Aussies overseas deserve better support from their government

News reporting that Australian Alexandra ‘Pippi’ Bean feels let down by the Australian government during her ordeal in Libya is both worrying and sadly becoming an increasingly common experience for Australians finding themselves in trouble overseas. The Age article is here.

There was a time when Australian citizens traveling overseas and finding themselves in difficulties could rely on the Australian government for top notch support no matter the cause of the trouble. Support was not withdrawn or limited if the Aussie government assessed they might be guilty of a crime or if they had been involved in activities the Australian government found politically uncomfortable.

Or if their activities caused political embarrassment for the Australian government.

Australians could historically rely on excellent consular support as a right of citizenship. Of course, many still do but others are worried that since the time Julian Assange found himself in trouble overseas Australian government support has become much more arbitrary and politicised.

Guilty or innocent, Assange is an Australian citizen who found himself listening to calls from senior Australian government figures for his Australian passport to be cancelled. Hardly the actions of a government Aussies overseas would feel they could reply on.

Now Pippi Bean says she felt abandoned when Foreign Minister Carr told the ABC’s 7.30 she did not require further assistance. Clearly she did.

Australians deserve better and the federal government needs to lift its game here. It important for the government to listen to the message from citizens like Pippi Bean and genuinely lift their game here – especially at the political level. I’m not criticising Australian diplomats but rather their political masters who set the tone and from whom overseas agencies and governments take their cues about the degree Australia’s government cares about its citizens when they are overseas.

There are many countries who do not seem to care about their citizens’ welfare either at home or abroad – and this means we should never make the assumption overseas governments will assume foreign nationals have the support of their respective governments (Aussies included).

Our government needs to strongly signal to the rest of the world that Aussies in trouble overseas will receive top level diplomatic AND political support. This should be something we take for granted and it should be a policy priority for the millions of Australians who travel overseas annually.

Bicycle helmets save lives and should be mandatory

Today I was reading a book about 1980s cycling in Europe and it struck me how strange it seemed that so few of the cyclists were wearing helmets.

Actually, none of the cyclists were wearing helmets, save for a few with those leather strip head covers that I remember as hopelessly uncomfortable and utterly unsafe. But it also seemed strange to me how many photos there were of racing cyclists with blood streaming from their heads after crashes. This isn’t something you see as frequently nowadays as helmets are a mandatory part of cycling and cycle racing.

There is no doubt in my mind helmets are a huge safety aid and have protected many people, me included on many occasions, from far more serious injuries in accidents than would otherwise be the case.

Mandatory helmet laws are to me, like seat belt laws – they might be bothersome to some but they save lives. More people are alive today because they were wearing helmets while falling/being knocked off bicycles.

And I want mandatory bicycle helmet laws to stay.

That’s why I am a little concerned to see in this week’s The Age a report about the beginnings of a campaign to remove the requirement for cyclists to wear helmets while riding their bicycles. The Age story is here.

Many cyclists will sacrifice comfort to look and feel good while riding and there’s really nothing wrong with striving to look good while pedaling about the place. But this should not go so far as to compromise safely as will happen if folk start riding helmet-less. Please let me know your views – but remember its the law to wear a helmet while riding your bike so please do!