Tim Webster: 

Well, as we discovered almost every day here, Australians are some of the most travelled people on the planet.  Just travel anywhere and you will hear an Australian accent, isn't that amazing?  You go anywhere and you'll hear that accent; teeming with Aussies.  In fact, we travel so much that we take it for granted that we can just go wherever we want to in safety.  Now, that is not always the case.  So we thought it might be time to catch up with this, it doesn't need to be a chore, smartraveller.gov.au is a fabulous website.  It is set up by the Federal Government giving you all the information you need to know about traveling anywhere in the world.  Here is the Senator with the most beautiful exotic name, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, on the line. G'day, thanks for joining us.

Minister:

Hi Tim, how are you?

Tim Webster:

Yeah, good to talk to you.  You well?

Minister:

Yes, I am very, very well, thank you.

Tim Webster:

Look, Aussies are very well travelled, I'm discovering every day here, aren't they?

Minister:

They are.  Australians take around 10 million trips per year and so we go to all sorts of places, you are absolutely correct.  I mean I spend a lot of time travelling, as you can appreciate -  I have responsibility for International Development and the Pacific and wherever I go, I see Australians, I hear the accent.  And by-and-large, most Australians have very good experiences overseas and they travel, as you say, to all parts of the world and we are also travelling to an even wider range of destinations and more Australians are travelling who are over the age of 55.  So, for example, the cruise market is now a growing market and growing for all demographics.  So when you put that into context and we are here to talk about the Smartraveller website, this website attracts about 20 million hits per year and is visited by about 50% of Australians before they travel, which is a really good thing, Tim.  Because what we want, we want Australians to be well informed and prepared for their overseas travel, so that they can make good decisions before they go and look after themselves while they are there.  So this is really what the Smartraveller website is all about. 

Tim Webster:

Yeah, it's a superb website.  It really is Smartraveller, and you are absolutely right.  I have been overseas with them on cruises, the over 55s are travelling and they are loving doing it.  And sometimes they're not all that technologically savvy, so it is something we have to convince people to do because there are some places in the world where it might be a drama, Senator.

Minister:

There are.  And the Smartraveller website provides our Government's assessments based on information that they harness from our consular network around the world.  And the assessments are provided in relation to over 170 destinations.  So that encompasses information that takes on and considers the sort of threats that you can see, in relation to security, safety, health, local laws, or natural disasters.  And what we do is we assess every country on one to four levels.  So you can go from exercising normal safe precautions, to a high degree of caution, "reconsider your travel", or alternatively "do not travel".  So what it actually does for the person visiting the website is enables them to get a quick sense of the level of risk of the country that they are going to.  But more to the point, and this is what I really wanted to stress, especially for those 50% that have not and are not using the website, they have actually got advice for travellers in different categories of travellers.  It is very easy to go to, it has actually got click on links for 24 hour consular emergency service.  You can set up your own account where you subscribe your travel advisory emails from time to time or you can also register your trip details so that you can do all of that sort of thing.  But what I wanted to say was that the advice covers a whole range of different categories for travelers – the business travellers, the backpackers, the dual nationals, the females, senior travellers, volunteers, a whole range of different categories.  So I really would encourage Australians to consult looking at the website before they do travel.

Tim Webster:

Yeah, absolutely.  And as I discovered getting a new passport for my son, and even if you get one yourself, there is a terrific Smartraveller booklet that comes with the new passport.  So you are forever updating us and all of that.  So, look, registering your travel plans, and we did this too on the website, is very important.  Why is that so important to register your plans wherever you are going?

