Administration of Consular Services Follow-Up Audit
The objectives of the follow-up audit were to assess DFAT's implementation of the six recommendations made by the ANAO in the previous audit. It also sought to determine whether implementation of these recommendations, or alternative action, had improved DFAT's administration of consular services. The audit focused on management processes and supporting systems for the delivery of consular services. It also reviewed DFAT's implementation of recommendations of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee that were outstanding from the previous audit.
Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) Audit Report No.31 2000–01, Administration of Consular Services, examined the adequacy of administration of consular services by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The audit made six recommendations to improve the management, administration and delivery of consular services to Australian citizens, all of which were agreed by DFAT. The purpose of the follow-up audit was to assess the extent to which DFAT has implemented the recommendations of the 2000–01 audit.
DFAT provides consular services to protect the welfare and interests of Australians travelling and living overseas, and their next of kin in Australia. Each year DFAT receives over 100 000 calls for assistance and manages over 20 000 substantial consular cases. Overseas, services are provided through a network of 166 posts, which includes diplomatic missions and honorary consuls. Twenty-four hour service is also available through a Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) located in DFAT's Consular Branch in Canberra.
Key findings against specific recommendations of the previous audit are summarised in the following table.
Progress in implementing recommendations of the previous audit
This follow-up audit also found that over the last two years, DFAT has responded to changes in global security by expanding public access to travel information and consular assistance, particularly during crisis situations. New systems are in place to centralise monitoring of key consular activities, to improve risk assessment, and to assist posts in reviewing their contingency plans.
However, the audit found that some aspects of project management, and documentation of key consular processes and decisions, could be strengthened for greater efficiency and effectiveness.
DFAT has implemented Recommendation 1 and is making good progress towards implementing Recommendations 2, 3 and 5 of the previous audit. However, key components of Recommendation 4 and 6 are still to be addressed.
DFAT has strengthened its risk assessment processes for travel advisories and contingency planning. However, with respect to Recommendation 6, DFAT has not established a clear methodology for determining post risk categorisation for the purpose of registration of Australians overseas. This could well diminish DFAT's capacity to provide assurance that posts are appropriately categorised.
The quality, range and dissemination of DFAT's travel advice have improved. This should progress further with the Government's new initiatives for raising public awareness of travel advice. However, more thorough documentation of the risk assessment and decision making process in countries where travel advisories are not on issue, would improve accountability. Also, improvements to administrative processes are necessary to fulfil DFAT's requirement that post contingency plans are kept up to date.
The development of the Consular Management Information System (CMIS) has improved consular case management. However, to date, CMIS does not have a sophisticated capacity for collecting and reporting of information for performance management purposes. Further development of CMIS is planned for 2003–04, including a module to facilitate reporting of data for caseload analysis and performance management, and a crisis management module to assist in case management during crisis situations.
The ANAO has made two Recommendations in the follow-up audit. These cover CMIS project management and contingency planning.
DFAT's response to the follow-up audit can be found in full at Appendix 7. DFAT also provided the following summary.
The international security environment has changed significantly since the ANAO's 2001 audit. The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States and 12 October 2002 in Bali have fundamentally changed the environment in which Australians travel overseas and in which consular services are delivered. Responding to this changed environment, the Department has accelerated an ongoing process of reform and made significant improvements to the way it delivers consular services overseas. New priority is being given to the provision of travel advice and other consular information, to strengthened contingency planning and crisis management arrangements, and to refining our case management systems.
The Department accepts both recommendations in this report and notes that significant progress has been made towards implementing them. A working group has been established to oversee the ongoing development of the Consular Management Information System, under the PRINCE2 project management model. Contingency plans have been audited and are being systematically reviewed. A model contingency plan is being developed and planning is under way for further contingency planning assessment visits to priority posts.