australians travelling to particular states.
DFAT has been criticised for the accuracy, responsiveness and timeliness
of its travel warnings—even by other governments such as Indonesia.
DFAT told the committee that:
The threat level is determined by the National Threat
Assessment Centre, which resides within ASIO. ASIO is the organisation with the
legislative authority to make judgements on threats to security. The starting
point for our travel advisory is the threat level and the threat advice and
information provided by ASIO. We then have different levels of travel
warning... There is a strong relationship between the advice provided by ASIO
and our travel advisory.
As mentioned in Chapter 2, new media is a term that categorically
defines the digital tools of social interaction used by business and
individuals as a forum for discussion. New media’s responsive and interactive
properties are reflected in websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and
Public engagement with new media is continuing to evolve. There are
currently 500 million active users on Facebook with more than 30 billion pieces
of content shared each month.
DFAT has been criticised for its recognition of new media as a potential
source of interaction with Australians travelling abroad. Mr Hanson noted that
there is still a tendency within DFAT to indentify the utility of social media
at the last minute rather than seeing it as integral from the start.
Mr Hanson told the committee that DFAT is at the early stages of
transitioning to the use of social media. However, the lack of an independent
e-diplomacy branch ensuring the provision of travel advice hinders the
responsiveness of the department.
Mr Mirchandani made particular reference to the department’s non
responsive twitter account. He said that:
DFAT’s tweets have been largely concentrated on repeating
media releases, travel advice and announcing jobs available in the department.
In response to criticism regarding the use of new media in delivering
responsive travel advice, DFAT told the committee that:
We will continue to approach the use of social media fairly
We are taking tentative steps in the consular area where it
is clearly in our own interests and clearly in the interests of the travelling
public that we engage more.
The Committee considers that DFAT provides a valuable Smartraveller
service to Australians travelling overseas. Of concern, however, is the low
proportion of Australian travellers registering for the service. Efforts need
to be directed towards increasing the proportion of Australians using Smartraveller.
Travel advisories have always been contentious. There is the potential
for liability issues to arise if travel warnings are issued which imply lower
levels of risk to that which is subsequently found to be the case. As such, it
is prudent to be cautious in issuing travel advisories.
Services to Australians abroad
Australians’ propensity to travel widely is reflected in the diverse
range of complex and challenging issues addressed by consular services. In
protecting Australians overseas, the department has continued to liaise with
other countries on consular assistance and cooperation. In addition to greater
demands being placed on consular services, DFAT has been dealing with a record
level of demand for passports. Furthermore, DFAT expects demand for both
consular services and passports to increase further.
Given the increasing number of Australians travelling abroad, DFAT has
experienced record levels of demand for consular and related services. DFAT
told the Committee that:
It has meant our effort has been spread more thinly.
Obviously, it has meant we have to sharply prioritise.
The consulate area, of course, has been under pressure;
however, in the event of crisis we simply move resources around the department
to ensure that we can cope with the immediacy of the crisis.
Travellers emergency loans
In 2009–10 the department granted emergency loans to 286 Australian
travellers to the total value of $320 456 compared with the loans issued in the
previous year to 334 Australian travellers to the value of $415 767.
In 2009–10 the department recovered $196 447 from Australians who had
been issued loans, compared with $181 789 in 2008–09.
DFAT told the committee that the recovery of funds is a long-term
process. Loans are only deemed unrecoverable when the individual in question is
no longer contactable, deceased or bankrupt.
In seeking to recover funds, DFAT stated:
In broad terms, as a statement of departmental philosophy, we
are prepared to be as tough as what the elected representatives determine us to
The Australian passport is one of the most widely held documents in the
Australian community and is an essential element of the Government’s National
Identity Security Strategy. In 2009–10 the number of passports reported lost
rose to 36 099. This included 115 passports reported missing in the mail.
In response DFAT had worked closely with the Commonwealth Ombudsman as
part of an inquiry into the operations of Australia Post and the handling of
passports by holders and other parties. Two recommendations from the inquiry
were implemented in order to secure the handling of passports within the post.
The CLA told the Committee that the inquiry into lost passports in the
postal service reflected a mismanagement of resources. It argued that there
should instead have been greater attention on the 36 099 passports that were
reported lost in 2009–10.
DFAT told the committee that the number of lost Australian passports is
relatively low in comparison to the number of passports issued. The department
acknowledged that the greatest contribution of passport management has been the
introduction of the new Passports Act 2005 that includes penalties for
those who lose their passports.
Should an individual lose their passport within a five-year period, the additional
fees amount to;
- $100 for the first occurrence;
- $226 for the second occurrence;
- $454 for the third occurrence
In addition, an applicant can be refused or be granted a limited
validity passport and is automatically referred to DFAT’s Fraud and
The department has begun to implement the Passport Redevelopment
Program. The program aims to better meet the demand from the public and give
increased functionality, particularly in fraud. It is estimated that the
program will be fully completed in 6 years time.
The Committee is satisfied with DFAT's responses to the issues arising
from its passports program. Its consular services have proved valuable in
international emergencies but require a far more intensive examination not
possible given the scope and time constraints of this report.
The Committee notes the increasing pressure the growing number of
Australians travelling overseas places on DFAT’s consular services and
responsibilities, and that the budgetary challenge presented requires constant
vigilance. This issue should be addressed in the further inquiry regarding the
adequacy of DFAT’s activities overseas.