Minister:

It is important because that way, the Government can contact you in an emergency.  And so if you have done that and something happens in that particular country, then we know where to get hold of you.  Let me give you, for example, a recent situation.  The travel advice is updated very regularly.  And so there was the issue recently relating to the Turkish coup.  So the travel advice to Turkey was updated 6 times during that first week of the attempt of the Turkish coup.  But that also helped Australians to not just get a feel for what was happening, but it also included practical things like whether the airport was opened or whether it wasn't.  And so they are the sort of things that really are helpful.  But one of the things that I also wanted to stress is that Australians travelling sometimes make mistakes, and we see a number of things with travellers.  Not being properly insured, not being aware of what the local laws are, and of course many countries have different laws to Australia.  And so the Government can't get you out of trouble if you are breaking the laws overseas.  Not doing enough research on things like prescription medicines or crime at that particular destination.  But this is the one that is really very common.  And that is making bad decisions overseas and not appreciating the impact that that has.  For example, in a medical emergency, the cost of staying, for example, in a US hospital could be thousands of dollars per night.  And then of course you've got medical evacuations and Medicare doesn't cover you for these expenses.  And the burden is then placed on your family or your loved ones back home who have to not only get you out but also have to pay the bills.  So that's why the Smartraveller website has two important features, not just the registry but being insured and that's really very important.

Tim Webster:

Super important.

Minister:

Super important for covering medical and associated costs that you can insure while you are overseas so that your family don't foot the bill.  I mean, accidents do happen, we understand that. But being prepared is really, really good, Tim.

Tim Webster:

Yes, and as far as the Government being able to help you, I think, Senator, that's just a matter of, and I had to drum it into my son's head because I took him overseas for the first time a year or so ago.  You have just got to be respectful of other countries, because no they don't do things the way we do them, and you can get yourself into trouble if you aren't showing that sort of respect that you need to show.

Minister:

That's precisely the case.  And also, the website provides a contact section for 24 hour consular assistance and there are numbers for whether you are from overseas or from within Australia and there is also an SMS contact section.  So it is a very, very, very good guide and so I would encourage the other 50% that aren't using it to get on it and use it.

Tim Webster:

Yes, SMS, and that update is available too.  And just before I let you go, that portfolio of yours, International Development and the Pacific, and probably in the Pacific as well, this great big beautiful island of ours, and I think it's time we realised, if we haven't already, that our life's in the Pacific, isn't it.  It's where we are.

Minister:

Well it is.  And recently, Tim, the Defence White Paper was released and of course let's not forget that the security of our neighbourhood is second only to the security of Australia, so that's our highest priority.  But economically, a growing and a stable neighbourhood is very, very important.  And certainly we spend almost $4billion in overseas aid.  But that aid goes towards creating economically stable, increasing the economic viability of many of our countries, especially in the Pacific, so that they in turn can become stronger and more stable economies.  And ultimately strong and stable economies lead to stability in our region.  So all the things that we do, whether it is empowering women, or whether it is providing schools and education, or providing health services, they all go towards assisting growth and stability in that country which ultimately results in growth and stability in our region.

Tim Webster:

You bet.  And just finally, just before I let you go, now we discovered yesterday, and I must say it did surprise me, we had the Mastercard people on here telling us where we spend our money overseas.  And yes, London and Paris and New York are there, but I think maybe 10 or 11 of the top 20 countries were Asian destinations where we go to spend our money.

Minister:

Well we do.  The most popular tourist destinations are New Zealand, the United States, Europe and in our own region, Indonesia and Thailand.  And increasingly, seeing more and more people travelling to the Pacific, and that's really good.  It's good for our area.

Tim Webster:

You bet, yeah.  And back to point one, now this is the thing, folks, if you are travelling overseas, really it's a very simple thing to do.  Just get on to smartraveller.gov.au it is a terrific website.  Register where you're going, get some SMS updates, and it's all good Senator.

Minister:

Thank you very, very much Tim.  And thanks for the opportunity to talk about this.

Tim Webster:

Great to talk to you.  Thank you.

Minister:

Great, thanks a lot.

Tim Webster:

That was Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, and it is a terrific website, particularly, particularly if you are going somewhere where it could be a bit of a drama, and there's lots of places in the world, sadly, at the moment that fit that category, aren't there.

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