Consular Strategy 2017–19

Foreword

The Australian love of travel, sense of adventure, and our international connections enrich our country. Through our experiences overseas we gain, as a nation, a deeper understanding of our world and where Australia fits into that world.

The vast majority of Australians travel overseas without ever needing consular assistance. However, when Australians encounter serious difficulties overseas, they can seek help from a world class professional consular service provided by Australia's global diplomatic network.

I launched the first Consular Strategy in 2014 which focused on explaining the consular role, encouraging self-reliance among Australians when overseas, building international partnerships and prioritising consular resources to those who need it most. I am proud of our achievements under that Strategy. We opened new posts and extended our global consular reach, rolled out a new consular case management system, created a new Smartraveller website and developed a toolkit to assist vulnerable clients.

The new Consular Strategy for 2017–19 will guide Australia's consular priorities for the next three years and build on the framework of the first Strategy. While we pursue new initiatives to further modernise our consular service, we will focus on mental health, maximise public engagement with Smartraveller, explore ways to expand victim support services and seek new opportunities to reach out to Australian travellers, from schoolies to cruise passengers and retirees, to provide the tools to help travellers help themselves.

 

The Hon Julie Bishop MP
Minister for Foreign Affairs

Travel trends

Schoolies and young travellers

Young Australians are travelling independently overseas in greater numbers. Market research shows young Australians aged 18 to 25 are less likely to take out travel insurance, more likely to engage in adventurous or risky activities overseas and more likely to seek consular assistance.

As part of the second Strategy, we will seek new ways to reach out, including through the Smartygrants program, to engage young Australians with safe travel tools before they embark on their first solo travel adventures abroad.

As they embrace the freedom of independent travel, we will prompt young Australians to choose the right travel insurance, stay in touch with loved ones at home, look after their mates and understand the very harsh penalties – including the death penalty – that can apply for carrying drugs.

 
Drug-related arrests accounted for 168 of 1551 arrest cases in 2015–16. Even small quantities of "soft drugs" can attract heavy fines or jail sentences in prison environments that might be much harsher than in Australia.

Smartygrants recipients 2017

  • Nicole Fitzsimons Foundation

    Travel safety film for young travellers on the importance of travel insurance

  • Red Frogs

    Pre-travel education and in-trip support for schoolies

  • Independence Australia

    Helping to prepare and support people with disabilities to travel overseas

  • LIAM Charity

    Education on the effective treatment of methanol poisoning

Expatriates and retirees

Australians have always been highly mobile. Estimates suggest around one million Australians are living overseas and there is a growing trend for Australians to retire abroad, particularly in countries where there is a familial connection or a favourable climate and lifestyle. However, increasing numbers of retired Australians overseas are under-insured, under-funded and under-prepared should things go wrong.

We will find innovative ways to inform Australians retiring overseas on the importance of comprehensive travel insurance, researching health care options and facilities and understanding the impact on any government benefits or payments before they leave Australia.

 

Cruises

With more than one million cruises taken by Australians in 2015–16, Australia is one of the fastest growing cruise passenger markets in the world.

Taking a cruise can be a wonderful way to see the world, but cruise passengers need to take out the right travel insurance to make sure they are adequately covered, particularly for any unforeseen medical difficulties, existing health conditions or adventure activities. Hospitalisation costs on board or outside Australia and medical evacuation costs can be very expensive and are not covered by Medicare.

We will explore the use of behavioural economics and niche social media forums to encourage cruise passengers to take out the right travel insurance before embarking on the cruise of a lifetime.

 

World class consular service

As the ever-changing world of technology continues apace, we will pursue new ways to deliver consular tools and services. We will seek out telecommunications and social media partnerships and explore alternative models to establish the welfare and whereabouts of Australians during crises and emergencies overseas. As Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced in 2016, we will also establish a Global Watch Office: a 24/7 centre with capability to monitor and respond to international events that affect Australian interests.

Building a professional service needs feedback to address emerging issues and gather constructive ideas to guide the future of the service. As part of the second Strategy, we will continue to expand feedback mechanisms to help us benchmark current expectations and performance, track changes over time and identify what aspects of the service are most valued or can be improved.

 

Support for victims of sexual assault and other serious crime committed overseas

In 2015-16, we helped 315 Australians who reported being victims of serious crime overseas. Whereas victims of crime committed within Australia are able to access support, Australian victims of crimes committed overseas can be precluded from free access to victim support schemes and services when they return home to Australia.

