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Budget 2006: Overseas consular and crisis response: strengthening assistance to Australians.



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MEDIA RELEASE MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS ALEXANDER DOWNER FA043 9 May 2006

OVERSEAS CONSULAR AND CRISIS RESPONSE - STRENGTHENING ASSISTANCE TO AUSTRALIANS The Australian Government’s response to the Bali terrorist attacks and the tsunami and the assistance we provide to our citizens in distress overseas make us the benchmark against which other countries measure their consular services. To ensure we continue to provide a world class consular service, the Australian Government has committed $80.2 million over four years to strengthen its capacity to help Australians overseas and improve its capability to respond to overseas emergencies.

Australians now make almost five million overseas trips every year, a 40 per cent rise over the last three years. This increase has led to a similar rise over the same period in the number of complex consular cases which require intensive handling. As Australians travel in greater numbers to more destinations, they are more exposed to the risk of terrorist attack, natural disasters and threats such as Avian Influenza. In 2005, DFAT managed an unprecedented number of major overseas emergencies, including the Boxing Day tsunami, the London and Bali bombings, a kidnapping in Iraq and Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, deploying Emergency Response Teams a record four times in one year.

Key elements of the Government’s new Overseas Consular and Crisis Response package include:

• $45.7 million over four years for additional DFAT consular staff in Canberra and overseas, and $5.5 million for Austrade missions overseas to manage the growing demands of consular casework and enhance contingency planning and crisis response capabilities. The new overseas positions will improve the quality, coverage and depth of our overseas consular network. This measure will be backed by improved training and planning support for our consular officials at a cost of $2.6 million;

• $21.9 million to upgrade DFAT’s crisis and case management systems and the DFAT Crisis Centre. This will see our current capabilities - largely designed and built before 9/11 - overhauled to incorporate the latest technology, speeding-up our ability to locate and assist Australians in a crisis;

• new communications equipment to enable DFAT-led Emergency Response Teams to send through the latest information on affected Australians from the field in remote locations where communications are down ($3.7 million); and

• additional staff to manage the increased number of applications under the Attorney-General’s Department Special Circumstances (Overseas) Financial Assistance Scheme ($0.9 million).

This initiative will be partially offset by a nine per cent increase in the cost of Australian passports.

Media inquiries: Mr Downer’s Office Chris Kenny (02) 6277 7500 / 0419 206 890 Departmental Scott Bolitho (02) 6261 1555

Media releases and speeches are available from DFAT via the internet. http://www.dfat.gov.au/

2006-07 Portfolio Budget Statements Draft Supporting Information statements

OVERSEAS CONSULAR AND CRISIS RESPONSE - STRENGTHENING ASSISTANCE TO AUSTRALIANS

Why is this measure important? The Australian Government’s response to the Bali terrorist attacks and the tsunami and the assistance we provide to our citizens in distress overseas make us the benchmark against which other countries measure their consular services.

But the demand for consular services and the risk to Australians overseas are growing. Australians now make almost five million overseas trips every year, a 40 per cent rise over the last three years. This dramatic increase has led to a similar rise over the past three years in the number of complex consular cases which require intensive handling.

As Australians travel in greater numbers to more destinations, they are more exposed to the risk of terrorist attack, natural disasters and threats such as Avian Influenza. In 2005, DFAT managed an unprecedented number of major overseas emergencies, including the tsunami, the London and Bali bombings, the kidnapping in Iraq and Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, deploying Emergency Response Teams a record four times in one year.

Who will benefit? Australian travellers and expatriates, their families and friends will benefit from this measure.

What funding is the Government committing to the initiative? To ensure we continue to provide a world class consular service, the Australian Government has committed $80.2 million over four years to strengthen its capacity to help Australians overseas and improve its capability to respond to overseas emergencies.

• $45.7 million over four years for additional DFAT consular staff in Canberra and overseas, and $5.5 million for Austrade missions overseas to manage the growing demands of consular casework and enhance contingency planning and crisis response capabilities. The new overseas positions will improve the quality, coverage and depth of our overseas consular network. This measure will be backed by improved training and planning support for our consular officials at a cost of $2.6 million.

• $21.9 million to upgrade DFAT’s crisis and case management systems and the DFAT Crisis Centre. This will see our current capabilities - largely designed and built before 9/11 - overhauled to incorporate the latest technology, speeding-up our ability to locate and assist Australians in a crisis.

• New communications equipment to enable DFAT-led Emergency Response Teams to send through the latest information on affected Australians from the field in remote locations where communications are down ($3.7 million).

• Additional staff to manage the increased number of applications under the Attorney-General’s Department Special Circumstances (Overseas) Financial Assistance Scheme ($0.9 million).

This initiative will be partially offset by a nine percent increase in the cost of Australian passports. Together with annual CPI adjustment, passport application fees will increase as follows:

• Standard passport from $172 to $192

• Child passport from $86 to $96

• Senior’s passport from $86 to $96

• Frequent traveller passport from $258 to $289

What have we done in the past? The Government has a strong record of helping Australians in difficulty overseas through the provision of high-quality consular assistance in 172 locations and highly effective responses to crises. The new measure will allow the Government to expand its consular case management, contingency planning and crisis response capabilities to enhance our consular services and meet the growing demands created by more Australians exposed to a higher level of risk overseas.

When will the measure conclude? This initiative represents the Government’s continuing commitment to providing high quality consular services to Australians - it will be ongoing.