Services to Foreign Representatives in Australia : Sub-program 3.2
The Protocol Branch of the Public Affairs and Consular Division administers this sub-program. As at 30 June, the branch provided services to 78 diplomatic missions resident in Canberra, eight international organisations in Australia, 26 non-resident diplomatic missions and international organisations, and 306 consular posts throughout Australia, representing 131 countries overall. All Australian overseas posts contribute to this sub-program.
n.a.: Not applicable.
Objectives, Performance Indicators and Result
As part of our commitment to seeking ways continually to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our services, we introduced a range of new services for the diplomatic and consular corps during the year. These include a rolling program of briefings to the corps on current issues such as the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games and Y2K, and the publication on the departmental website (with daily updates) of membership details of the corps. These initiatives were welcomed by the corps, and all briefings were well attended.
Our Protocol Guidelines, updated in December 1998, ensure that the corps is aware of the services provided to its members, which in turn helps to minimise queries on protocol services. These guidelines are used as a model by several other foreign services.
There are 763 members of the diplomatic corps and 856 members of the consular corps, totalling (with their respective dependants) 4 150 people. Among the administrative services we provided to them was payment of the non-beneficial component of rates for diplomatic premises, consular posts and residences owned by the sending state ($249 143 expended covering all States and Territories). We also arranged permission for some dependants to work in Australia, and approval of a range of privileges such as purchase of cars duty-free (498 cases handled in 1998–99) and entry to Australia of private domestic staff (187 applications). Client satisfaction with our services is evidenced by regular positive feedback and the very small number of complaints received on any of these matters. Those few complaints we did receive were dealt with quickly and to the satisfaction of all parties.
Between January and June 1999, we organised working visits and secondments for senior protocol representatives from Hong Kong, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and South Africa. All participants commented favourably on the quality and efficiency of the services provided by the department to the diplomatic and consular corps in Australia. We nevertheless continually review the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations in order to identify ways to enhance our service. To this end, we plan to expand our use of technology further in the coming year, as well as to publish a set of protocol guidelines specifically for honorary consuls, and review arrangements under which members of the diplomatic and consular corps bring in domestic workers.
Other administrative services we provided to clients were the authorisation of diplomatic visas and the issue of identification cards. We authorised the issue of 2 170 diplomatic visas worldwide in 1998–99, with most cases being processed within two working days. We also processed the arrival and departure of 812 members of the diplomatic and consular corps, entailing the issue of 808 identity cards. Maximum waiting time for identity cards was three working days, and feedback on the timeliness and professionalism of this service was overwhelmingly positive.
In addition, we reviewed all entries on the protocol database to ensure that it remained accurate, comprehensive and up to date. As part of this exercise, we issued an additional 910 new identity cards to replace old-style cards, making a total of 1 718 identity cards issued during the review period.
We processed agrément for 34 new heads of mission, and coordinated arrangements for 29 of these (24 resident and 5 non-resident) who presented credentials in 1998–99. Almost without exception, resident heads of mission presented their credentials within three weeks of arrival in Canberra. Formal and informal feedback from them was very positive. Appreciation was commonly expressed to the Chief of Protocol for meeting them on arrival, arranging the prompt issue of identity cards, providing comprehensive briefings on the presentation of credentials ceremony (these briefings include a new video commissioned by the department), and coordinating arrangements for the presentation of credentials and for programs of introductory calls. Efficient completion of arrival formalities enabled new heads of mission to undertake business as usual with minimal disruption to their missions’ operations. Favourable initial impressions of the department and of the Australian Government established a reservoir of goodwill for furthering bilateral relations.
are always seeking ways to provide our services more efficiently. In 1998–99,
we introduced a new protocol database, which provides instant access
to details on all accredited diplomatic and consular officials and their
dependants in Australia—over 4 000 in total. The database also produces
professional-quality identity cards for all categories of officials and
certain spouses. These cards differ in appearance according to the level
of privileges and immunities to which bearers are entitled, and contain
special tamper-proof security features. The picture shows departmental
officers Ms Cassie Hamon (seated) and Ms Mandy Lawrence of the Protocol
Branch operating the new database. photo: Michael Jensen
Positive feedback was received on our prompt and relevant input and liaison with the Protective Security Coordination Centre, the Australian Federal Police (Security Intelligence and Diplomatic Liaison), the National Capital Authority, and the Department of Transport and Regional Services. Duty officer arrangements worked smoothly, with comprehensive and timely inter-agency contact during emergencies.
There was a good response to our review of ‘dignity’ protection in the overall context of protective security. Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the Government has the responsibility not only to protect the premises of missions and to prevent any disturbance of the peace, but also to ensure that the dignity of the mission is not impaired (for example through offensive protest structures). We provided a well-received briefing to high-level State police representatives on Australia’s protection obligations under the Vienna conventions. Our role during a period of heightened protest activity was praised by several diplomatic missions and consular posts facing short- and long-term security issues.
We have contributed to the effectiveness of the Commonwealth’s security preparations for the 2000 Games through a strategic plan for dignitary protection and papers on diplomatic and consular access to relevant sites. These preparations were enhanced by our consultation with the diplomatic and consular corps in Sydney on Olympics issues, and our coordination of briefings to the corps by the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games.
We commenced negotiations on three new bilateral employment agreements for dependants of diplomatic and consular officials and several others were progressed. One agreement was completed, pending formal ratification by both parties. We now have a total of 21 bilateral employment agreements.