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Aussies on Phuket May Soon Pay More to Get Out of Trouble

Sunday, January 5, 2014
News Analysis

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

Thailand 125
Greece 71
Vietnam 63
Philippines 58
US 53
Indonesia 47
China 44
Germany 35
United Kingdom 33
India 21
Source: DFAT

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.

Comments

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Successive Australian governments, particularly the conservatives, have a very shabby track record when it comes to helping its citizens when they fall foul of overseas laws.
They put the boot into David Hicks when he was wrongly incarcerated in the hell-hole that was Guantanamo Bay, they put the boot into Schapelle Corby when she asked for help, and they even dobbed in the Bali Nine to the Indonesian cops when they could have arrested them when they arrived back in Oz instead of leaving them to face death penalties in Indo.
The message is very clear. If you are an Aussie and you get into trouble, don't expect any help from home.

Posted by Farang on January 5, 2014 12:25

Editor Comment:

The message is very clear. If you are an Aussie and you want protection overseas, pack a gun.

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I would say that even MFA of my small and N.E. European country, rather poor vs. Australia, on regular basis actively assists through diplomatic channels its nationals who got into legal troubles in Africa, South Asia and similar locations, where standards of fair trial can not be expected to be followed. Even in the cases where those nationals are not apparently innocent - as to get a fair trial is still very important. It seems that they try shy away from drug cases, but so far there were no cases where death penalty or life improsement was involved.

MFA of UK, and now of Australia, turn a cold shoulder to its citizen, and it is not good. Citizenship nowadays is rather volatile thing, and one can acquire one of many other countries in 5-15 years, if only he/she wishes so.

Travel insurance of course is a key. I wonder how the Kingdom allows visitors in without it. I guess officials do not want impose a burden on visitors like from Cambodia , and hesitate to differentiate requirements for insurance by nationality.

Most people grab a tarvel insurance policy they oferred without checking in small print for real coverage amounts(that in most cases of cheapest policies is just too small for , say, medium-scale and up traffic accident - say 10,000 USD in Phuket International Hospital will lasts for a few days in ICU and some surgery) and for covered risks (in most cases traffic on non-commercial transport will be excluded(non-licensed taxis); driving under influence automatically will void a policy; actually, will exclude any speedboats, either for day tour or chartered, but allows for scheduled ferries; excludes any costs coverage because of delay of flights because of political unrest; excludes any dicing, snorkelling, hiking through jungle, riding an elephant or horse, any interaction with animals, like feeding monkeys etc.- in most cases to have such risks covered you have to declare when buying policy, then, and then you will have to pay 1.5-5X higher premium).
For medical expenses, in most cases they will require to pay yourself, and then will refund to you what they deem necessary.
What most travellers not include into travel insurance, is option for coverage of civil liability ( broken things in hotel or shop etc.), same for traffic accident( theoretically, all jet-ski damage should go through this, two deterrent is well-know "specific procedure" of claiming damages by jet-ski operators, and the fact that driving jet-ski in Thailand requires a licence - and the last one exclude option to be covered by any insurance policy).

Posted by Sue on January 5, 2014 13:05

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No the answer is have insurance and don't be a d****

Posted by Aussie on January 5, 2014 13:25

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If you're a 'boofheaded' Aussie braking the law in a foreign land, don't expect your government to bail you out.

Posted by It's too late on January 5, 2014 13:33

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About what id expect from this politician but the Government hand is out for departure tax for everyone who leaves Australia which is a nicer rehashed word for the dreaded exit visa word you pay the money instantly and get a stamp this cash cow goes into consolidated revenue then, not to consular support, I think Larry Cunningham previous (honorary consul) got a few grand a year a fax machine and phone bill assistance from the Australian Government he was highly respected and a grand job he did of it
over burdened barely funded and doing it for community spirit he retired from the position some 8 years on, considering the responsibility and workload its now due for a full time consular official not a well meaning part time honorary one whom has his or her own business to run as well as cope with consular issues and getting experience with it by crossing bridges as gets to them, doubtful will see another the caliber of Larry Cunningham.

Posted by slickmelb on January 5, 2014 15:57

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Hey, Australian politicians have better things to spend the taxpayers money on rather than help stranded tourists. They have gold passes for themselves, petrol cards, mobile phones and the wine menu at parliament house to consider first. Not to mention their overly generous superannuation and pensions.

Posted by The Weapon on January 5, 2014 18:21

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Sue, your knowledge on travel insurance coverage is lacking in so many aspects there is no point in even starting. You are wrong on nearly every count.

Posted by stevenl on January 5, 2014 19:59


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