Uninsured travellers causing headache for DFAT

A new report by the Lowy Institute has found that there is a growing problem for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading (DFAT) and the cause lies squarely on the shoulders of travellers heading overseas without travel insurance.

The amount of Australians stampeding overseas thanks to a strong dollar and cheap airfares continues to swell and in correlation, expectations of what the government should do once travellers end up in distress also continues to surge. The growing demands is causing worry in DFAT that a point may be coming where it can no longer keep up and it's Australians travellers who may have to pay the growing bill.

Overseas travel for modern Australians is now a very different picture to years gone by. Over 8 million trips were made overseas in 2012, a number that has almost doubled in a decade. And the fact it is now so easy for Aussies to jump abroad means that an entire new demographic are heading over the border, including schoolies week revelers and high risk taking travellers under the age of 25. Many are completely unaware of the risk they are exposed to and have a large misconception of the governments role to step in and cover it's citizens when things go wrong.

According to the Border Mail, 904 Australians died while overseas last year and many of those were younger travellers passing through popular destinations such as Laos and Thailand. While many deaths overseas occur from accidents or older travellers prone to health conditions, there is still a staggering number who pass away when attempts at thrill seeking have gone wrong. One such case is that of a 26 year old Sydney man who plunged to his death from a makeshift wooden tower into the Nam Song River. Witnesses say he struck his head on a rock on the way down, dying that afternoon in a local hospital having never regained consciousness. 

In 2009 a Melbourne mother of four travelled to Phuket for a typical Thailand getaway. While at the 'Aussie Bar' one evening, her friends decided to play a prank on her and hid a bar mat in her handbag. The woman soon found herself as one of the 1019 Australians that were arrested overseas that year. She demanded that the Australian government help to secure her release and her husband criticised the response as nowhere good enough.

Circumstances such as the one above and the staggering fact that 30 - 40 percent of Aussies still head overseas with no travel insurance is the main cause of concern to DFAT.

The department has undertaken large efforts to publicise the need for overseas travel insurance to younger travellers, through relevant channels such as social media, as well as giving $10,000 last year to Red Frog's chaplaincy service which helps youths prepare for schoolies and highlighting the need for travel insurance.

"They go over there and don't realise how different things can be," said Paula Ganly, DFAT's deputy chief consular of policy. "They don't realise for instance, that if you go to Thailand or Bali, and you are not asked for your motorbike licence, it doesn't mean you don't need one. That can void your insurance if you have an accident," she said.

The Lowy Institute report calls for a boost to funding to relieve stress on DFAT, claiming that the department can no longer continue to cannibalise itself on a budget that has stagnated while overseas travel continues to explode. However, it suggests that Australian travellers should be expected to cough up for the costs, recommending solutions such as imposing levies on passports or the on cost for airline tickets, similar to the 15 pounds charged on passports for British citizens.

The underlying issue at hand is that many Australians are not covering themselves with sufficient travel insurance before heading overseas. A travel insurance comparison on Mozo shows that travellers can find cover for as little a $1 a day.

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