Standing up for Canberra

The altruism of our consular officials

Thank you Deputy Speaker. The 7th of March marks the 11th anniversary of the death of my dear friend Liz O'Neill. Liz was killed in the crash of Garuda Indonesia flight 200 in Jogjakarta in Indonesia.

Liz worked in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. She worked to help keep the peace in Bougainville and to provide some comfort to the families in the morgues of Bali in 2002 and again in 2005.

In 2004 she was blown off her feet by the bomb that exploded outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta. In 2007 she died in the service of her country when her plane ran off the runway at Jogjakarta. Liz O'Neill was an extraordinary woman and she typifies all the public servants I have known over my decade-long career in public service before I went into my own business and then politics.

Public servants are subject to much derision from all quarters of Australian life, and I'm always baffled as to why that is so. They are servants of democracy, people who have chosen a career to serve our nation, to serve others, and this typifies the Public Service I know. Like Liz, they are smart. Like Liz, they are committed. Like Liz, they are highly educated. Like Liz, they are ultimately altruistic. Like Liz, they are keen to make a difference to improve lives. They are keen to serve our nation, be it here or overseas.

Liz was keen to serve our nation here, but she was particularly keen to advance that mission for Australia overseas. Liz was unfortunately killed in the line of duty, serving her nation. She was also killed with three other Australians that day. They were Australian public servants and Australian Federal Police officers Mark Scott and Brice Steel, an AusAID official, Allison Sudradjat, and the Australian Financial Review journalist, Morgan Mellish. All these people were servants of democracy. They were serving our nation overseas or they, as Australians, were serving the democratically elected representatives of our nation.

Those stories underscore the commitment and altruism, as I mentioned, and the sense of duty to nation by the DFAT officials and particularly consular officials. In my time in DFAT, particularly when I worked on the media desk, I heard some of the stories the consular officials had to face. I remember one that will stay with me forever. Two young Australian women in Africa, in a flea-ridden hotel, were eaten alive by bed bugs. They decided to walk around the little town they were staying in to find somewhere alternative to spend the night and they ended up getting killed, shot while they were wandering the streets. It was an absolutely tragic story.

So many consular officials quietly go about their business, like good public servants do, visiting Australians who are in jail for Christmas, baking them Christmas cakes and goodies, looking after Australians after they have got into a pickle in Bali with motorbike accidents and bar incidents. They are extraordinary, committed Australians and I commend them. I commend the member for this motion.

Just finally, I, too, want to underscore the fact that if you can't afford insurance then you shouldn't be travelling. That is a vitally important message that too many Australians overlook. Fortunately, we found that take up of travel insurance is high, at over 90 per cent. But there's still some confusion around what it covers and there are still those Australians who go overseas who can afford the trip, the air ticket, the hotel, the taxi ride and the tours, but can't afford the extra for travel insurance. They expect the Australian taxpayer to bail them out when they're in trouble. I saw so many instances of that when I was working at DFAT.

So, like the member for North Sydney, I commend all the consular officials serving our nation and Australians overseas. I do encourage Australians to go to to prepare for overseas travel. It also helps you assess the level of risk in the destination you are travelling to. Most importantly, remember this message: if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel overseas.