Thank you Connie and Ladies and Gentlemen, I hope you will forgive me for the change in plans but I’ve been informed that there will be a division shortly and that could take me out of this event and I really did want to be here to carry out my important task today.
First may I thank my colleague Senator Fierravanti-Wells, my Assistant Minister Keith Pitt and the other members of parliament who are here today, Ambassadors, High Commissioners, Ladies and Gentlemen.
Each day, an average of 40 Australians seek assistance from our consular officials overseas. Often it is a routine request as a result of a loss of passport or a missed flight home. Sometimes it makes national media back in Australia, whether it’s a child abduction case in Lebanon, Australian tourists injured in terrorist attacks in Paris or over exuberant Formula One fans in Kuala Lumpur.
The level of consular support and the professionalism of our consular officials is first class but the Australian Government is always seeking to manage the expectations and the cost. We continually focus our efforts on better understanding consular trends and outcomes and better managing our consular services. So what I want to ensure is that the Australia government can provide consular services where they are most needed yet reduce the overall cost to the taxpayer.
Today I have three tasks. First to launch the travel insurance survey. This is a joint initiative between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Insurance Council of Australia. Secondly, to launch our Consular State of Play (which is essentially a snapshot of our consular work over the last financial year) and then third to launch the public consultation for our second Consular Strategy for the period 2017 to 2019.
So to the Travel Insurance Survey, I thank Rob Whelan, the CEO of the Insurance Council of Australia for working with us to carry out this important work because it will inform what we do in the area of consular service and advice.
I have said often and I will continue to say to the Australian public, if you cannot afford travel insurance you really can’t afford to travel overseas. The good news is I think our message is getting through because only 8% of Australians travelling overseas travelled without insurance, but the bad news is that translates to about eight hundred and fifty thousand visits overseas without travel insurance.
The results of the survey show that over 30% of people believe that if you travel to a developed country, you don’t need travel insurance. Well, that is not the case. You will always need travel insurance.
The other concerning finding from the survey is that young people are less likely to take out travel insurance and more likely to get into trouble. Now that can be because young people are inherently more likely to take risks while they are overseas, more likely to do adventurous things but they need to focus not only on taking out travel insurance but ensuring that they have got the right coverage. No matter the activity, no matter the length of the proposed trip, no matter the intrepid nature of the itinerary we really do need to ensure that travel insurance is top of their list. If you have a passport, you should think of travel insurance.
We are focusing our efforts, therefore, on young people. Our social media messaging is targeted to the millennial generation. With Schoolies Week coming up we are reminded that students traveling overseas can find themselves in circumstances where that sort of consular support will be needed. So travel insurance is absolutely essential and I am delighted that Kate Fitzsimons is here today from the Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation. Kate is engaged in ensuring that young Australians are educated about the pitfalls of traveling overseas, what can go wrong and how you can be prepared and best place to avoid it.
We are concerned that so many who actually do take out travel insurance aren’t aware of the exclusion clauses, down to where the extent or limitations of the coverage. It’s also very important for people to be as well informed as possible, that’s why we encourage anyone travelling overseas to log on to the Smart Traveller website. This is the Australian Government’s travel advice platform – Smartraveller.gov.au
We are also using the reality TV show ‘Embassy’ to raise awareness as to what can go wrong and how it can be avoided and I thank the governments of Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, the Ambassadors are represented here today, for their assistance in the production of the Embassy program and for ensuring that people travelling to their countries are as well prepared and informed as possible.
Smartraveller.gov.au is essential reading before and during overseas trips.
I’m also delighted to launch today the Australian Government’s State of Play – a snapshot of our consular workload over the last financial year and it really gives a sense of the scale and the diversity and the challenges facing our consular staff.
The good news is that of the 10.2 million departures of Australians overseas last year, we were only requested to provide consular support in 15,740 cases - 15,740 cases is nevertheless a considerable workload.
The bad news is that things can still go wrong and we will be hearing some case studies from Jen and Emma – even with the best laid plans – as to what can go wrong. What we need to appreciate is that the Australian Government can only do so much in providing assistance overseas. The Australian Government is not a hospital, it is not a hotel, it is not an internet café and our consular officials cannot just whisk you out of jail.
People have to take responsibility for their behaviours overseas and we are particularly concerned that people have an understanding of local laws and local customs, and that once you are subject to the legal system or the judicial processes of another country then there is a significant constraint on the Australian Government in providing assistance.
The Consular State of Play makes for interesting reading. While we are getting our message through in terms of insurance take-up and people being aware of the challenges of travelling overseas, we are still seeing an increase in the number of Australians being imprisoned. Last year 1500 Australians were arrested, that’s up from 1300 the year before. So that is a concern.
Hospitalisations have also increased and the location hotspots for consular work still include Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, India, and the United States. Our consular staff do what they can but there are limitations on it.
Finally I want to launch our public consultation for our Consular Strategy for 2017-2019. Back in 2015 I launched the Australian Government’s first ever consular strategy and this is to assist all our stakeholders – whether it be in the travel industry, the insurance industry, our partner countries overseas and of course the travelling Australian public – we want to ensure that our consular response, our consular assistance, and the level of support we can provide is appropriate.
We must manage expectations but we do ask that the Australian travelling public take responsibility for their actions. If you are climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, if you’re bungee jumping in Queenstown, of course take out travel insurance. But you don’t have to be an adventurer to need travel insurance. Wherever you are, wherever you’re going, however long you’re away, we ask you take of insurance, look at the Smart Traveller website, register on the site and then you’re likely to have an uneventful (from a consular point of view), an uneventful trip overseas.
So we will seek feedback and input from all our stakeholders involved in providing support to Australians travelling overseas because it’s not just the Australian Government who is involved with consular assistance, whether it’s a funeral homes or cruise companies, or our airlines, many stakeholders are providing support for Australians travelling overseas.
I thank all our partners for their support, particularly the Insurance Council of Australia, in working with us for the Travel Insurance Survey.
I look forward to even better results from our Consular State of Play next year and I look forward to the feedback from all our stakeholders, including the Australian public, on our consular strategy for the years 2017 -2019.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
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