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Budget 2005: IT system to boost consular work

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade


25 April 2005

Budget 2005


Media statement

IT system to boost Foreign Affairs' consular work


Foreign Affairs officials will be better placed to help New Zealanders in distress overseas when a new consular management information system begins operating early next year, Foreign Minister Phil Goff said today.

Funding for the IT system is included in this year's Budget, and involves capital expenditure of $2 million in 2005-06 and operating costs of $1.5 million over the next four years.

“The system integrates all aspects of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's consular work, such as contingency planning, case management, travel advisories, and legal and notarial work," Mr Goff said.

"It will allow staff in Wellington and overseas to more rapidly access and manage the flow of information as it comes to hand.

"This will be of particular importance during major emergencies or disasters overseas potentially affecting a large number of New Zealanders. In such situations Foreign Affairs has to process vast amounts of information gathered from a range of sources that can provide incomplete, or sometimes conflicting, information on individuals requiring consular assistance.

"In practical terms, the system will help Foreign Affairs staff provide better, more up-to-date information to family members and friends of New Zealanders who are in difficulty overseas.

“Another valuable aspect of the system is its ability to accurately gauge whether consular work is on the increase, in what areas, and whether these areas are sufficiently resourced.

“An integral part of the system is a new Internet-based registration system for New Zealanders overseas, which will replace a number of traveller registration databases currently managed in Wellington and at overseas posts.

“The new registration system will be more user-friendly and will also allow tour groups to sign up without having to register individuals separately. New Zealanders will be able to register their contact details while abroad, either for short-term or longer-term travel/residence. This will make it easier and quicker for the Ministry to communicate with New Zealand citizens in the event of an emergency, such as the recent Tsunami disaster.

“New Zealand, in keeping with its size, operates a relatively small foreign service, so we want to get maximum efficiency out of our limited consular services.

“The last five years has seen an unprecedented increase in numbers of consular cases involving New Zealanders. These range from individual cases of New Zealanders needing assistance overseas to catastrophic events such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, the Bali bombings and the Asian tsunami.

"In the aftermath of the Boxing Day tsunami, for example, Foreign Affairs staff received around 6000 calls from friends and family in New Zealand trying to track close to 4000 people believed to be in affected areas.

“Two years ago, the government recognised the need to enhance Foreign Affairs' consular service delivery, and the subsequent work has resulted in the purchase of a system tailored for the Ministry’s particular consular policies and procedures.

“However, while the government has a responsibility to provide care to New Zealanders requiring assistance overseas, first and foremost it is down to the individual to take personal responsibility for themselves whilst they travel.

"That means being informed about laws and customs in the countries you are planning to visit; taking out travel insurance; looking after your passport at all times, and heeding any travel warnings or information issued by Foreign Affairs' website travel advisories,” Mr Goff said.

ENDS

All Phil Goff’s media releases and speeches are posted at www.beehive.govt.nz

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