The rising cost to DFAT of Australians travelling abroad

An amusing list of requests for embassy help released by DFAT has had wide coverage, but the rising cost of consular services is no laughing matter for Australia’s diplomats.

There was the request for advice on how to get a polecat out of a roof. Another asked whether consular staff could help pack his bags. And a plea to an embassy to pay a prostitute.

The anecdotes from Foreign Minister Julie Bishop this week gave punters plenty to laugh at. But the updated consular strategy released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade — revealing a stricter approach to the provision of consular services — was also an acknowledgement that the combination of stagnating budgets and needy, itchy-footed Aussies is causing headaches.

One foreign affairs watcher believes the department’s “anaemic” budget is stretching resources like never before. And a former diplomat told The Mandarin the government is signalling further funding cuts — and more personal responsibility for Australians overseas.

Releasing the Consular Strategy 2014-16 on Wednesday, Bishop said it “emphasises there must be less latitude to the small minority who have unreasonable demands of consular assistance or whose actions are wilfully reckless”. While the Foreign Minister insisted the measure would have a “miniscule” effect on the bottom line, the decision to release the traveller tales was undoubtedly part of an effort to stem the problem of consular assistance chewing up an ever-larger portion of DFAT’s budget.

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