Our travel warning system is the boy who cried wolf
AUSTRALIA needs to overhaul its travel warning system or end up looking like the boy who cried wolf.
We found out last week that 567,000 Australians visited our neighbour Indonesia last year.
This means more than half a million Australians either didn’t know about - or, more likely, happily ignored - the Australian Government’s travel warnings when they flew off to Bali for a week of sun, surf, beer, braiding, tattoos and tummy upsets.
Opposition leader Tony Abbott cheerfully told Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono this week that he ignored the warnings when he went on holidays.
“Indeed, Mr President, I was one of those contrary and recalcitrant citizens disregarding my own government’s travel advice when I went to Bali as a tourist in 2005 and again in 2006,’’ he said.
So, we all ignore travel warnings.
Even Abbott, who was actually in Bali in 2005 when terrorists struck, who raced off to the hospital to see what help he could offer.
I was sent to cover those attacks and remember talking to a red-eyed, unshaven Abbott outside the Sanglah Hospital in Denpasar. He was clearly affected by what the families and survivors were going through.
But even that didn’t put him off - he returned again the following year.
So what chance does the Government actually have of keeping ordinary Australians, who haven’t been confronted directly as Abbott was, away from countries that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has deemed to be dangerous?
Perhaps part of the problem is that Indonesia has been placed by Australia in the “reconsider your need to travel’’ category - the second most serious travel warning available.
This makes it less safe than Afghanistan, Iraq, and a couple of African countries which make up the nine countries in the “do not travel’’ category. No problem there.
But it puts a holiday to Kuta Beach in the same danger category as a trip to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, dysfunctional Zimbabwe, or current terrorism bad-boys Yemen.
Even a trip to Israel, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank would be a safer option than a trip to Indonesia, according to the Federal Government.
There are five categories of travel warnings listed by the Australian Government - you can find them here at www.smarttraveller.gov.au.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade lists the warnings based on advice from security and intelligence officials.
One person who has read them is Indonesia’s PM, who chided the Australian Government over them last week.
“With regard to our tourism relations, we only know that Indonesia is now one of the top 10 tourist destinations for Australia in spite of your government’s advice against travelling to Indonesia,’’ Dr Yudhoyono said.
Let’s be fair. There have been a number of attacks by Islamic extremists who deliberately targeted Westerners in Indonesia, both in the capital Jakarta and on the holiday island of Bali.
The most devastating was the bombings in Bali in 2002 which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.
Australian officials say they have credible information that terrorists continue to threaten harm against western interests in Bali and on that basis, they urge people to reconsider their plans to travel there.
Despite this, hundreds of thousands of Australians continue to visit, to take their children and their loved ones there, despite the risk.
It’s a delicate balance.
On the one hand, Australia would be failing in its duty to its people if it didn’t warn them about specific dangers that it had knowledge of.
But on the other, there’s no point having so many warnings against so many countries that people fail to take them seriously.
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