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Phuket’s Australian Consul-General recaps on a year of assisting travellers

PHUKET: Phuket’s Australian Consul-General Craig Ferguson today (Dec 1) elaborated on the duties and encounters of his profession as he marked his first year as Phuket’s very first Consul-General, at a Rotary Club of Patong lunch held at the Millenium Hotel in Patong.


Shela Riva

Friday 1 December 2017, 06:58PM


Australian Consul-General Craig Ferguson speaks at today's  (Dec 1) Rotary Club of Patong lunch. Photo: Shela Riva
Australian Consul-General Craig Ferguson speaks at today's (Dec 1) Rotary Club of Patong lunch. Photo: Shela Riva

Mr Ferguson was appointed Consul-General for Phuket, Phang Nga and Krabi in August 2016 by Australias Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop (see story here) after Canberra announced the opening of a full consulate in Phuket in on May 11, 2015. (See story here).

During the lunch Mr Ferguson shared some of his experiences from a year in the job, some of the common mishaps travellers encounter, and some of the misconceptions involved with the consulate’s responsibilities, as second-time guest speaker for the Rotary Club of Patong’s lunch.

“We’ve had many developments in my year here. We’ve had the construction of underpasses... change in governors a couple of times. And of course we’ve had the Royal Cremation Ceremony in Saphan Hin, which I was very, very privileged to be invited to,” Mr Ferguson said as he opened his speech.

“Trying to advocate for Australia’s interests is my primary role. I have to look at everything I do through the prism of advancing Australia’s interests,” he said.

Mr Ferguson refreshed the Rotarians’ memories with screengrabs of some of Phuket’s more high-profile news stories involving Australians this year, pointing out that although some are in the public eye, most are dealt with behind the scenes.

“With all of the public stuff that happens, there’s also another side of what we’re doing, which is providing assistance to Australians,” he said.

“This year, we have had 230 cases of consular assistance to Australians. We don’t report all cases to The Phuket News of course due to privacy rights…”

Mr Ferguson said that according to numbers on the prominent Australian travel website, smarttraveller.gov.au, Thailand is the most visited destination for Australians.

“According to this government website, Thailand is the most frequently visited destination. The website provides information on local laws, customs, immigration, and where to go if you need help. In the case that you’re an Australian overseas and there is a disaster or a big incident, my main advice would be to check smarttracker,” he said.

“I asked Jetstar if they were thinking of increasing flights to Phuket. However, they said that Bali is currently so popular, that every spare aircraft in Australia is being sent to Bali. From Perth to Bali alone there are ten flights to Bali per day,” he added.

Yet Thailand still remains the place where Australians get in trouble or die most commonly, explained Mr Ferguson.

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“Knowing where to get help overseas if needed is important as more Australians get in trouble and die here (in Thailand) than anywhere else in the world… Although the majority of death causes are natural causes or illness,” Mr Ferguson added.

He also noted the common misconceptions of his duties, including clients who expect physical protection, investigation, giving legal advice, helping to gain luxuries or privileges in jail, and others similar issues.

“We can help in appointing you a lawyer, but not giving legal advice. We help to contact family and friends in case of emergency, help to contact police.

“We have had people ask to convince prisons to gain luxuries, such as pillows, or getting western food in jail. I want to say that we certainly do not help people gain any privileges that are not available to Thais,” he said.

“Unless someone is being treated worse than a Thai, of course we will help.

“All of this applies to not only tourists but people living here as well,” he added.

Mr Ferguson went on to explain that issues with senior tourists getting in trouble here are currently on the rise.

“Issues where seniors who are underfunded, under-insured, and under-prepared are very common,” said Mr Ferguson.

“People often rent scooters without a licence and get into accidents, then say that they did not know as the rental didn’t ask for a motorbike licence. They try to justify that it was ‘just a scooter’,” he said.

“If you do not have a motorbike licence, whether from home or a Thai one, you are breaking Thai law.

“We have had people get into issues not knowing their insurance company name or policy in case of emergency… I advise that travellers keep a record, such as on Google drive, of all their travel insurance and documents,” concluded Mr Ferguson.

 

 

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