Good morning everyone.
What a beautiful Sydney day it is and thank you Rob for the introduction. I acknowledge the wonderful partnership with the Australian Government through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with the Insurance Council of Australia particularly in relation to consular matters.
This is a fitting location for the launch of our Consular State of Play 2016-2017 with this magnificent cruise ship behind us. As Rob said, Australians are taking to cruising like never before – I was going to say like ducks to water – and we are informed by Cruise Line International Association that about 25 or 26 million people will be taking cruises this year. Of that number 1.2 million Australians will be departing from our shores on cruise ships to exciting destinations. This is a form of travel that is not only very popular with older Australians, also younger people are taking cruises so it’s a new form, well, an enhanced form of travel, entertainment and many Australians are now cruising.
Australians are also travelling abroad in record numbers, about 10 million exits from Australia every year. We issued 2 million new passports last year. There are currently about 14 million valid Australian passports to enable Australians to travel overseas. But things can go wrong and we know that various incidents can occur from robbery, assault, losing your passport, through to illness or even death and our Consular State of Play reveals that Australians required assistance in 12,000 instances last year and we had 66,000 calls to our Crisis Emergency Hotline. About 1,700 Australians overseas required assistance for hospitalisation or illness, about 1,600 deaths overseas last year, about 1,800 were the subject of a request as to their whereabouts to trace them and we also had I think at any one time we have about 1600 people who are under arrest, about 370 in prison. So the statistics are quite telling. It is considerable work for our consular staff. Given the complexity of some of the incidents where Australians find themselves, terrorist attacks in London, the appalling and the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas only the other day when about 59 people were killed and about 520 or more were injured, there were Australians on the scene but thankfully none have been reported as being amongst the victims or injured - but our consular staff are dealing with increasingly complex scenarios and I really do want to pay tribute to our consular staff - both in Canberra and our stations here in Australia and overseas – for the work they do, above and beyond the call of duty to assist Australians who are in trouble overseas. We have about 112 posts overseas now in over 80 different locations, 80 different countries, and they do an extraordinary job in supporting Australians who get into trouble or need assistance while they’re overseas.
We are trying to make our consular services as efficient and effective as possible and give the taxpayer value for money. Last year I launched our Consular Strategy to set out the ways the Australian Government can continue to provide consular services to those Australians who are travelling overseas.
As part of that Consular Strategy we have established a Global Watch Office in Canberra which provides 24/7 assessment and analysis of major incidents overseas and provides that feedback to government policymakers and the like. We also have a new Crisis Hub which is a digital portal that provides real-time up-to-date information on a crisis overseas so people aren’t ringing and hanging on the end of the phone, they can go online and get immediate updates. Our Smartraveller website which is increasingly called upon by travellers overseas is constantly updated. We now have travel advisories for over 170 destinations and I do urge people to log-on to Smartraveller, register and read travel advisories before they go overseas.
Our message of course is to prepare for an overseas trip. Wherever you’re going, prepare for an overseas trip. Do your research into the destination, log-on to Smartraveller and read the travel advice and take out travel insurance. As Rob indicated there is still a level of ignorance about what the Government can and cannot do for you when you’re overseas – no we cannot pay your hospital bills, no we cannot get you out of jail, if you are subject to the laws of another country then you must abide by those laws. Medicare will cover a cruise going from an Australian port to an Australian port but will not cover your costs if you’re going to an Australian port to overseas.
So our message is: do you research on travel insurance but please take it out and ensure you have travel insurance that covers the kind of activities that you’ll be undertaking overseas. And I’m pleased that the Insurance Council of Australia and DFAT have commissioned a survey on the behaviour of Australians when it comes to travel insurance. It’s disturbing that 8 per cent of those travelling overseas did not have travel insurance over the last 12 months and over 30 per cent did not take out travel insurance in the last 3 years and 27 per cent didn’t have travel insurance that covered medical or hospital costs. So as I’ve said often if you cannot afford travel insurance you cannot afford to travel.
We are working closely with the Insurance Council of Australia to raise awareness to encourage people to shop around for the right insurance cover because there will be an insurance policy to cover your situation and I know there is some very useful websites to find your right insurance cover that people can access. Of course airlines and cruise line organisations also provide support for Australians overseas and travel insurance agents also provide assistance. So collectively we want to ensure that Australians are safe and have a positive experience when they travel overseas but they also need to be self-reliant – the Government cannot provide all the support that you will need. So that’s why we urge people to prepare for the trip, research their destination and take out travel insurance. And my last message is: www.smartraveller.gov.au
I’m delighted that Kate is here and I look forward to seeing her every year. She does a magnificent job in raising awareness about the perils and pitfalls of travel and what young people should know and understand.
Travelling overseas can be an enriching and rewarding experience and we want to keep it that way.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555