Assistant Minister Tim Watts on Sunrise

  • Transcript, E&OE
11 January 2023

This transcript has been redacted in accordance with Digital Transformation Agency guidelines.
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A full version of the transcript may be available on https://www.timwatts.net.au

Monique Wright: Thanks, Matt. Well, there's some good news for travellers this morning. With passport wait times slashed, there have been huge delays since our international borders reopened and at the peak of demand, Aussies were facing a 50-day wait on average to get a new one in the mail. Well, now the bulk of the backlog has been cleared with processing times back down to two weeks. It comes after a record 1.6 million passports were handed out in the past six months. Quite a number. Joining us now is Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Tim Watts. Morning to you. Thanks for being with us. So this comes after some massive delays, of course, and apparently, you've had to double staff to get this done, at what cost?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, Monique, the mess that was left to us in passports was completely unacceptable and we really understood the frustrations that were experienced by Australians. So the first thing we did when we got into government was we set to work with doubling the staff in the Australian Passport Office from about 720, when we were first elected, to over 1900 now. As you say, what that's enabled us to do is to process more passports in the last six months than we have ever processed before. That 1.6 million passports process figure that you mentioned before, that's more than half a million more than the Passport Office has ever processed in a six-month period. So it's a herculean task. Passport officers have gone above and beyond to try to minimise the pain for Australians ... So today is a good news story.

Monique Wright: Look, that will be very much welcomed. I'm just wondering about the cost?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, there is a cost, obviously, to increasing -

Monique Wright: Do you know what it is?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: The number of staff in the Passport Office. Well, those staff, some of them are permanent, some of them are going to be temporary. So the costs of that are going to change. But the reality is, is that we're going to be dealing with significantly higher volumes of passport applications for a long time to come. We're getting about 10,000 passport applications a day at the moment and there are 1.5 million Australians who still haven't renewed their passports from the pandemic period.

Monique Wright: OK, so what do they do?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: So the reality is we're going to be dealing with a surge process for some time.

Monique Wright: Yep, Your advice for those people?

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Well, anyone who's had their passport lapsed during the COVID pandemic, they can go to the Australian Passport Office online portal, they can log in and they can renew their passport as long as any of their biographical details haven't changed, name hasn't changed, anything like that. You can log on and very quickly get your passport renewed. So processing signs of passports are down to an average of 14 business days now. And that looks a lot like it looked like before the COVID pandemic. So 83% of passport applications are now being processed within that six-week period. That was the standard before the pandemic.

Monique Wright: Terrific news. All right. Thanks. Tim Watts.

Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs: Pleasure. Thank you.

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