Annual Report 2006-2007
 

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1. Overviews2. Performance3. Corporate4. Appendixes5. Financials6. Glossaries and Compliance Index

Your location: Performance > Outcome 2 > Output 2.1 > 2.1.2 Passport Services

OUTPUT 2.1: Consular and passport services

2.1.2 Passport Services

On this page: Overview :: Passport services :: Passport security :: Fraud detection and prevention :: Governance arrangements :: Client Service Charter :: Outlook

Overview

The Australian Passport Office was established as a division of the department in July 2006 following an external review of governance arrangements relating to passport operations. Implementing the new structure and other recommendations of the review was a major focus for the department in 2006–07. We achieved these objectives despite the pressures associated with a substantial increase in the demand for passports.

In 2006–07, the number of passports issued rose by 8.6 per cent to 1 367 602. This was the highest number ever issued in a financial year and was 15.2 per cent above actuarial forecasts. Despite the significant increase in demand, the department was able to maintain a strong focus on client service, with an average turnaround time of four days for the issue of a passport. Our ability to continue meeting service standards reflects the wisdom of our earlier decision to relocate most passport production processes from regional passport offices to a central facility in Canberra. The success of this change prompted us to establish a ‘centralised eligibility office’ in Canberra in May 2007 to help reduce the burden on our offices around Australia.

Passport security remained a focal point throughout the year. We continued our work on a new version of the passport booklet and made a number of significant decisions about its security features. The rollout of the new document was rescheduled to mid-2008 because a critical technical component was found to be unsuitable. A review of the facial recognition matching system led us to develop a number of enhancements that will increase its effectiveness.

We made an important contribution to international efforts to enhance transport security. We were instrumental in establishing a directory within the International Civil Aviation Organization that will be used by border control authorities to confirm that electronic travel documents (such as Australian ePassports) are genuine documents.

Additional resources devoted to fraud detection, investigation and prevention resulted in a 46 per cent increase in the number of new passport fraud cases detected compared with 2005–06. The results encouraged us to intensify further our efforts to prevent fraud. The Minister for Foreign Affairs cancelled 60 Australian travel documents during the year for reasons relating to Australian and international law enforcement, security and potential harmful conduct.

The department also continued to work closely with the Attorney-General’s Department and other Australian Government and state and territory agencies on the National Identity Security Strategy, and in partnership with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to increase the coverage and effectiveness of the APEC Regional Movement Alert System.

Passport services

The number of passports issued in 2006–07 increased by 8.6 per cent over the previous year to 1 367 602. This was the highest number ever issued in a financial year and was 15.2 per cent above the actuarial forecasts made at the beginning of the year. Of these documents, 1 317 061 were issued in Australia and 50 541 at our regional production centres in London and Washington.

During the first half of the year, demand rose by 2.0 per cent, which was consistent with actuarial estimates and past seasonal trends. In the second half of the year, however, the increase accelerated to 14.7 per cent and, at 25 per cent above actuarial forecasts, was contrary to past experience. This surge in demand required careful management. To this end, the department commissioned an economic modelling study, due to be completed in September 2007, to help identify the causes of the increase and to assist with forward planning.

The number of passports reported lost or stolen during 2006–07 increased to 34 356 from 33 022 in 2005–06 but remained below the levels experienced before the introduction of stringent measures in the Australian Passports Act 2005 to counter this problem. Penalty payments relating to lost or stolen passports increased to $2.1 million. The number of passports reported as lost in the mail rose slightly to 110 in 2006–07 from 101. We continued to work closely with Australia Post to put in place more robust tracking mechanisms to solve this problem.

Uptake of our online services increased substantially in 2006–07, with a total of 249 419 applications completed and lodged on computer-generated forms. This represented 18.4 per cent of the total number of passport applications, up from 11.3 per cent in 2005–06. The number of applicants advised by email that their passports were available for collection rose to 844 044 from 670 686 in the previous year. We worked on including a 2-D barcode to improve the online application process.

