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Foreign minister's statement to parliament on consular services

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M60 Date 26 MaY 1978 THE HON. ANDREW PEACOCK M.P. (,Λ

Embargoed against delivery on 26 May.


Attached is the text of the Minister1s statement in the House of Representatives on 26 May 1978 concerning consular services provided for Australians overseas.



I deal in this statement with the consular services provided for Australians overseas. This is a major function of my Department and of our overseas posts. Together with the issuing of passports in Australia, it is the principal across-

the-counter service of the Department„ Recent and prospective growth in the consular work load and the notoriety of several current and regrettable cases overseas make it timely for there to be a Ministerial statement. . .

Australia does not have a separate consular service or a distinct consular stream in its foreign service. It is, however, our aim to train a larger number of experienced consular officials. The other side of overseas representation work,

international negotiations, political and economic reporting, export piomotion, migration, information activities and the many aspects of representational work, make more recognised contributions to the national interest than routine consular work. But it is the routine consular work which, for the Australian public, is . the immediate and tangible benefit of the overseas representational

services. . . ■ .

There have been dramatic developments in the volume and nature of consular work in the past two decades„ These develop­ ments have been world wide and closely related to the increase in travel. No developed countries have escaped increases in .

their consular responsibilities.

Basic consular services are not optional. They are essential. If our own consuls are not in a position to act, others must act for us, Clearly we cannot respond by proxy to the one. million Australians already going overseas each year. The number

of valid Australian passports on issue is nearly 1.7 million.

It has been assessed that Australia stands on the verge of a travel explosion. According to Qantas projections, in less than ten years' time some three million Australians will be leaving Australia each yea:r for overseas destinations, an increase of more than 200%. Obviously I applaud and encourage such a development. . What better force for international understanding than the first hand knowledge of other countries' cultures, . aspirations and problems which can result from such travel.

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As well as increased traffic, there have been other changes. Twenty years ago most Australians who travelled abroad made their destinations Britain and Western Europe. Australians now travel more widely around the world and by air rather than by sea.

The character of today's travellers has also changed. More than 50% of Australians who travel abroad are under the age of 30 and a substantial proportion of the remainder are in their advanced years.

Unfortunately some of our nationals behave overseas in ways that would not be acceptable in Australia. The increase in Australians being arrested overseas for drug offences in particular is a matter of great concern to the Government on consular and other grounds.

Although the majority of these unfortunate arrests occur in South East Asian countries the problem is by no means confined to that area. Our consular resources are coming under identifiable strain as a result of narcotics offences alone and

I have given detailed personal attention to the administrative consequences of significant numbers of arrests of Australians overseas. Amongst other considerations we cannot afford to have the services available to law-abiding Australians overseas curtailed because our Consuls are preoccupied with the problems of those


This increase in arrests coincides with stiffer penalties for drug offences. Long prison and death sentences, which might become mandatory, have been introduced in countries close to us, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, the very countries many younger Australians are more inclined to visit. Increased

offences mean an increase in the number of prison visits, arrangements for bail and legal representation, attendances at hearings, communications with family and, if the person arrested is imprisoned, a continuing interest in his or her welfare,

sometimes for many years, under arduous prison conditions.

· . Alongside a reasonable consular concern and natural sense of compassion for those convicted and punished overseas, there must, however, also be a balanced view of the significance of many of these drug offences. We cannot condone, and indeed can only condemn, the actions of those proven to have played a part in drug trafficking.

At CHOGRM the Government made"a new commitment to examine the possibilities of further regional co-operation to suppress the illicit drug traffic. It is very welcome to us that Malaysia is convening the Working Group on Illicit Drugs

set up for that purpose. We shall participate fully in the : work of the Group as we do in relation to other international measures in this field. In this connection I draw to the attention of Honourable Members the recent useful visit by

the Director-General of the U.N. Fund for Drug Abuse Control.

In relation to drug offences, and generally, we have sought to take the preventative measures open to us. My Department issues with each passport a booklet - "Hints for Australian Travellers", outlining difficulties and dangers inherent in travel overseas. 1 am pleased at the publicity the Press has given to

the contents of this booklet. Many of .Australia's major newspapers are continuing to perform a public service through thoughtful and helpful articles on consular problems documented by actual case histories known to my Department. . . This publicity will assist the Government in its efforts to prevent the more

avoidable occurrences and make Australians realise that they can turn to their consulates in times of genuine need.

