This year over $80m will be spent on consular assistance for Australians overseas, helping out the likes of beer-mat-mum Annice Smoel.
The cost of such services is constantly increasing. The number of Australians demanding help from Foreign Affairs overseas has doubled since 2003-04.
It’s fair to say that decades ago, Australians who travelled overseas and got into difficulties — especially if they caused the difficulties through their own criminal behaviour — were not automatically regarded as cases deserving of public outcry and assistance. If some Aussie found themselves in self-inflicted trouble overseas then that was their problem.
Somewhere along the way in recent years, the entitlement mentality that pervades Australia’s welfare system has extended to the perception that Australians have a right to be rescued from whatever trouble they get into while travelling overseas.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Most particularly if they get into trouble in a developing country. There doesn’t seem to be quite the same outcry when people are arrested in the United States or the UK. But put them in a jail cell in Thailand, Indonesia or Eastern Europe, and suddenly we’re in Midnight Express territory. The media is happy to feed this perception, demanding everything short of sending in the Navy (do we have a serviceable gunboat?) to rescue unlucky — or more typically criminal — travellers in durance vile in Third World conditions. Female travellers, of course, generate that precious damsel-in-distress dimension for the media.
This is a none-too-subtle form of xenophobia, an assumption that Australians have special rights when travelling in poorer — duskier — countries. It’s the mentality that assumes a form of extraterritoriality for travelling Australians who break the laws of the countries in which they are guests, which assumes a right for Australians to behave as offensively as possible. It’s the mentality that assumes Australia can lecture Turkey over how to maintain the heritage values of Gallipoli, as if the peninsula belongs to us and not to the people of the country we invaded in WW1.
It’s almost a type of latter-day colonialism, as the citizens of the Deputy Sheriff nation swagger around the region, drunk, boorish and behaving as they please. It’d be amusing if taxpayers weren’t footing the bill.