8. Driving in Australia

8.1 Driver's licences

All diplomatic and consular staff, including administrative and technical staff, service staff, consular officers and consular employees, and their accompanying dependants who wish to drive in Australia must be in possession of a currently valid driver's licence, either issued in the sending State or by the relevant Australian State or Territory authority.

For an overseas licence to be acceptable, in addition to being current and valid, it must be written in English or have with it an English translation certified by the mission or post as being genuine.

Drivers are required by law to carry their licence at all times when in charge of a motor vehicle. Failure to carry their licence, or not having a licence that is currently valid, may result in the issue of a traffic infringement notice.

Service staff members of diplomatic and consular missions, and their dependants, are expected to obtain a State or Territory driver's licence if they wish to drive in Australia. Licences and learner permits are issued free of charge to diplomatic and administrative and technical staff of Canberra based missions, and to their spouses and eligible dependants. However, service staff, including spouses and dependants, are required to pay for licences and permits, and must undertake a written theory test and a practical driving test before being issued with a licence.

Any mission wishing to nominate an officer whose duties will be exclusively or predominately that of a driver should provide verifiable evidence to the responsible Australian diplomatic mission of at least 5 years driving experience in the sending country.  Failure to provide satisfactory advice may delay the accreditation process.

To obtain a driver's licence in the ACT, applicants will need to provide satisfactory proof of identity- a valid passport or identity card(if one has been issued by the Department) as well as an original, currently valid, overseas driver's licence(photocopies are not acceptable), with English translation if applicable. Dependent children, who are not issued with identity cards, should present their passport, valid driver's licence (if they have one) and the following information, on mission letterhead:

  • details of the parent who is a diplomatic or privileged officer, ie. full name, identity card number, entitlement (diplomatic or administrative and technical), and licence and/or car registration number
  • details of dependant, ie. full name and full address

Applicants in the ACT who need to undertake the written and practical tests to qualify for a driver's licence should contact the Motor Vehicle Registry at Dickson, tel: (02) 6207 7000, to obtain further information. Tests must be booked in advance, and fees apply. The written theory test is available in Greek, Italian, Vietnamese, Spanish, Serbian, Croatian, Lao and Chinese, as well as English. The minimum age to obtain a driver's licence in the ACT is 17 years. A learner permit can be obtained at the age of years. A driver must have at least six months' driving experience before undertaking a driving test for issue of a licence. On passing the test, a provisional licence, valid for three years, will be issued. A full driver's licence can only be issued after the provisional licence period has been completed.

ACT driver's licences are issued in a plasticised photographic format from the Dickson Motor Registry and the City Manager's Shopfront Offices in Civic, Woden, Tuggeranong and Belconnen. Licences issued to diplomatic staff and dependants are stamped "DIPLOMATIC". Those for administrative and technical staff and dependants are stamped "PRIVILEGED".

As the regulations regarding issue and validity of driver's licences vary throughout Australia, consular posts in the States and the Northern Territory should ascertain from the local authorities the requirements for obtaining driver's licences. State and Territory Offices of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade can assist with information in this regard.

8.2 Traffic and parking infringements

In Australia, the State and Territory police and traffic services issue on-the-spot traffic or parking infringement notices. Such notices may entail fines and/or demerit points (demerit points are not applied for parking infringements). The traffic infringement notice may be in the form of a “traffic infringement caution”, to which no fine applies. The “traffic infringement caution” would, however, be noted on the driver’s record and may be considered by police in the event the driver is involved in a future traffic violation. All such notices may be issued to members of staff of diplomatic missions, to members of consular posts, and to their family members.

When issuing an infringement notice, officers of the police and traffic services are not required to make a judgement about whether immunity exists either in general or in respect of a particular circumstance. Where limited "functional" immunity might apply (see Section 5.3), the department considers it proper for a court or similar authority to decide whether or not immunity exists in the particular circumstances, if immunity is claimed in respect of any charges arising out of an offence.

Issue of a traffic infringement notice, or its local equivalent, is not considered a violation of the immunities to which a diplomatic or consular official may be entitled. It represents a notice that the recipient appears, on the face of events, not to have complied with local traffic laws or ordinances. It is a matter of public safety. This practice is adopted in many countries.

Payment of fines is consistent with acceptance of the obligation under the Vienna Conventions on diplomatic and consular relations to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State (Articles 41.1 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 and 55.1 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963). The department is of the view that payment of traffic or parking fines by diplomatic and consular staff does not require or constitute waiver of immunity from jurisdiction under the Vienna Conventions.

For details of outstanding fines in the ACT, missions and officials may contact the Manager, Infringement Office, Road Use Management, telephone (02) 6207 7099, or fax (02) 6207 7107.

The Australian authorities expect that persons holding diplomatic or consular immunity will pay any fine resulting from infringement notices, unless it is their intention to contest the notice. This practice is followed abroad by Australian diplomatic missions and consular posts.

The department does not intervene with local authorities to seek the cancellation of traffic infringement notices. Should missions and posts wish to contest the facts which form the basis of a particular traffic infringement notice, they may raise the matter directly with the relevant local authorities. The department finds it difficult to accept the view that traffic infringements, including parking and speeding infringements, can be regarded as occurring in the course of the performance of official duties, even in the most exceptional circumstances.

The department informs Heads of Mission and Post of all serious or repeat traffic infringements involving diplomatic or consular agents or family members.

The ACT Road Rules Handbook is a useful resource for drivers new to the ACT.