More and more Australian travellers fail to make proper arrangements to purchase return tickets, to cover risks through insurance or to take adequate funds with them; Last year over 700 Australians had to be helped and sometimes repatriated at public expense. Repatriation is only approved as a last resort

on the basis of an undertaking that all costs will be repaid and much of this money is recovered. This provision is exercised strictly but compassionately.. The amount of public funds used

for distressed Australians has. remained fairly constant in the last five years, rising only in exceptional: circumstances such as the emergency in Cyprus. The funds necessary will, however, inevitably increase. .

I mention next the problems of dual nationality. Many migrants who are naturalised Australians, or in some cases their children who are natural-born Australians, may be regarded by their country of birth, or their parents' birth, still to be

citizens of those countries. Such "dual nationals" can be subject to laws of the country of their first citizenship, who may claim jurisdiction over them in such matters as military service, or taxation. My Department, and the Department of

Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, attempt to make dual nationals aware of the problems they might encounter on return to their country of birth. ■ . : , ' .

Assistance to dual nationals» however, necessarily becomes a growing part of consular work as more foreign born Australians return to visit their former homes, The problems of dual nationals cannot be overcome by citizens simply asserting

that they do not accept their other citizenship. In some cases formal acts of renunciation are possible, but in other countries, no such provisions exist; the requirements should be carefully established in advance. It is for the individual to ascertain and bear the consequences of coming within the jurisdiction of another country which claims his or her citizenship, whether the individual, or the Australian Government, recognises that claim or not. Our consular officers can advise, but beyond a strict limit, they cannot assist when, in these circumstances, the jurisdiction of another country is being asserted.

My predecessors have not placed on record a general description of Australian consular functions and services, and although there are some difficulties of definition, I believe it would be helpful to do so0 Broadly speaking, they fall into two parts; the provision of notarial and documentation services, and the protection of Australian citizens. The first requires that Australian consular officers perform functions including the following; notarial acts, oaths, affirmations and declarations such as the authentication or legalisation of various documents, from wills and contracts to school certificates and driving ■ licenses; the issue and renewal of passports and visas; the

solemnisation and registration of marriages; payment of or advice on social security provisions including medical benefits; advice on the importation and registration of motor vehicles; advice on acquisition or loss of citizenship, particularly on dual nationality problems; provision of information on Australian Customs' requirements; the provision of facilities for voting

in Australian elections overseas; the administration of regulations arising from the Navigation Act in regard to seamen; liaison with overseas legal authorities on instructions from Australia to arrange extradition; advice on exchange control

and currency matters for personal or investment purposes; serving of writs and taking evidence; advising visitors to Australia of health and quarantine requirements and reporting on outbreaks of diseases in foreign countries.

The second part, consular protection, arises from the international practice of sovereign states .recognising an obligation to protect the civil and legal rights of their citizens when abroad. An important consular duty is to ensure that

Australian citizens arrested overseas are treated with due process in accordance with the laws of the state where the offence may have occurred and that they receive the same benefits

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of the law which the foreign state affords to its own subjects. We. must ensure that an Australian arrested overseas knows his rights under local law and how to obtain legal assistance if he wishes it. Protection services also include assistance arising

from the deaths of Australians abroad, including funeral arrange­ ments, return of remains to Australia and the protection of estates and property willed to Australians.

In addition to its internationally accepted obligations, the Australian Government provides a range of services which are designed to assist Australians in trouble and distress of various kinds and which come, generally, within the scope of protection work. This assistance includes: enquiries relating to the

welfare and whereabouts of Australians; repatriation and financial relief of distressed Australians in the form of a repayable loan as already mentioned; welfare visits to persons in goal, hospital or in an asylum; assistance in natural disasters or emergencies; and making available to Australian

citizens:who have been arrested a list of local lawyers who may be able to assist them.

I have spoken in general terms of the wide range of these duties because of the difficulty of drawing lines beyond which protection will not be provided. The standards to be applied may differ from country to country depending on such

factors as language and cultural differences, the opportunity for self-help and the local availability of social, charitable or welfare services. In the interests of economy and efficiency, my Department will seek to limit approved assistance while at the same time preserving the consul's flexibility to respond to individual human problems.

