Melb magazine, February 2014 edition
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is currently studying public submissions as part of a review of Australia’s Consular Strategy. Details concerning this process can be found at http://dfat.gov.au/dept/consular/issues.html
In 2012/13 DFAT helped about twelve thousand Australian travelers in difficulty, provided $209,126 in emergency loans, issued 774 updates to travel advisories, and registered 1,179,335 people in the ‘Smartraveller’ database system. With the demand for consular services rising and government budgets under pressure, DFAT recognizes that significant changes may need to take place in order to guarantee an appropriate level of support for Australian travelers and expats.
The Issues Paper prepared by DFAT poses many questions, including:
Who should be able to access consular assistance?
What can be done to improve public understanding of the consular role?
What consular services should continue to be delivered, and what services could be reduced or withdrawn?
Is there scope to improve the delivery of services, for example through greater use of digital and online services?
Is there scope for DFAT to improve its systems for traveler registration, travel alerts and crisis response?
How effective are DFAT’s systems for dealing with feedback on consular assistance?
One specific issue to be addressed is how best to deal with Australians who find themselves in financial difficulty whilst travelling or living overseas, for example as a result of medical problems. This topic has been raised in Thailand in recent times, due to its potential to financially impact on the Thai health system. It will be interesting to see the extent to which DFAT’s recommendations tie-in with measures being considered by the Thai authorities, such as compulsory medical insurance (possibly in the form of a special ticket levy). Another issue of concern to Australians living in Thailand is that of finding a viable alternative to being forced to travel to/from our embassy in Bangkok to undertake simple administrative procedures such as the signing of statutory declarations.