And then, obviously, there is the response that the consular officials have had to deal with following the heinous attack by Hamas on Israel—Hamas, a listed terrorist organisation, undertaking those heinous crimes against those innocent Israelis and then the Israeli response to that. Consular officials have had to step in to make sure that they are protecting Australian citizens, whether they be in Israel themselves or those in Gaza. These are not easy climates. These are not easy situations for those consular officials to be operating in.
Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (09:33): I note the statement of the assistant minister, and I also welcome all the consular officials who are with us in the gallery today. As someone who, in a previous life, was a diplomat and served overseas and had to undertake consular activities, I have some understanding of the wonderful work you do and the difficulties of the climate you encounter, the countries you have to do your work in, dealing with foreign officials to try and get the outcomes you’re looking for, and the stress that you encounter with those who you are often trying to help and assist—people who have, for various reasons, got themselves in harm’s way. You have to, using all the personal skills you can muster, try and deal with those people but then also be resolute in trying to get the outcome you need dealing with the officials you have to deal with. I think it is wonderful that we’re able to, as a House, as a parliament, in a bipartisan way, acknowledge the work you do and the work consular officials have done over decades for this country. You are very welcome in this House of Representatives chamber today, and it’s wonderful to see you all. Please pass on our thanks to all your colleagues for the wonderful work that they do as well.
As the assistant minister has noted, it’s been a challenging year for our consular officials. The consular crisis centre has had to be engaged on some very difficult issues. The assistant minister spoke about the work that was done when it comes to Sudan: 240 officials using all their skills to make sure we were doing everything we could to ensure the safety of Australians. And then, obviously, there is the response that the consular officials have had to deal with following the heinous attack by Hamas on Israel—Hamas, a listed terrorist organisation, undertaking those heinous crimes against those innocent Israelis and then the Israeli response to that. Consular officials have had to step in to make sure that they are protecting Australian citizens, whether they be in Israel themselves or those in Gaza. These are not easy climates. These are not easy situations for those consular officials to be operating in.
Yet everything we hear is about an absolutely professional response, whether it be in Sudan or the crisis that Israel found itself in after that heinous Hamas attack. Everything that Australian officials did in responding has been absolutely first class. The ability of the department to bring together the consular crisis centres in such a short amount of time, making sure those centres were there—for us here in Australia, to be able to get news and find out what is happening with loved ones but also to make sure that there is coordination on the ground wherever our consular officials are needed is absolutely first class.
For all those Australians who are travelling overseas, please remember to look at the Smartraveller website. There are more Australians travelling overseas as we have moved away from COVID, and more Australians will get more and more adventurous—younger Australians in particular will get more and more adventurous—but they have to remember that it is incredibly difficult for the Australian government to provide assistance to the four corners of the globe. There is an individual responsibility on everyone who leaves this country to make sure that they do everything they can not to get themselves in harm’s way and everything they can to ensure that their knowledge about where they’re going and what they should and shouldn’t do is completely up to date. The Smartraveller website is there for them to be able to get that type of information.
It talks about the need for travel insurance. It talks about what you should do if you need to be hospitalised or get urgent medical attention. It talks about certain dangers in certain parts of countries or in countries as a whole and gives you a very good readout of how you should go about travelling. If every traveller read the Smartraveller advice and undertook to abide by it, we mightn’t need as much consular assistance as we have to give Australians right across the board. Of course there will always be times when we need it, and we’ve detailed a few of them today, but there are other instances where consular officials are called in to help people who have done the wrong thing or got themselves in the wrong place, because they haven’t read or taken advice on what they should be doing when they travel. So I use this moment as well to remind people that Smartraveller is very smart and, if you read it, it will help you be very smart when you travel overseas.
I commend the assistant minister for his statement today. It’s wonderful that our consular officials are here with us for this statement, and I think it’s a great initiative of the assistant minister to have invited the consular officials. I say this in ending: some of the consular cases that I had to deal with when I was overseas on a posting still remain with me to this very day. I still remember going into a prison in Havana to help an Australian citizen who had got himself in harm’s way, and that was an incredibly difficult consular case, which took over a year and a half for us to be able to resolve. It wasn’t something that I ever thought I would be doing when I joined the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, but it is something which still lives with me to this day and something which has helped me understand, in a small way, the wonderful work that you do. So thank you for that, and well done, Assistant Minister.