According to the Canberra Times & Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, more than 100 Australians died in Thailand and a further 60 died in Greece last year. The causes vary between the two countries.
The deaths in Thailand were largely due to illness or accident, while in Greece they were from what the Department of Foreign Affairs calls “natural causes”, pointing to a much older group traveling to the country. A growing number of Australians, younger and older, travel overseas and that creates a challenge for the government’s consular service.
“The number of Australian travelers under 25 has more than doubled in the past decade and the number of over-55’s has tripled”, according to a Lowy Institute report released on March 26.
‘‘Inexperienced younger travelers are more likely to get into legal or financial trouble [while] older travelers are more likely to face health problems”, according to the report. Adventure travel and extreme sports tourism, both more likely to cause injury or death, are also becoming more common.
The Lowy paper, Consular Conundrum, urges the government to bolster the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) consular arm, perhaps with a levy on airline tickets or passports, and by allowing the department to keep more of the revenue it generates. It says more than 1.7 million local passports were issued last year with more than 8 million Australians traveling overseas compared to half that number a decade ago.
The strong dollar and lower international fares have also made it easier for those with limited financial means to travel abroad, with the knock-on effect that these travelers need greater support if they get into strife. “More people with mental illnesses and travelers on one-way tickets are also heading overseas”, the report says.
“The Australian public … seem to expect that the full suite of welfare services will extend to them across the globe no matter where they go or how they behave”, the report says.
The Lowy report blames Australian politicians and successive foreign ministers for contributing to unrealistic expectations, saying that high-level interventions in response to media and public clamor about specific cases can become a public relations trap”.
It cites Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s personal phone call to a 14-year old Australian boy in late 2011 after he was arrested in Bali for buying a small quantity of marijuana. “This type of high-level political intervention is clearly unsustainable”, it argues.
A total of 904 Australians died abroad in 2012. Six countries –Thailand, the Philippines, Greece, Vietnam, the USA, Indonesia and Hong Kong, China– accounted for more than a third of the deaths.