FIGURE 14. TRAVEL DOCUMENTS ISSUED

Figure 14: Travel Documents Issued

The number of calls handled by the Australian Passport Information Service call centre rose by 13.4 per cent to 1 447 960 from 1 281 105 in the previous year. A total of 92 219 calls related to bookings made through the new passport appointment system.

Despite the increase in demand for passports, the department was able to maintain its focus on client service, with the average time for the issue of a passport being reduced to four days, well within our advertised ten working days service level. The new passport appointment system trialled successfully in Brisbane last year was introduced to all state and regional passport offices during October and November 2006. This significantly improved our service delivery by reducing average waiting time for clients with appointments to about one minute.

Our capacity to deliver the increased number of passports at these service levels reflected earlier strategic planning, most notably the decision to relocate most of the passport production process from state and regional passport offices to a central facility established at the Royal Australian Mint in Canberra. This facility now issues about 75 per cent of all passports produced.

In June 2007, we established a centralised facility for determining applicants’ eligibility for a passport. This facility was designed to remove some of the burden from our state and territory offices and allowed us to test the efficiency of a centralised eligibility model.

Passport security

Australia’s passport continues to be recognised as one of the most secure travel documents in the world. We continued our efforts to enhance the integrity of the passport eligibility and issuing system as well as the document itself to reassure the travelling public and partner countries about the robustness of our identity verification measures and the high degree of protection against identity theft.

We concluded our research and development work on a new version of the Australian passport and made a number of decisions about its key security features. The new passport will incorporate the latest passport technology and provide Australia with the highest level of identity protection. We are moving toward introduction of the new passport in mid-2008 as a result of a delay caused by the receipt of a vital component that proved unsuitable.

Australia was the first country to use facial recognition matching technology in the passport issuing process. Following a review of our experience with the first year’s operation of this system, we identified a number of enhancements that will increase the value of this technology as an anti-fraud tool. The implementation of newly available facial recognition technology provided further improvements in the reliability of matching images.

We were instrumental in establishing a system for validating e-travel documents—the public key directory (PKD) of the International Civil Aviation Organization (see box on page 185).

Confirming identity through the validation of ePassports

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is responsible for setting passport standards. For many years, Australia has been active in the ICAO technical groups that consider the application of new technologies to passports. That involvement led to the establishment of a public key directory (PKD) within ICAO in early 2007.

The ICAO PKD uses public key infrastructure (PKI) technology, (which enables users of an unsecure public network such as the internet to securely and privately exchange data through the use of a public and a private cryptographic key pair that is obtained and shared through a trusted authority), to ensure that data on the microchips in ePassports being issued by many countries are genuine. It confirms that the document being examined by border authorities was issued by the responsible issuing authority and that the details have not been altered subsequently. Validation of travel documents in this way will enhance aviation and border security.

PKI is a system of public and private keys used to protect the data contained in ePassports. While the private key is used to digitally sign the data on the chip during production, the public key enables an approved user, such as a border control agency, to validate the data on the chip. For this reason, the public key is made available to agencies with a legitimate business need to read and verify the data. The PKD is the entity responsible for making validated certificates available to border authorities, airlines and other authorised users.

The launch of the ICAO PKD was marked by a ribbon-cutting ceremony at ICAO Headquarters in Montreal on 20 March 2007. Australia was elected as the inaugural chair of the PKD board in recognition of the leading role played by the Australian Passport Office in establishing the directory.

More than 50 countries issue ePassports. Membership of the PKD is open to all ICAO member countries.

Fraud detection and prevention

In recognition of the pervasiveness of identity fraud, the department was provided with additional resources to enhance its capacity to detect, investigate and prevent passport-related fraud. This included additional fraud investigators in passport offices in Australia, enhancements to the passport facial recognition system—which increased our capacity to detect fraudulent passport applications at an early stage of the issuing process—and the establishment of a specialist passport forensic unit to strengthen our anti-fraud strategy. The box below sets out examples of recent fraudulent passport activity uncovered by Australian officials.

