The Away Game – Review of Consular Offices

The Australian National Audit Office has just released a very interesting review of Australia’s consular offices.

As the report notes:

Australia’s consular services encapsulate the assistance the Australian Government provides to protect the welfare and interests of Australians travelling or residing abroad, and advice and information services provided to the Australian public.

And this is definitely a growth industry:

Over the past 12 years, the number of cases of consular assistance provided to Australians in difficulty aboard has ranged from 11 000 to more than 30 000 per year.

The report generally compliments the Australian Government on its management of its consular responsibilities but notes three areas that have resonance.

Firstly there is a concern about how key decisions are made:

While (the Government) has predominantly sound practices for the provision of most aspects of consular services, the rationale for and documentation of key decisions, such as those related to the provision of financial assistance, is inconsistent.

As to what can be done to improve this:

Developing an annual, risk‐based, quality assurance process for consular assistance functions would provide assurance that procedures are being consistently applied. Such assurance is particularly important in the case management context, due to the increasing complexity of consular cases, the unique nature of many cases, and the need to consider clients’ welfare.

Secondly there is a need for root cause analysis of events where they have provided assistance:

There is also scope for (the Government) to strengthen its oversight and coordination of the lessons that can be learned from consular crises and related contingency planning. Consular crisis events are unique, they are also comparatively infrequent and demanding, placing a premium on contingency planning prior to events and capturing the lessons learned after events occur.

Stronger emphasis should be given to the consistent and coordinated implementation of departmental post‐event review findings. Incorporating these findings into future assessments of risks, contingency planning, and crisis response exercises would better position (the Government) to respond to future events.

Thirdly there is no real measure of the success of activities:

Key performance indicators are aligned with its program objectives, but do not provide a clear and complete picture of overall program performance. The department also lacks accurate and reliable performance information necessary for informed management decision‐making, and to provide assurance that service delivery standards are being met across the network.

It would be a shame if this report was dismissed as being relevant only to those with a diplomatic bent.  

Those issues identified above could apply to any organisation where there are regional offices or such offices are called upon to perform acts out of the normal.


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