Australian Commonwealth Coat of Arms

28 May 2009, Canberra

Speech: Launch of the N Series Passport

Thank you for that introduction.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. 

I am delighted to be here today to launch officially the new N Series Australian passport.

Today's launch is the culmination of a highly successful partnership between Government and business over many years to develop and continually improve Australia's passport.

The travel document I am launching today continues Australia's reputation as a world leader in secure document technology and production.

On landmark occasions such as this today, it is worthwhile to reflect on the history of the subject matter.

Although the word ‘passport' did not come into use until about the 15th century, travel documents can be traced back to antiquity. Such documents were issued in ancient India and Persia; and there are references to ‘letters of passage' in the Old Testament.

Australia's passport system has its roots in the British system.

When Britain settled eastern Australia from the late eighteenth century, the colonial authorities here issued what were called ‘ticket of leave passports' to permit convicts to travel around the colony subject to specified restrictions.

In 1901, the Department of External Affairs, the predecessor of the Department of Foreign Affairs, issued what is believed to be the first passport of the Commonwealth of Australia.

It was issued to John Edward Briscoe and his sister Helen. They had applied for travel documents so they could travel to Europe ‘via Vladivostok and the trans-Siberian railway'.

During the First World War one of my Western Australian predecessors, Hugh Mahon, was involved in the Commonwealth persuading the States to abandon their concurrent passport-issuing powers as a war measure.

From the First World War, it was only the Commonwealth, or the Australian national Government, that would issue passports.

Over the course of the half-century from 1948, our passport was transformed into a document attesting to the bearer's membership of an Australian citizenry that had steadily become one of the most multicultural in the world.

This was the result of the post World War II mass immigration to Australia, first of European, and later, Asian and Pacific peoples, who settled in Australia in increasing numbers after 1945.

In 1967, the word ‘British' was removed from our passports, and from 1984, only Australian citizens could be issued with them.

Four years ago, Australia launched the e-Passport against an international landscape in which security of identity had become critical.

The ‘N Series' passport that we are launching today is similarly a reflection of its times. 

The principles of document security and environmental responsibility have shaped its design and production.

In this period of heightened concern about international security, the Government takes very seriously its obligation to ensure the integrity of the Australian passport.

With a secure passport generated by highly controlled production systems, Australians can be confident that their travel documents will be readily accepted at foreign border controls.

To retain that confidence, we must ensure that Australian passports are issued only to those who are entitled to them.

We are particularly concerned about people who attempt to obtain false passports to enter Australia and those who try to use Australian passports for illegal purposes. 

Identity fraud in its various forms is a growing worldwide problem. 

By continuing to improve our issuance systems, and the physical and electronic security of the documents we use, Australia is leading the way in combating passport fraud.

The N Series passport is one of the world's most sophisticated secure travel documents.

The new passports have been designed and manufactured by Note Printing Australia, applying the same expertise and technologies developed in printing Australia's bank notes. 

Our partnership with Note Printing Australia has enabled us to implement several new tamper-resistant technologies in the new series.

The N Series features images of Australia printed throughout the document.  Every visa page is unique.  This makes it difficult to substitute pages or falsify the document.

The passport continues to use a laminate developed exclusively for our travel documents by the 3M Company.

The N Series laminate is made of tiny glass beads that have been laser cut to create images of kangaroos and emus. 

While similar to the existing passport series, these images have been further enhanced and now include the word "Australia" printed across the laminate. 

This print is only visible using ultra-violet technology.  It is virtually impossible to replicate and difficult to simulate. 

This feature will assist international border control authorities to distinguish genuine Australian passports.

Another important feature of the new design is the inclusion of a security information section on the reverse of the passport data page. 

This section identifies for border control officials seven readily recognizable security features, enabling them to inspect and detect fraudulent alteration attempts.

Australia's e-Passport, like those of other countries, is secured by Public Key Infrastructure certificates. 

These can be read and validated by border control authorities to assure them that the e-Passport is a genuine document and has not been altered.

To complement the physical security improvements, the N Series passport will incorporate Active Authentication technology on the electronic Chip, developed in cooperation with Sharp Corporation.

This technology enables border inspection authorities to check if the data is being read from the genuine original Chip, and not a copy or clone.

It also provides an additional level of confidence to passport holders that their personal details contained on the Chip are secure and protected.

All of these security enhancements will make forgery extremely difficult and will ensure that Australian passports continue to be trusted by border control agencies internationally.

The N series passport represents not just the Australian Government's commitment to provide its citizens with a travel document which is secure but one which demonstrates our determination to be responsible environmental managers.

I am pleased to announce that our new passport uses carbon neutral environmentally friendly paper. 

While I have given a lot of attention to the security features of the new document, it is equally important to ensure that the service provided to Australians who apply for passports is of the highest standard. 

Staff in our passport offices around Australia and overseas perform this task with distinction, and are assisted in doing so by the staff at Australia Post and the Australian Passport Information Service. 

One of those people deserves special mention.  Her name is Janice Lawrance. 

Janice has been with the Passports Office in Sydney for 44 years, having started there in 1965. 

This is a truly remarkable achievement which is very much appreciated by both the Government and the Department. 

I understand Janice is planning to retire this year and I take this opportunity to thank her for all she has done and to wish her the very best for the future.

Maintaining the integrity and security of our passports is in the interests of all bona fide travellers and, indeed, in the interests of all Australians.

That the Government accords the highest priority to this task is no more clearly evidenced than in this new N Series passport.

Thank you.