A clear gap exists in home-based support and services for Australians who are victims of crime committed overseas. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will work with states and territories and federal agencies to help bridge this gap.

 

Permanent residents and dual nationals

Dual nationals in their country of other nationality, who may have access to local support and services, will be encouraged to seek and exhaust all other options before seeking consular assistance. This is consistent with Smartraveller messaging which has long highlighted the importance of self-sufficiency for Australians abroad. However, in crises and exceptional circumstances involving vulnerable Australians overseas, we will continue to prioritise assistance, regardless of other citizenships.

There are practical difficulties and international legal limitations which can prevent consular officers from gaining consular access to an Australian overseas if they entered a country using a non-Australian passport. Accordingly, Australians who travel using a non-Australian passport should not expect the Australian Government will always be able to provide consular assistance.

 

Australia is one of very few countries that extends consular assistance to permanent residents and there is no legal provision to do so under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The practice of offering consular assistance to permanent residents of Australia will cease. Consular services will be limited to crisis situations, including government-assisted evacuations, when that is provided to Australian citizens.

Smartraveller provides useful information for dual nationals travelling overseas.

A focus on mental health

This Strategy takes a three-pronged approach to mental health:

  • Public submissions to the Consular Strategy for 2017–19 highlighted a concerning lack of travel insurance coverage for travellers who experience a mental health incident, regardless of any history of mental health issues.
    We will pursue further outreach to encourage travel insurance providers to address mental health related policy exclusions.
  • Consular officers have a range of valuable skills and experiences but are not professional social workers or counsellors.
    We will augment specialist training to help consular officers to sensitively manage the growing number of consular cases which involve mental health issues.
  • There is growing recognition of the unique, and sometimes distressing, workload faced by consular staff. They often assist Australians in difficult environments and circumstances overseas, for example as their service to Australians can take them to prisons, morgues and hospitals.
    We will develop a package of measures, including additional self-care training, to support the mental wellbeing of consular staff in order to maintain high performing employees and to mitigate the risk of vicarious trauma.

Smartraveller

In 2015–16, we issued nearly two million Australian passports, while Australians took 10.2 million international trips from Australian airports. That's a lot of travel, Australia! With around 16,000 consular cases during that period, it also means that the vast majority of Australians abroad are well-prepared and look after themselves.

 

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop launched Phase IV of the Smartraveller campaign in 2015, with the aim of encouraging self-reliance among travellers by being 'informed and prepared' and obtaining appropriate travel insurance.

Since then, total awareness of Smartraveller increased from 70% to 81%. Reported use of Smartraveller increased from 33% to 49% of travellers and Smartraveller received more than 26 million Smartraveller page views.

Travellers who indicated they would investigate safety risks increased from 74% to 87%; those who would investigate local laws increased from 67% to 79%; and those who would investigate the limitations of travel insurance policies increased from 68% to 73%. The Smartraveller campaign also contributed to high levels of travel insurance uptake by Australian travellers.

Consistent with our long-term focus on encouraging self-reliance among Australians overseas, our Strategy for 2017–19 will maximise public engagement with Smartraveller.

With increasing numbers of Australians being arrested overseas (1551 cases in 2015–16), Smartraveller will maintain strong messaging to promote a culture of responsible travel through better understanding of travel destinations, especially local laws and customs. We will encourage Australians to recognise that local laws apply to them when they travel and live abroad, regardless of how strict or how different they may seem.

We provide the tools, including an expansive range of over 200 accurate, destination-specific travel advisories and travel bulletins, and we will encourage Australian travellers to use them. We will do this by boosting the integration of Smartraveller messaging within the Australian passport system and finding new ways to promote Smartraveller through the aviation sector.

 

We will simplify and adapt access to the tools that empower Australians to prepare and travel safely. We will continue to improve the accessibility of Smartraveller and consular resources to help Australians help themselves when they encounter difficulties overseas.

In response to an increasing number of Australians offloaded from flights due to disruptive behaviour, Smartraveller developed a successful and widely shared social media initiative encouraging Australians to stay classy while travelling abroad. Staying classy means knowing your destination by subscribing to Smartraveller travel advisories, abiding by local laws and taking out travel insurance.

 

Key Emergency Contacts

Local Emergency Services

Australian Consular Services

Australian Passport Information Service

Feedback

First Assistant Secretary

Consular and Crisis Management Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
R G Casey Building, John McEwen Crescent, Barton ACT 0221 Australia

consular.feedback@dfat.gov.au



Last Updated: 25 July 2017