Australia acts to curb travelers' absurd requests

AP News
Posted: Dec 02, 2014 11:39 PM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's government is taking steps to curb Australian travelers' soaring expectations of what help they can get from their embassies, such as a loan to pay a prostitute in Thailand or assistance to evict a polecat from above a ceiling in the United States.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Wednesday announced new measures to underscore consular services as a last resort and to promote "a stronger culture of self-reliance and personal responsibility in the traveling public."

These measures include a new policy of providing minimal consular services to Australians who willfully, repeatedly or negligently get themselves into trouble. People who visit embassies and consulates will be given the new guidelines. Charging Australians for the consular help that they receive was also something the government is considering, she said.

"Our consular staff are not there to pay for the repairs to your jet ski; they're not there to pay your hotel bill; they're not there to lend you a laptop or to provide you with office space in the embassy for you to do your work," Bishop said, listing actual requests that Australian embassies have refused.

At the embassy in Bangkok — Australia's busiest overall — an Australian walked in with a prostitute and was refused a loan to pay for services already provided, said Anita Downey, a senior counselor official at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Such requests are common at that embassy, she said.

Other locations that frequently get outlandish requests include Los Angeles, Bali, Manila and Dubai, she said.

Australian diplomats have fielded requests for an armored car, help removing a polecat above the ceiling of a house and intervention to prevent payment of a speeding fine, senior foreign ministry official Justin Brown said.

Other examples: Australians who were evacuated from civil unrest in Egypt in a government-chartered Qantas airliner in 2011 expected frequent flier miles for trip. Some Australians evacuated from the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia requested first-class seats, DFAT records show.

Brown said the United States, Canada and New Zealand embassies were experiencing similar escalating expectations from its citizens.

"At most of our posts there are people we would describe colloquially as serial pests who are constantly bouncing back into the embassy because they've run out of money or they've got some sort of other personal problem and they often come to the embassy and the consular teams expecting us to solve their problems for them," Brown said.

Downey said 20 percent of emergency loans made to Australians overseas are never repaid.

Australians are avid travelers. Despite a population of only 24 million, they made 9.2 million overseas trips last year. That same year, the foreign affairs department assisted 15,000 of those travelers.