The evolution of the Australian passport

The Australian Government first started issuing passports in 1901 following the federation of the colonies.

However, Australia’s first federal passport regulations were not introduced until 3 September 1912. And it was another three years before the Australian Government introduced a mandatory passport system for the first time, mainly for manpower and security reasons.

Many people at the time saw this as a temporary wartime measure, to be rescinded after World War I.

But by the mid-1920s, it was clear that an international system of travel documentation was here to stay.

In 1950, Australia issued a total of 30 000 Australian passports. Fifty years later in 2000, this number had increased to almost 1 450 000. Passport production accounted for 37 tonnes of paper, 95 500 metres of thread, 69 000 metres of gold foil and 1100 litres of glue.

Today, passport offices in Australia and overseas issue around 1.8 million passports a year; and more than 10 million Australians currently hold valid Australian passports, representing just under 50 per cent of the population.

Some key developments in the evolution of the Australian passport include:

1912: The Commonwealth Gazette announces the first set of national passport regulations, covering eligibility, validity and cost.

1916: War Precautions (Passports) Regulations promulgated, requiring every person over the age of 15 entering and leaving the Commonwealth, to be in possession of a passport.

1917: the 'X' series passport, one of Australia’s earliest, introduced. During World War I, monitoring and identifying those crossing international borders became critical to the security of Australia and its allies.

1920: ‘A’ series passport introduced, with the word ‘Australia’ and the Commonwealth Coat of Arms on the cover.

1937: ‘A’ series passport covers redesigned to carry the words ‘British Passport Commonwealth of Australia’ and the Commonwealth Coat of Arms.

1938: Passport Act promulgated, stipulating that passports would now only be issued to British subjects.

1948: Nationality and Citizenship Act passed

1949: two new passport series were introduced:

  • B Series passports were issued (within Australia only) to British subjects who were not Australian citizens.
  • C Series passports were issued to Australian citizens.

1950: ‘E’ series passport replaces ‘B’ and ‘C’ series.

1964: ‘G’ series passports introduced, with the British Crown at the top of the cover, the word ‘Australia’ followed by the Commonwealth (Australian) Coat of Arms, and the words ‘British Passport’ at the bottom.

1967: Australian passport covers no longer carry the words ‘British Passport’ but retain the Crown. The word ‘Australia’ appears below the Crown, followed by the Commonwealth Coat of Arms and the word ‘Passport’.

1975: Responsibility for Australian passport functions transferred to the Department of Foreign Affairs (now the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), from the then Department of Labour and Immigration.

1980: Computerised Passport Issue and Control System (PICS) launched.

1983: Permission of husbands no longer required for the issue of passports to wives.

1984: Passports Act amended to provide that passports can be issued only to Australian citizens. ‘T’ series passport introduced, with Crown emblem removed from cover.

1984: Australian passports include machine readable information and are the first in the world to have a laminate built into the document.

1984: Passport applications must be lodged personally at an official post office or passport office.

1986: Single identity passports introduced, meaning children could no longer be included on their parent’s passport.

1988: ‘H’ and ‘J’ series passports issued with Bicentennial logo.

1988: Women can no longer apply for and receive a passport in their proposed married names, before they are actually married.

1994: Digitised colour printing of photograph and signature on the glue side of the laminate introduced.

1995: ‘L’ series passports introduced, with kangaroo motif security laminate.

2003: ‘M’ series passports issued. Included enhanced security features with the personal data page printed by ink jet onto the adhesive surface of the security laminate.

2005: Passport Act overhauled.

The history of the Australian passport reflects in many ways the changes that have occurred in Australian society.

Major influences on the evolution of the Australian passport have included Australia’s emerging sense of national identity, its diverse multicultural society and changing attitudes to gender, families and Indigenous Australians.

International geopolitical and security issues have also had a significant impact. In 2005, Australia became one of the first countries to introduce an ePassport with a digital chip on which the holder’s biographical data is recorded.

Today, Australia is regarded as a world leader in secure passport production and issuance.

The Australian Passport Office (APO) of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade seeks to be at the forefront of passport technology, security and customer service. APO has developed new technology and processes to further improve all aspects of its passport products and service.

Since 1983, APO’s partnership with Australia Post has enabled Australian citizens to apply for passports at most Australia Post outlets. Australia Post provides a nationwide passport service on behalf of APO.

The Australian Passport Information Service (APIS) is operated on behalf of the department by Centrelink and provides a high quality telephone information service to passport clients seven days a week.