PHUKET: Australians are being warned that they may have to start paying for assistance from their government if they get into trouble overseas - even if justice is on their side.
As for Aussies who take a stand on principle . . . well, cash appears to be the only principle that matters to Australian's new hard-nosed political rulers.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says: ''Of course cost recovery can be an important part of providing consular support.''
Australia, one of the most prosperous nations in the world, recently reneged on a promise to establish a consul-general's office on Phuket similar to the one that exists on Bali.
Given the large numbers of Australians now visiting Phuket, there was no logic to the retreat - except to save the money to cover parliamentarians' expenses, or something equally pressing.
Ms Bishop is now reported to have outlined a review of fees for cost recovery of consular activities for Australians in trouble overseas, and the circumstances in which those fees could be levied.
When Phuketwan's editor recently suggested that the Australian Government might follow the lead of the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and other leading international organisations in demanding that the Royal Thai Navy withdraw criminal defamation charges that impinged on media freedom, all he received from his government was the equivalent of a politician's blank stare.
Such a statement would have cost the government nothing. But it would have proved that Australia shared some basis principles with the rest of the free world.
The Australian government's reaction was almost as lacking in dealing with the plight of Greenpeace activist Colin Russell, who was detained unexpectedly in Russia, although Ms Bishop did actually visit Russia.
The Foreign Minister said she was appalled by Mr Russell's claim that the government did not do enough to get him out.
Now Ms Bishop's lack of interest appears likely to extend to many others among the thousands of Aussies who find themselves in trouble overseas each year.
At present, Australians are expected to pay back only emergency loans they seek while overseas.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the big influx of visitors to Bali is stretching the resources of Australian consular officials.
''Common cases include arrests, accidents and hospitalisation, mental health issues, the death of a family member, schoolies-related issues and repatriation,'' a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.
The spokesman said there have also been instances of travellers using passports as collateral for car or bike hire and the passport being held after an accident for ''compensation payments''.
But hey, Australians who travel pay taxes, too.
A separate submission to an inquiry has urged the government to do more to help Australians who fall foul of the law overseas, with former foreign affairs and defence officials saying Australia has lost sight of its basic responsibility to protect its citizens.
Andrew Farran, an international law specialist, Gary Woodard, former ambassador to Burma, China and Malaysia, and Paul Barratt, former Defence Department secretary and one time DFAT deputy secretary, told 'The Australian' that governments had lost sight of their responsibility to protect citizens in trouble overseas.
Road crashes and drownings are a popular cause of death for travelling Australians. Health insurance company Medibank has revealed that its most expensive travel claim in 2013 was for $260,000 for a cruise ship passenger who suffered a potentially fatal heart attack in the US.
The payout included overseas medical expenses, a pacemaker and for the family to fly to the US to accompany the patient back to Australia.
In another case, $90,000 was paid out in medical and repatriation costs to a traveller who fell over at the beach in Hawaii and suffered a fractured neck.
Top 10 Places Where Australians Died Overseas 2012-2013
United Kingdom 33
Crazy Ways Tourists Come to Grief
1. Running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
2. Tubing in Laos.
3. Bootleg alcohol laced with methanol in Indonesia.
4. Motorbike crashes in Indonesia and Thailand.
5. Magic mushroom milkshakes in Bali.