Regular Catallaxy readers may recall the Lowy Institute paper Consular Conundrum. I agreed that expectations of consular services overseas were (and still are) too high, although demurred about the need for additional resources for DFAT.
On further reflection, there are some ways in which we could better align incentives so that expectations are matched with price.
For those without travel insurance, it would be appropriate to levy some form of consular services fee – but this would need to be calculated according to the actual cost of the provision of consular services and not just used as a way to supplement DFAT’s bloated budget. All travel insurance policies issued in Australia should include a relevant component to fund consular services. In short, consular should be entirely user pays, with the cost spread over the travelling public (effectively, an insurance policy).
But this doesn’t address the issue of excessive expectations, although in principle one could have different ex ante fees based on various levels of potential consular services. If you like – a first, business and economy consular service.
Other things being equal, though, who is more likely to need consular services: (1) an English speaker in trouble in Italy; or (2) an Italian speaker in trouble in Australia?
Surely, we English speakers have a significant advantage: from my experience, English is the best (single) language which to possess as a tourist.
The English-speaking nations: UK, Ireland, Canada, US, Australia, NZ and India (among others) could do worse than agree to have a common consular service. Let’s call it the English Language Consular Service System (ELCSS). This would be a separate organisation funded from each of the countries which would provide a common service to citizens of the member countries. If an Australian got into trouble overseas, he or she would contact the local ELCSS office which would provide English-language assistance as would normally be expected of a Consulate.
The ELCSS would issue emergency passports (and other travel documents) for citizens of its members and be staffed with public officials from the member countries.
The contribution from each member would be in proportion to the expected use.
The ELCSS would truly diversify risks and costs across countries and across members and currencies.
It would also manage expectations: we could say to travellers that they are getting exactly the same service as provided by the US, UK, Canada, and New Zealand.
Although there could be an Australian premium – this would entitle the customer to be addressed as ‘mate’.