A loan to pay prostitute? Help evicting a polecat? Australia acts to curb travellers’ requests

By , on December 5, 2014


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CANBERRA, Australia—No, you can’t get a loan to pay for a prostitute in Thailand. And seeking assistance to evict a polecat above a ceiling in the U.S. is going to be futile.

Australia is taking steps to curb such absurd requests that its travelling citizens have lodged with Australian embassies and consulates around the world.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced the new measures Wednesday to underscore consular services as a last resort and to promote “a stronger culture of self-reliance and personal responsibility in the travelling public.”

These measures include a new policy of providing minimal consular services to Australians who willfully, repeatedly or negligently get themselves into trouble. Charging for the consular help is also something the government is considering, she said.

“Our consular staff are not there to pay for the repairs to your jet ski; they’re not there to pay your hotel bill; they’re not there to lend you a laptop or to provide you with office space in the embassy for you to do your work,” Bishop said, listing actual requests that Australian embassies have refused.

At the embassy in Bangkok—Australia’s busiest—an Australian walked in with a prostitute and was refused a loan to pay for services already provided, said Anita Downey, a senior counsellor official at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Such requests are common at that embassy, she said.

Other locations that frequently get outlandish requests include Los Angeles, Bali, Manila and Dubai, she said.

Diplomats have fielded requests for an armoured car, help removing a polecat above the ceiling of a house and intervention to prevent payment of a speeding fine, senior foreign ministry official Justin Brown said.

Other examples: Australians who were evacuated from civil unrest in Egypt in a government-chartered Qantas airliner in 2011 expected frequent flier miles for trip. Some Australians evacuated from the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia requested first-class seats, DFAT records show.

Australians are avid travellers. With a population of just 24 million, they made 9.2 million overseas trips last year. That same year, the foreign affairs department assisted 15,000 of them.

Brown said the United States, Canada and New Zealand embassies were experiencing similar escalating expectations from its citizens.

“At most of our posts there are people we would describe colloquially as serial pests who are constantly bouncing back into the embassy because they’ve run out of money or they’ve got some sort of other personal problem and they often come to the embassy and the consular teams expecting us to solve their problems for them,” Brown said.

Downey said 20 per cent of emergency loans made to Australians overseas are never repaid.