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Record passport demand prompts recruitment drive

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The federal government is urgently recruiting extra staff to address “unacceptable” delays in issuing new passports, as prospective travellers flood the system with applications after two years of border closures.

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The number of passport applications received by the Australian Passport Office on Tuesday hit a daily record, with 16,417 applications submitted – double the daily average prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The backlog has caused weeks-long delays processing applications, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade currently advising applicants to allow at least six weeks to get their passport.

Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister Tim Watts described the wait times as “unacceptable” and said the government would quickly recruit and train new staff.

He said the Passport Office was urgently standing up a new call centre to speed up phone delays, with 35 additional staff to be recruited this week and a further 35 to be onboarded next week.

A “minimum” of 250 extra staff are planned to come on board over the next six weeks to process applications.

“This problem was predictable and is the result of the previous government dropping the ball and failing to properly plan for the surge in passport applications when borders re-opened,” Watts said in a statement on Tuesday.

“It shouldn’t be Australians who suffer the consequences of these failures.

“While it will take some time to get back on track, we will continue to work with DFAT to make sure the required resources are delivered.”

Watts recommended prospective travellers check the latest travel advice on the government’s Smartraveller website prior to departing.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows 611,000 people left Australia in April.

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