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Program 2.1: Consular and passport services

Austrade-managed consulates

Austrade provides consular services in designated locations where the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not have a presence. At 30 June 2018, Austrade operated consulates for the Australian Government in 14 overseas locations (see Table 10). In September 2017, consular and passport responsibilities for Istanbul, Turkey, transferred to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Austrade provided assistance with the delivery of consular and passport services through the transition and continues to operate an office in Istanbul.

Table 10: Austrade-managed consulates, at 30 June 2018

Austrade-managed consulates

Auckland

Prague(a)

Dubai

San Francisco

Frankfurt

Sao Paulo

Fukuoka

Sapporo

Houston

Toronto

Milan

Vancouver(a)

Osaka

Vladivostok(a)

(a) Consulates managed by an honorary consul.

Through its network of consulates, Austrade provided support to Australians travelling, working and living overseas through effective delivery of consular and passport services.

Austrade consulates provide a range of services to Australians overseas, including notarial services; assistance with welfare issues, missing persons, whereabouts enquiries, arrest or detention matters, deaths and medical emergencies; support for victims of serious crime; processing new passport applications and replacing lost or stolen passports; and detecting attempted document or identity fraud.

In 2017–18, Austrade provided high-quality and responsive consular support to 821 Australians in difficulty overseas. This included assistance to 58 people imprisoned overseas, 99 people requiring medical assistance or hospitalisation, and support to the families of 93 people who died overseas.

The number of passport applications received by Austrade fell by 6 per cent, from 16,568 in 2016–17 to 15,576 in 2017–18, with 98.8 per cent of applications scanned within the required 24 hours. Austrade processed its passport applications with an error rate of less than 2 per cent across all its posts, well within the Australian Passport Office’s key performance indicator of 3 per cent.

Austrade provided responsive passport services to Australians with urgent travel needs, issuing 1,158 emergency travel documents overseas in 2017–18.

The number of notarial acts performed decreased by 12.2 per cent from 7,996 in 2016–17 to 7,017 in 2017–18.

Table 11 provides a summary of consular and passport services provided by Austrade consulates from 2013–14 to 2017–18.

Table 11: Consular and passport services provided by Austrade, 2013–14 to 2017–18

2013–14

2014–15

2015–16

2016–17

2017–18

No. of Australians who received consular support from Austrade

808

891

829

822

821

No. of notarial acts performed by Austrade

14,342

12,558

12,861

7,996

7,017

No. of passport applications received by Austrade

11,571

13,486

14,726

16,568

15,576

Austrade Consulate-General, Houston—delivering services in a heightened risk environment

In the evening of 25 August 2017, the Austrade-managed Consulate-General in Houston operated in a heightened risk environment as Hurricane Harvey approached Texas as a category 4 storm (equivalent to Australian severe tropical cyclone 5). Harvey brought storm surges, tornadoes and severe flooding, dropping over 140 centimetres of rain over four days. Harvey was the most significant tropical cyclone rainfall event in United States history, both in scope and peak rainfall, since the 1880s when reliable records began.

Acting Consul-General and Senior Trade Commissioner, Patrick Hanlon, worked with the consular team to manage the crisis, maintain contact with staff and provide regular updates to the Australian Embassy in Washington, DC, Austrade and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in Canberra.

The consulate remained inaccessible the following week due to widespread street flooding and staff worked from home. Patrick and his team provided assistance to the resident Australian community by issuing social media updates and monitoring affected Australian travellers.

Mandatory evacuations were issued for flood-prone areas, the city was placed under a curfew and authorities opened nine emergency shelters. Non-essential travel was restricted as collapsed roads, flooded underpasses and debris impacted driving conditions. Petrol supplies were limited and grocery stores were closed for days, with sales rationed when stores reopened.

The Houston consular team visited the evacuation shelter at George R Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, searching for evacuated Australians requiring assistance. Patrick and the team located an Australian media contingent and expat volunteers, and were made aware of several Australians who had experienced flooding in their homes. Outreach was conducted at shelters in the surrounding area; however, no Australians were located.

The consulate reopened five days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, once the office building was deemed operational and roadways were cleared.

Post hurricane, the welfare of staff, their families and resident Australians was an ongoing priority for the Houston consular team. Following are examples of conditions staff endured while ‘on call’:

  • mandatory evacuation due to flooding around the family home
  • tornadoes destroying buildings and powerlines less than a block from a home
  • no power to home for 30–36 hours during the height of the hurricane and up to five days afterwards.

The Australian Embassy in Washington also despatched two consular officers to Dallas, who set up a temporary office to provide emergency consular assistance to displaced Australians evacuated north of Houston.

Dr Stephanie Fahey, Austrade CEO, commended all staff, especially Patrick, for their handling of the crisis, stating in her message that the team had demonstrated exemplary professionalism, judgement and commitment.

Houston staff at Cinco Ranch High School

Houston staff at Cinco Ranch High School, Katy, which was used as a temporary shelter for displaced evacuees. The team met with Texas State Senator Lois Kolkhorst (middle) while searching for Australian nationals. L–R: Megan Holmes, Consular Officer; Patrick Hanlon, Acting Consul-General and Senior Trade Commissioner; Senator Lois Kolkhorst; Penny Toledo-Ocampo, Consul (DFAT); and Robert Smith, Consular Officer.

Austrade undertook practical contingency planning throughout the year and, through training and development, further strengthened its crisis response capabilities in locations overseas where it has consular management responsibilities. Austrade continued to work closely with Australian embassies, high commissions and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade consular operations and passport branches in Canberra.

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