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Tea Leaves

Passports can say a lot about a country

Australia's new design is a missed opportunity in soft power projection

Australia's recent passport update was a chance to showcase the nation's design prowess. What the public got instead was the same sober navy-blue cover. (Courtesy of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade)

Passports act as a country's best-traveled ambassador. Easily spotted in arrival and departure queues around the world, they're quiet pieces of diplomacy, but they are not invisible. For Australia, a recent redesign offered the opportunity for a potent soft power push that would showcase the nation's design prowess. But despite a costly new national "visual identity," that cohesive look and feel is nowhere to be seen in the country's new "R Series" passport.

My own shabby, swelling passport is rarely far away. As one of my most guarded possessions, it is the embodiment of my right to return home to Australia (or, at least, it was until the pandemic made returning home almost impossible for a period of time). I've lived overseas for the bulk of my working life, first in Hong Kong and now Tokyo, so I pay a disproportionate amount of attention to it.

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