8.2.1 Licence suspension

Traffic offences (but not parking infringements in the ACT) incur penalties. These include a fine and licence demerit points. Licences held by diplomats and their dependents may be suspended by ACT authorities if a licence holder accumulates sufficient demerit points or if traffic infringements are not paid. In Australia, if too many demerit points in a set period are incurred, an individual's licence may be suspended. This is in line with the current practice for Australian driving licence holders in the ACT. Further information on the infringement regime can be found via the Access Canberra website. If an individual displays serious disregard for Australia's traffic rules, this could result in a request that the individual be withdrawn from Australia.

8.2.2 Consular officials and infringements

The department does not consider that driving a motor vehicle would normally fall within the definition of consular functions under Article 43 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963. Consular immunity would not apply in such circumstances.

Therefore, the normal laws in regard to payment of fines, demerit points or suspension of drivers' licences or vehicle registration are considered to apply to members of Consular posts.

Members may of course contest such matters with the appropriate authorities or through the courts, if they wish.

8.2.3 Breath testing

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is a serious offence in Australia.

Police have the authority to stop any motor vehicle and request that the driver submit to an alcohol screening breath test. Diplomatic officers must obey any request to stop by a police officer. Failure to submit to a breath test is an offence under the driving laws of Australia. In the department's view, a request to stop does not constitute ’detention‘ within the meaning of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations 1961 or involve, at that point, any question of immunity.

The department adopts the view that, given the transport alternatives available (such as using drivers, hire cars, taxis and other forms of public transport), there should be no circumstance where a diplomatic or consular officer should drive a vehicle in the course of official duty or otherwise while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It is a matter of public safety.

Where a driver is able to establish appropriate diplomatic identity and refuses to undergo an alcohol screening breath test, the police authorities will assess if it is safe for the driver to continue to drive. If it is in the interests of the public and the driver's safety, the police authorities may prevent the driver from driving.  The police may request that a passenger, or a member of the driver's family, or a member of the relevant mission or post, drive the vehicle and escort the driver to his or her destination.  Reflecting the seriousness of driving under the influence in Australia, the police will report any incidents to the department, which will inform the officer’s head of mission of the offence.

If the driver is unable to prove diplomatic status, the police request to submit to a screening test cannot be refused and the police authorities may proceed with this test. If this test shows a reading above the legal limit, the police may escort the driver to the local police station where they will seek to confirm the driver’s diplomatic status by contacting the mission or the department. Alcohol screening breath testing for Consular officials

As for diplomatic officials, the policy of the department is that consular officials are expected to undergo a breath test if requested by a police officer.

The immunity of consular officials is limited to acts performed in the exercise of their consular functions. The department considers driving a motor vehicle to be outside the scope of consular functions and so consular immunity does not absolve the person from an obligation to submit to a breath test.

Failure to comply with a request to undergo a breath test is failure to respect and comply with the law (noting also Article 55 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963). A consular officer, in refusing a breath test, would not be arrested but could be charged and summonsed to appear before a court and would be required to appear. The court would decide if the charge relates to acts outside the official functions.

If there were any question of public safety, the official would not be allowed to continue to drive.

The consular official could, if there were secondary evidence of drink driving and it was considered an offence had been committed, be summonsed for that offence or any other driving offence (for example, dangerous driving) in respect of the particular incident.

Family members of consular officials have no immunity and can be arrested or detained. Consular employees have less immunity than consular officers and can also be summonsed, arrested or detained.

8.3 Parking

All members of the diplomatic and consular community are asked to observe parking regulations. Failure to do so can cause inconvenience, traffic disruption and danger to other road users. On-the-spot infringement notices are issued in respect of offending diplomatic and consular vehicles.

Any vehicle, whether diplomatic or consular, may be towed if it is parked in a way that is causing a danger to other road users.  A consular vehicle unlawfully parked may be towed away in some jurisdictions.

8.3.1 Parking in the ACT

Generally speaking, the ACT Government does not provide public parking spaces for diplomatic vehicles where reasonable alternatives are available. There are a limited number of reserved parking spaces for official use by diplomatic missions available in certain commercial areas of Canberra. These are located as follows:

  • Six spaces at No. 2 Reg Saunders Way (off Russell Drive, adjacent to R7 North Building – Defence headquarters)
  • Five spaces in the courtyard accessed from Riverside Lane, off Ainslie Avenue in the City
  • Four spaces in the off-street parking area opposite the Alexander Building, Phillip

Vehicles with DC or DX registration plates are eligible to use these spaces.

Members of the diplomatic community should use normal commercial parking facilities for private use.

8.3.2 Parking at Airports

Airports in Australia are privately operated and consequently there are no special arrangements for access to airport parking for missions and posts.  Missions and posts should enquire directly with the airport corporations to establish if there are valet or other parking arrangements that may be accessed for a fee.

At the Canberra Airport, there is an ‘Express Passenger Pick-Up’ parking area located to the left of the airport on arrival and provides undercover parking with direct access to the arrivals halls.  A waiting room is attached to the car park, which drivers and other staff may wish to use.  Canberra Airport has designated five vehicle parking bays for the exclusive use of the diplomatic corps in this car park.

The car park is available for up to 10 minutes without charge; after 10 minutes charges will be applied at incremental rates and need to be paid at the pay machine before exiting the carpark. Information on costs can be found at the Canberra Airport webpage.

Missions may contact the Canberra Airport Customer Service Parking Office 02 6275 2226 to purchase a pre-paid access card, which is used to enter and exit the car park without needing to make physical payment at a pay machine.

Last Updated: 19 December 2016