Mr VASTA (Bonner) (14:38): My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister advise the House what the Australian government is doing to help Australians travelling overseas during the Christmas period stay safe?
Ms JULIE BISHOP (Curtin—Minister for Foreign Affairs) (14:38): I thank the member for Bonner for his very timely question. As we head into the holiday season, we are reminded that Australians are travelling overseas more than ever. There are nearly 13 million Australian passports, and there will be an estimated 10 million overseas trips by Australians this year alone. Christmas is the peak season for overseas travel, and, while the vast majority of Australians' overseas trips will be uneventful, a significant number will experience difficulty. In 2014-15 the government assisted nearly 16,000 Australians who found themselves in trouble overseas. This could range from a lost passport to vastly more serious issues—1,200 Australians were arrested, 1,500 were hospitalised and there were 1,300 deaths while Australians were overseas. There are Australians facing lengthy sentences in foreign jails; there are Australians facing huge medical bills because they had no cover. Some cases have bankrupted whole families.
The government provides extensive consular assistance, although there are limits to the assistance we can provide. Our consular staff are magnificent but the government cannot get Australians out of jail, we cannot intervene in the court proceedings of another country and we do not pay hospital bills, let alone hotel bills. To raise awareness of these issues I urge Australians to become familiar with the government's smartraveller website, smartraveller.com.au—smartraveller with one 't'. This reminds Australians to be informed and be prepared. Register your travel on the smartraveller website or app. When the terrorist attacks were under way in Paris in November, my first thought was for Australians—how many Australians were likely to be in Paris on a Friday night in cafes or theatres. As it turned out, only 2,500 had registered their presence, and there were vastly more there. Our consular staff were combing through hospitals and emergency stations and police stations to locate any Australians. So register, read the travel advisories on the smartraveller website, always obey local laws, do not carry, use or get involved in drugs, ever, and take out the right travel insurance—if you cannot afford travel insurance, you really cannot afford to travel. I know of so many heartbreaking cases where people have faced huge medical bills because they have had no or inappropriate travel insurance.
Travelling overseas is exciting, it can be rewarding, but the unexpected can happen. Some preparation can greatly lessen the impact of adverse events. So to all Australians travelling overseas this Christmas, I wish you a very happy and safe journey—but, please, do register your travel on smartraveller.gov.au.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555