Consular State of Play 2016-17 launch
What a beautifulSydney day it is and thank you Rob for the introduction. I acknowledge thewonderful partnership with the Australian Government through the Department ofForeign Affairs and Trade with the Insurance Council of Australia particularlyin relation to consular matters.
This is a fittinglocation for the launch of our Consular State of Play 2016-2017 with thismagnificent cruise ship behind us. As Rob said, Australians are taking tocruising like never before – I was going to saylike ducks to water – and we are informedby Cruise Line International Association that about 25 or 26 million peoplewill be taking cruises this year. Of that number 1.2 million Australians willbe departing from our shores on cruise ships to exciting destinations. This isa form of travel that is not only very popular with older Australians, alsoyounger people are taking cruises so it's a new form, well,an enhanced form of travel, entertainment and many Australians are nowcruising.
Australians arealso travelling abroad in record numbers, about 10 million exits from Australiaevery year. We issued 2 million new passports last year. There are currentlyabout 14 million valid Australian passports to enable Australians to traveloverseas. But things can go wrong and we know that various incidents can occurfrom robbery, assault, losing your passport, through to illness or even deathand our Consular State of Play reveals that Australians required assistance in12,000 instances last year and we had 66,000 calls to our Crisis EmergencyHotline. About 1,700 Australians overseas required assistance forhospitalisation or illness, about 1,600 deaths overseaslast year, about 1,800 were the subject of a request as to their whereabouts totrace them and we also had I think at any one time we have about 1600 peoplewho are under arrest, about 370 in prison. So the statistics are quite telling. It isconsiderable work for our consular staff. Given the complexity of some of theincidents where Australians find themselves, terrorist attacks in London, theappalling and the horrific mass shooting in Las Vegas only the other day whenabout 59 people were killed and about 520 or more were injured, there wereAustralians on the scene but thankfully none have been reported as beingamongst the victims or injured - but our consular staff are dealing withincreasingly complex scenarios and I really do want to pay tribute to ourconsular staff - both in Canberra and our stations here in Australia andoverseas – for the work they do, aboveand beyond the call of duty to assist Australians who are in trouble overseas.We have about 112 posts overseas now in over 80 different locations, 80different countries, and they do an extraordinary job in supporting Australianswho get into trouble or need assistance while they're overseas.
We are trying tomake our consular services as efficient and effective as possible and give thetaxpayer value for money. Last year I launched our Consular Strategy to set outthe ways the Australian Government can continue to provide consular services tothose Australians who are travelling overseas.
As part of thatConsular Strategy we have established a Global Watch Office in Canberra whichprovides 24/7 assessment and analysis of major incidents overseas and providesthat feedback to government policymakers and the like. We also have a newCrisis Hub which is a digital portal that provides real-time up-to-dateinformation on a crisis overseas so people aren't ringing and hanging on the end of the phone, they can go online andget immediate updates. Our Smartraveller website which is increasingly calledupon by travellers overseas is constantly updated. We now have traveladvisories for over 170 destinations and I do urge people to log-on toSmartraveller, register and read travel advisories before they go overseas.
Our message ofcourse is to prepare for an overseas trip. Wherever you're going, prepare for an overseas trip. Do your research into the destination, log-onto Smartraveller and read the travel advice and take out travel insurance. AsRob indicated there is still a level of ignorance about what the Government canand cannot do for you when you're overseas – no we cannot pay your hospital bills, no we cannot getyou out of jail, if you are subject to the laws of another country then youmust abide by those laws. Medicare will cover a cruise going from an Australianport to an Australian port but will not cover your costs if you're going to an Australian port to overseas.
So our message is:do you research on travel insurance but please take it out and ensure you havetravel insurance that covers the kind of activities that you'll be undertaking overseas. And I'm pleased that the Insurance Council of Australia andDFAT have commissioned a survey on the behaviour of Australians when it comesto travel insurance. It's disturbing that 8per cent of those travelling overseas did not have travel insurance over thelast 12 months and over 30 per cent did not take out travel insurance in thelast 3 years and 27 per cent didn't have travelinsurance that covered medical or hospital costs. So as I've said often if you cannot afford travel insuranceyou cannot afford to travel. We are workingclosely with the Insurance Council of Australia to raise awareness to encouragepeople to shop around for the right insurance cover because there will be aninsurance policy to cover your situation and I know there is some very usefulwebsites to find your right insurance cover that people can access. Of courseairlines and cruise line organisations also provide support for Australiansoverseas and travel insurance agents also provide assistance. So collectivelywe want to ensure that Australians are safe and have a positive experience whenthey travel overseas but they also need to be self-reliant – the Government cannot provide all the support that youwill need. So that's why we urgepeople to prepare for the trip, research their destination and take out travelinsurance. And my last message is: www.smartraveller.gov.au
I'm delighted that Kate is here and I look forward to seeingher every year. She does a magnificent job in raising awareness about theperils and pitfalls of travel and what young people should know and understand.
Travelling overseascan be an enriching and rewarding experience and we want to keep it that way.