Consular conundrum: the rising demands and diminishing means for assisting Australians overseas

Supply and demand Australia

Australians are travelling more than ever. In 2012, they took more than eight million trips overseas, more than double the number a decade ago.  Public expectations of the assistance government can provide when travellers encounter trouble are rapidly rising, fuelled by intense media and political attention given to high-profile cases. These rising demands on Australia’s consular service are becoming increasingly difficult to meet. How can DFAT manage the increased consular workload in a tight fiscal environment, without neglecting Australia’s other foreign policy priorities.

Key findings:

  • Rising international travel, combined with changing traveller demographics, activities and destinations, are increasing the burden and complexity of the consular workload. Media attention on prominent cases tempts politicians to override departmental protocols and consular service charters to provide higher levels of attention and service, bidding up the level of service Australians expect when they encounter trouble overseas.
  • This comes at a time when DFAT’s resourcing is already stretched to the limit from decades of bipartisan neglect. Diverting scant resources to consular work compromises the department’s overall responsibilities.
  • With demands on the consular service continuing to rise, solutions must be found. Government should increase funding for consular services, in particular through a ‘consular levy’, either on the cost of a passport or on an airline ticket.
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