Tougher penalties for passport fraud

The Australian Passports Act 2005 increased penalties for passport-related fraud to a maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $110 000. Following are two examples of the new legislation at work.

The additional resources devoted to fraud detection, investigation and prevention resulted in a total of 706 new passport fraud cases being detected by the department—an increase of 46 per cent over the previous year.

During the year, the Minister for Foreign Affairs cancelled 60 Australian travel documents in accordance with the Australian Passports Act 2005. The cancellations were for reasons relating to Australian and international law enforcement, security and potential harmful conduct, including terrorism, child sex tourism, child abduction or people smuggling.

The department continued to work closely with the Attorney-General’s Department and other Australian Government and state and territory agencies in the National Identity Security Strategy as chair of the Working Group on Security of Proof-of-Identity documents and in the development of a national Document Verification Service (DVS). In addition, the department worked in partnership with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to increase the coverage and effectiveness of the APEC Regional Movement Alert System (RMAS) to detect and prevent the illegal use of lost, stolen or otherwise invalid travel documents.

Governance arrangements

During the year, the department concentrated on addressing the recommendations of the external review of governance arrangements conducted in the first half of 2006. These recommendations were designed to improve client service and further enhance the integrity of decision-making and passport issue processes. A new management structure also enhanced our capacity for strategic leadership and planning.

While an IT security audit recommended by the review did not reveal any major weaknesses in the passport system, it identified some issues, related to risk assessment and documentation, as areas where enhancements could be made.

Our response to recommendations concerning the strengthening of decision-making processes and the integrity of the system included the development of an Identity Validation Model and the introduction of senior eligibility officers to handle high-risk and complex cases, as well as to undertake quality assurance checks on applications handled by less experienced staff. These measures have been successfully trialled and will be implemented in 2007–08.

We created an independent business assurance unit to provide a greater level of confidence in the integrity of the passport business. This unit will carry out quality assurance checks across the range of APO decisions and processes. It will work closely with the fraud, training and policy areas to remedy problems and to ensure that passport staff members get consistent policy advice and references to better enable them to make correct decisions.

The passport training unit was expanded. We recruited a number of qualified trainers to develop an enterprise training package that will deliver a professional competency-based training program and ensure staff members have the knowledge and skills to deliver a quality passport service to the Australian public.

Client service charter

The department uses a range of mechanisms to obtain and monitor feedback on the services it provides to the Australian public in accordance with the passports Client Service Charter.

Information about client satisfaction is received principally through feedback forms available at Australian passport offices. Feedback, including on the turnaround time for passport issue, informs our planning processes. A survey of clients conducted in the previous year indicated 95.6 per cent rated the service received as ‘good’ or ‘very good’. Feedback since the survey, together with a low level of passport-related ministerial correspondence, indicated continued public satisfaction with passport services.

Outlook

The department constantly strives to improve the efficiency and integrity of its systems. While a risk analysis indicates that a complete online application process poses problems for the integrity of the system, further research will be undertaken to consider how these concerns might be overcome.

An evaluation of the possibility of outsourcing document preparation processes will also be undertaken. This evaluation will follow the trialling and introduction of initiatives to enhance these processes.

We will undertake a full evaluation of the centralised eligibility office established at the end of 2006–07. Building on the enterprise training program developed for new starters, we aim to develop the concept of a ‘passport school’, and will consider the introduction of a comprehensive Enterprise Training Package targeting all passport decision-making staff. A decision will also be taken on the implementation of improvements to the passport eligibility process following a complete evaluation of these initiatives.

A passport fraud intelligence unit and an upgraded case management system are scheduled for introduction in 2007–08. The new enterprise training package will place increased emphasis on fraud awareness training for all passport issuing staff.

 

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