Reckless travellers could be charged for consular assistance: Bishop

Expensive: Advocating for Colin Russell cost the government tens of thousands of dollars, said Julie Bishop.
Expensive: Advocating for Colin Russell cost the government tens of thousands of dollars, said Julie Bishop. Photo: Paul Hilton/Greenpeace International

A threat to impose a fee for consular support after Australian activist Colin Russell was detained in Russia has opened the prospect of broader charges for government support of thousands of Australians who find themselves in trouble overseas.

On Friday foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop said the activities of the Australian government on behalf of Mr Russell had cost tens of thousands of dollars, and she would look very closely at recovering the costs.

"Of course cost recovery can be an important part of providing consular support," she said.

In News Ltd papers on Saturday Ms Bishop was reported to have outlined a review of fees for cost recovery of consular activities for Australians in trouble overseas, and the circumstances in which those fees could be levied.

She reportedly said the review would consider whether the fee should into take account the difficulties travellers faced, including whether they had taken all reasonable precautions or had acted recklessly.

Mr Russell was one of 30 Greenpeace activists arrested and detained in September when some of the group tried to scale a Russian oil rig operated by Moscow-based energy company Gazprom in the Pechora Sea.

He attacked the government's response to his plight as "too little, too late" when he arrived in Hobart on Thursday.

The claim was rejected by Ms Bishop, who said consular officials from Moscow had travelled six times to Murmansk and to St Petersburg to provide consular support for Mr Russell, including four trips on the 3000km round trip to Murmansk.

"I met face to face with the Deputy Foreign Minister, Morgulov, on two occasions," she said. "I personally wrote to Foreign Minister Lavrov on behalf of Mr Russell and made representations."

Overall, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade helped 11,927 Australians in difficulty around the world during 2012-2013.

Hospital cases accounted for 1372 calls for help around the world, while assistance was also given for 28 medical evacuations.

Consulates also stepped in to help 1365 Aussies who were arrested or imprisoned as well as 1247 cases in which travellers died while away.

Bali is one of the favourite holiday playgrounds for Aussies, but the big influx of visitors there is also stretching the resources of Australian consular officials.

They are being asked to deal with a range of problems that tourists get themselves into, from medical emergencies to run-ins with the law.

"Common cases include arrests, accidents and hospitalisation, mental health issues, the death of a family member, schoolies-related issues and repatriation," a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

The spokesman said there have also been instances of travellers using passports as collateral for car or bike hire and the passport being held after an accident for "compensation payments".

DFAT says the Bali and Bangkok consulates are among its busiest in the world, with almost a million Australians visiting each destination each year.

Thailand, Greece, Vietnam, the Philippines, US and Indonesia were among the countries where most Australians died overseas.

DFAT says the high death rate in Greece is attributable to "natural causes" because of the older generation going there.

Road accidents and drownings are other causes of Aussie fatalities overseas.

In Bali there have also been some high-profile methanol poisoning cases from bootleg liquor, including the recent evacuation from Bali to Darwin of teenager Jasmine Baker.

The cost of a medical evacuation from Bali to Australia is $40,000 to $60,000.

Meanwhile, Medibank has revealed that its most expensive travel insurance claim in 2013 was for $260,000 for a cruise ship passenger who suffered a potentially fatal heart attack in the US.

The payout included overseas medical expenses, a pacemaker and for the family to fly to the US to accompany the patient back to Australia.

In another case, $90,000 was paid out in medical and repatriation costs to a traveller who fell over at the beach in Hawaii and suffered a fractured neck.

TOP 10 PLACES WHERE AUSSIES DIED OVERSEAS 2012-2013

Thailand 125

Greece 71

Vietnam 63

Philippines 58

US 53

Indonesia 47

China 44

Germany 35

United Kingdom 33

India 21

Source: DFAT

CRAZY WAYS TOURISTS COME TO GRIEF

1. Running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.

2. Tubing in Laos.

3. Bootleg alcohol laced with methanol in Indonesia.

4. Motorbike accidents in Indonesia and Thailand.

5. Magic mushroom milkshakes in Bali.

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