JULIE BISHOP: I’m pleased to launch Australia’s Consular State of Play 2016-2017. This document sets out the fact that more Australians are travelling overseas than ever before. There were about 10 million exits from Australia last year. We issued 2 million passports in the year and now there about 14 million valid passports owned by Australian citizens.

Australians are also taking cruises in record numbers. About 1.2 million Australians undertook a cruise during the 2016-2017 season. But things can go wrong and the State of Play document sets out the statistics. There were about 1700 hospitalisations or illnesses reported by Australians overseas, over 1600 deaths overseas about 1800 cases of tracing someone’s whereabouts. And Australia’s consular staff in 112 posts overseas do an extraordinary job assisting Australians who get into trouble or need assistance while they are overseas. Our message is that the Australian Government cannot do everything for you if you get into trouble. For example we can’t get you out of jail. We can’t pay your medical bills, but we can provide support and assistance and our consular strategy sets out what government can and cannot do. Our message is be prepared for overseas travel. Research the destination to which you’re travelling. Log on to our Smartraveller website and register so that we know you’re overseas. But most importantly take out the right travel insurance and you can get the right cover for the activities you’re undertaking. Our message is make sure you’ve got travel insurance because if you can’t afford you really can’t afford to travel overseas. Ok any questions?

JOURNALIST: Minister the Government is calling on the states and territories to strengthen their anti-terror laws. Do you expect the changes to go through without any difficulties?

JULIE BISHOP: The Australian Government places the highest priority in keeping Australians safe at home and abroad and today the Prime Minister has met with the State Premiers and Chief Ministers of our territories to discuss how we can strengthen our laws and our cooperation to ensure that Australians are kept safe and that we can do all we can to prevent a terrorist attack here in Australia. In fact our law enforcement and security intelligence agencies have thwarted about 14 attempted terrorist attacks since 2014. The Premiers and the Prime Minister and Chief Ministers are discussing ways were we can cooperate across the states. We are urging the states to introduce terror laws that focus on how long a person can be detained if they are a suspect of a terrorist plot and we want some consistency across the country. Different laws apply to different states. We are also looking into introducing some new laws that relate to the possession of terrorist propaganda and also carrying out a terrorist hoax. We are also wanting to cooperate when it comes to the use of biometric data, facial recognition from visas and passports and share that amongst our states. Already that is shared amongst agencies but we need a more consistent approach across the country. So I welcome the support from premiers and chief ministers and I would imagine that there would be bipartisan support for our initiatives which are designed to keep Australians safe.

JOURNALIST: Are you able to give us an update on Las Vegas from (inaudible)?

JULIE BISHOP: I understand that the death toll remains at a shocking 59 victims. Over 500 people were injured. Our advice is still that no Australians are among the victims among those killed or among those injured. A number of Australians were in the vicinity and were indirectly caught up in this horrific incident but my advice from our consular staff overseas based on the advice they’ve received from local authorities is that no Australians are among the victims or those injured. We are working hard to ensure that any Australians who might require assistance in Las Vegas are receiving that. We have additional consular staff in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas and we are working to ensure that all Australians in the vicinity are accounted for.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that Las Vegas is one of the biggest in the world, do you think that they need more staff there given when we have incidents like this?

JULIE BISHOP: Well the Australian Government has a number of posts in the United States. We have a very significant mission in Washington and in fact some of our experienced Washington staff are travelling to Las Vegas for this purpose of assisting consular requirements. We have a post in New York, in Chicago, in Houston, we have a trade post in San Francisco and a significant consular post in Los Angles so I believe that we have sufficient staff. We just make sure that where an incident occurs we can ensure that staff are there so I’m satisfied with the number of consular staff. They do work around the clock at times like this. They are exceedingly busy; it is certainly a complex and harrowing time for our consular staff as well.  They act with great professionalism and do all they can to ensure that Australians are kept informed of what’s going on and if they require assistance then that is provided.

JOURNALIST: On another note the former Australian Admiral James Goldrick has called for operations in the Middle East to be re-deployed to south east Asia (inaudible) - does Australia need to reconsider its strategy?

JULIE BISHOP: Australia deploys our navy and indeed our defence forces where our national interests are best served and these judgements are made on a constant basis.  Our deployment in the Middle East is focused on counter terrorism work, on anti-piracy, on preventing smuggling of drugs into our region and also weapons and arms. So they are carrying out very vital work which is in our national interest in the Middle East. We also have the navy deployed in the Indo-Pacific and we have a number of navy ships in the Indo-Pacific. We are able to be present in both areas because in both areas they are acting in our national interest and this is a matter that is under constant review. 

Just on Vanuatu, there is a considerable fear that volcanic activity in Vanuatu would damage and affect the islands and we have sent humanitarian assistance. HMAS Choules our navy ship has arrived with humanitarian support. Over 11,500 people have been evacuated from Ambae Island where the volcanic activity is taking place and also we’ve had a transport plane assist - a c17 - provide humanitarian assistance as well.  So that’s another example of the Australian defence force playing a role in our region in assisting a humanitarian crisis with one of our dearest neighbours in Vanuatu. Thank you.

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