Obviously not every limitation encountered in our consular services will be the result of economy measures. Indeed the investigation of complaints frequently reveals that assistance has not been provided either because it is prohibited under

international convention or practice, or because the matter could be adequately dealt with privately - without official help. There is in fact something of a natural tendency for those overseas not to seek private assistance, e.g. the advice of a local lawyer, and

to appeal instead for official help.

As I stated earlier, not only are more Australians travelling overseas, but they are visiting a wider range of countries. It follows that, increasingly, there are requirements for assistance in places where we have no Australian consular office. Where the United Kingdom is represented and we are not, and it is not practicable to send in a consular officer, or the case needs continued attention, we have long turned to British representatives for consular assistance. I pay the warmest tribute to successive British Governments and to the

numerous British Consuls, who have traditionally extended such assistance to Australians. A great many Australians owe the U.K.

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their thanks on this score, and I here express their cumulative gratitude. This service so far has been offered freely. We must, however, count on it being contracted in future and plan on the basis of assuming greater responsibility for"our own' ' people. But we must also seek to conserve our resources.

Consular sharing, or the rationalisation of consular services between several countries is, on the face of it, an attractive proposition. There are, however, issues of sovereignty and conflict of interest inherent in this kind of arrangement. The possibility of greater use of locally-engaged Staff is limited-by the provisions of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The question of honorary consuls is one that has been examined but on which no definitive view has yet been

reached. Although such appointments can be of help in tourist resorts or in ports where shipping and related cases are likely to occur, there are problems inherent in the practice and, of course, there would still be some costs to be borne.

On whatever basis, the prospect is for expanded Australian consular services in more centres at inevitably increased costs - not to provide a travel service for a privileged few, but in order to provide a truly public service for a large and growing proportion of the Australian people. I remind the House of the projection of three million Australians travelling abroad annually in less

than ten years' time. Other countries expect us to look after our nationals. Only second class countries ignore their citizens in time of need. Our geography is such that, with the exception of a few destinations, when an Australian travels overseas, he travels far. We do not just cross one of a number of contiguous borders in our own cars as in Europe. When we do travel in our

own geographic region we do so in most cases to countries ’of very different cultures and levels of development.

There have traditionally been charges for many of the consular services we provide overseas. It will be recalled that the Report on "Australia's Overseas Representation" by the House Standing Committee on Expenditure, tabled on 2 June

1977, included a recommendation that the Government give serious consideration to means of minimising the impact of the huge growth expected in overseas travel by Australians in the coming decade, and in particular to the feasibility of recovering the

costs of appropriate consular services provided by our Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates, by charging for them. As the House was informed on 12 April 1978, the recommendation has " been accepted and my Department has· in hand a study of the ,

range of and charges for consular services. '

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The issue of passports is one of the major aspects of consular work. In a statement on 2 March 1978 I indicated that the Government had reviewed its policy and procedures for · passport issue. As an outcome of that review I will at the

appropriate time introduce important amendments to the Passports Act» At this point I wish only to note that the possession of an Australian passport is proof of entitlement to consular services. Many travellers value it more properly when they face difficulties overseas. It is because of this direct relationship that the

costs of consular services can be offset to a large extent by revenue generated by passport fees.

A substantial part of the consular work detailed in this statement is routine. But much of it is critical and immediate. We must have the means to respond to an anxious parent in search of a missing child, to a pensioner whose social

security benefits have been erroneously held up or in the aftermath of a disaster involving Australian citizens overseas. Because young Australians are arrested in another country with marijuana in their possession, are they to be treated as pariahs

and offered no consular assistance in goal conditions they may be physically and emotionally unable to tolerate?

In all the circumstances I have outlined, the Government has an inescapable responsibility to provide and plan for a growing range of consular services. Resources must be found notwithstanding requirements to contain expenditure and to maintain reasonable staffing ceilings. In our passports we ask

other Governments to allow our nationals "to pass freely withoiit let or hindrance and to afford him or her every assistance or protection of which he or she may stand in need". We can ourselves do no less. 1