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Senator Rice on Smart Traveller for Aceh province

Estimates & Committees
Janet Rice 1 Jun 2017

Senator RICE:  I am interested in Smartraveller advice particularly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people. Given that LGBTI people are a specific group prone to prejudice, violence and legal persecution—and as we have seen, it can change and escalate in various places around the world—I want to know what framework has been established on both the Smartraveller site and more broadly in the provision and dissemination of advice from the department.

Mr Philp : The Smartraveller website has a specific LGBTI page now to provide some advice to LGBTI travellers. I cannot say that we have LGBTI advice on every single country page yet, but we are working our way through. From my impression, about two-thirds of the travel advice would have that in there specifically now and we will work our way through all of them.

Senator RICE:  Have you done any engagement with the LGBTI community here in Australia to determine their needs as travellers?

Mr Philp : I can take that on notice.

Senator RICE:  So, you do not know whether you have done any? Would you be the person to know if you had done any?

Mr Philp : Yes. We did a lot of consultation with various different focus groups and traveller groups, but it was a couple of years ago. I do not recall specifically, which is why I said I would take it on notice. We do not do—if this is your question—consistent consultations with those groups any more than we do with a lot of the other groups. We simply do not have enough staff to be doing that consistently across every interest group. We think it is a particular issue for us and for Australian travellers, but we are reasonably confident of our mechanisms for looking at what is needed by travellers of all sorts.

Senator RICE:  Given the escalation like Aceh  in Indonesia and in Chechnya at the moment, are you considering the need to do more consultation in terms of what the needs are and revising the advice that has been given to travellers?

Mr Philp : My interest in the first instance is trying to drive it through all the different travel advices. So, specifically with the one you are talking about, our Indonesia travel advice does not yet have specific advice for LGBTI travellers, which I think is a gap that we have to address fairly soon. We are in consultation with our mission in Jakarta about what the appropriate advice should be. It mostly relates to what local laws are, the level of comfort with LGBTI travellers, and countries where there may be no laws against homosexual behaviour but where cultural practices are opposed to it or where they are very conservative communities. It is more about ensuring LGBTI travellers have the awareness they need when they choose to travel to those places.

Senator RICE:  Are you looking at urgently updating the information that is available for Indonesia and  Aceh? Because at the moment issues of homosexuality in Indonesia do not even appear under the heading for laws or other laws under local customs on your Indonesia page? When it comes to Aceh , it talks about sharia law and then, 'Inform yourself about the laws. If in doubt, seek local advice', which actually could be extremely dangerous. Do you acknowledge that that is currently inappropriate advice for people travelling in Aceh?

Mr Philp : As I said, we need to update the Indonesia travel advice for LGBTI travellers.

Senator RICE:  Yes.

Mr Philp : I am agreeing with your position.

Senator RICE:  And you do acknowledge that that advice is dangerous at the moment, for people to be asked to seek local advice?

Mr Philp : Local advice means country advice, Indonesian advice. I cannot claim that our travel advice would ever be the sole source of information Australians should go to for advice on travelling in any country. That means we really are urging Australians to be self-reliant, all kinds of Australians, and that includes informing themselves, not relying solely on advice we provide. We should never be the only stop for an Australian trying to think about how to travel. We provide pointers, some broad ideas, some warning points, but you should never be travelling solely on the basis of what we say. You should be informing yourself first.

Senator RICE:  Would you agree that suggesting to LGBTI travellers it would be appropriate to seek local advice could indeed be very dangerous and is exactly what you should not be recommending they do?

Mr Philp : Local advice in this case refers to our Indonesian-level advice, but you are right; it could be misleading in this case.

Senator RICE:  Yes. Would you consider removing that as a matter of urgency from your site?

Mr Philp : We will look at the overall language if you wish.

Senator RICE:  What processes and policies have you developed to support LGBTI Australians who find themselves caught up in prejudice and anti-LGBTI activities in country?

Mr Philp : LGBTI travellers will be given exactly the same sorts of consular support that all Australians get. We have a particular emphasis these days—and Ms Bishop is shortly going to announce a new consular strategy—on vulnerable Australians. I think in some kinds of countries LGBTI travellers should certainly be classified as vulnerable Australians, whose cases will get particular attention and assistance. I cannot be generic about it, but certainly in situations where LGBTI travellers could be considered vulnerable, vulnerable by virtue of the local laws or the application of the local laws by that country, they would get special support as any vulnerable Australian would.

Senator RICE:  Going back to your advice, I am told that DFAT was approached on its Russian travel advisory in 2013. You are saying now that you are reviewing the country pages. What resources are going into that at the moment and what resources are being put towards it? It is 2013. As to concern about the level of advice that was given with regard to Russia in 2013, at that stage it was said that there would be a broad review of the country pages and a commitment to better information for LGBTI travellers. But we are four years on and it does not seem that the level of information for LGBTI travellers has improved all that substantially in those four years.

Mr Philp : I am not sure I would agree with that, but the Russian travel advice to which you refer makes the point that, although Russian law does not allow for discrimination against LGBTI persons, in parts of the country social attitudes can be much more conservative and discrimination occurs, amounting to persecution in some areas. In reference to specific areas, we would not single out LGBTI travellers in Chechnya or in the North Caucasus, because we say 'do not travel' to all Australians regardless of sexual preferences.

Senator RICE:  With regard to the urgency of getting better advice, how urgent is that review of those country pages and what resources are going into it?

Mr Philp : We have a section in Canberra that deals with the travel advice. They consult with all our posts around the world to provide input into the travel advice for every country. We need to keep the travel advice for all countries, for all groups and for all areas up to date. As you can imagine, that is a very large undertaking with 170-something pieces of travel advice. Certainly, the advice for LGBTI travellers, from my point of view, needs to be driven through all of those travel advices and kept up to date. It is the expectation that posts will do that. It is certainly one of our priorities, but we have a number of priorities that we are trying to keep equally at the front of our minds.

Senator RICE:  So it is a rolling review. What was implied in your response to the person who communicated with me was that there would be a broad review of the country pages.

Mr Philp : I would have to take on notice what we did about that particular answer. I think that is probably the fairest way to put it.

Senator RICE:  In terms of, say, the review of the Indonesia pages and the review of Aceh, how long would you expect there to be a review given the change in circumstances in Indonesia with the arrest of the 120, or whatever it was, gay people in Jakarta recently as well as the caning in Aceh?

Mr Philp : I could not tell you off the top of my head when Indonesia is next to be reviewed. I would expect that next time we update it we will have some references to those events.

Senator RICE:  When would that be?

Mr Philp : As I said, I cannot tell you off the top of my head, but we update travel advice in response to specific events. These days it is particularly in response to terrorist events, which affect all Australians, to political events. But something like that could well trigger it. I could undertake to you that we will certainly look at those pages within the next few weeks.

Senator RICE:  Thank you.

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