Federal police were so concerned by the conduct of a handful of diplomats in Canberra they asked the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to formally counsel the relevant ambassadors.
In one case last year, the department considered revoking the visa of an embassy staffer who abused police and repeatedly drove well over the speed limit.
However, DFAT has suppressed the diplomats' names, saying even identifying their embassies or their sex would unreasonably breach their privacy.
Documents released under freedom of information law show the worst offender was fined twice in a month – $1811 each time – for dangerous driving, after the diplomat had already clocked up enough demerit points to lose their licence. Under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, posted officials can claim immunity from fines and driving offences.
On a Friday night in August last year, ACT Policing stopped the diplomat's car after it was detected travelling at 132km/h on Belconnen Way in Bruce, which has a limit of 80km/h. The driver was seen using a phone but told officers "I had just received the phone call".
Two weeks later, on a Saturday afternoon, an officer stopped the same diplomat when their car was detected speeding on Yarra Glen in Woden and the driver was seen talking on a mobile.
The officer's report said the car approached the rear of the unmarked police vehicle at high speed, veered into a bus lane without indicating and travelled at 110km/h in an 80km/h zone. "The driver then swerved into my lane (in front of my vehicle) again without indicating."
A police letter to DFAT also noted: "After the police officer stopped the vehicle and approached the driver, the driver raised [his/her] index finger and told the officer that [he/she] was on the phone and to wait.
"After a short time, the driver of the diplomatic vehicle spoke to police and identified [him/herself] as [censored]. During the conversation with the AFP officer, [censored] was rude and argumentative and continually stated that [he/she] was a diplomat and police couldn't touch [him/her]."
DFAT protocol staff discussed how to handle the problematic diplomat, and agreed the relevant ambassador must be warned.
One departmental official wrote: "I have discussed this with Sally [Mansfield, the then chief of protocol] and while it is tempting to ask for [censored] to be sent home forthwith, we think the time has come to call in [censored] and say that if [he/she] receives so much as a parking fine from now on we would ask for [him/her] to be sent home."
Federal police also asked the department to counsel embassy staff following other recent incidents:
- November 2012: In the early hours of a Saturday morning, a diplomat's car approached a random breath test with its headlights turned off. The driver "smelt strongly of alcohol" but refused to be tested. Police "formed the opinion that [the diplomat] was highly intoxicated".
- Ten minutes later: Police stopped another car from the same embassy "driving erratically along Northbourne Avenue". The diplomat behind the wheel "smelt strongly of alcohol and [his/her] words were slurred". Police noted that, in both cases, they would have charged the drivers if they had not had diplomatic immunity.
- November 2013: A diplomat driving at high speeds through Phillip lost control of their vehicle and collided with a street sign and a tree. Police arrived to find the diplomat unsteady on their feet, with a blood-alcohol level of 1.68, more than three times the legal limit.
- January 2014: Police stopped a car that had been swerving across lanes at high speed on Adelaide Avenue in Deakin and noticed "a smell of intoxicating liquor emanating from the vehicle". The driver was "well over the limit" and the car contained three other staff from the same embassy. Police tried "to explain the dangers of driving whilst that intoxicated but [the diplomats] did not seem to understand it was not acceptable in Australia".
- February 2014: A diplomat on Launceston Street in Lyons drove "directly in front of the police vehicle, failing to give way and causing the police to brake heavily to avoid a collision". The car then accelerated to 100km/h in Hindmarsh Avenue's 80hm/h zone. Police activated sirens but the car did not stop; instead, it slowed to 40km/h but continued, passing through an orange light. The driver later told police they had not stopped because "they were running late".
... the driver raised [his/her] index finger and told the officer that [he/she] was on the phone and to wait.Police report to DFAT
The department said it did not dislose which foreign missions the diplomats were attached to as that might identify the diplomats.