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New Australian Consul-General to Phuket takes up arms over economic diplomacy, tourists’ safety

New Australian Consul-General to Phuket takes up arms over economic diplomacy, tourists’ safety

Matthew Barclay, the new Australian Consul-General to Phuket, has arrived on the island is now picking up the baton from former Consul-General Craig Ferguson, who set up the Consulate-General on the bypass road little over three years ago.

Saturday 4 January 2020, 10:00AM

Matthew’s posting as Australia's Consul-General in Phuket, with responsibility for the provinces of Phuket, Krabi and Phang Nga, was announced by Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Women, Senator Marise Payne in August last year, and his credentials were formally accepted by the Thai government last month.

People may be forgiven for underestimating Matthew’s prowess in diplomacy, thinking that Phuket is just another “holiday posting”. A quick glance at Matthew’s career path will quickly make clear that his skills and achievements have been hard won.

Between 2015 and 2018 Matthew was the First Secretary of the Political division at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. He was responsible for the embassy’s domestic political liaison and strategic education outreach.

Prior to this posting, however, Matthew was a policy adviser in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Consular and Crisis Management Division. In this position Matthew provided advice to Ministers and the Departmental executive on management of complex consular cases in the Asia-Pacific region.

Between 2012 and 2013 Matthew served alongside Australian, Slovak and US armed forces in Tarin Kowt, Afghanistan, as a DFAT political adviser within the Uruzgan Provincial Reconstruction Team. In this role, he led the Australian Government’s Interagency Detainee Monitoring Team which liaised with local authorities on the welfare of Afghan detainees.

Matthew also regularly reported on political, security, legal and human rights developments in the Uruzgan province.

Prior to joining DFAT, Matthew worked in the Department of Defence on international policy, public affairs and capability development matters. Between 2007 and 2011, Matthew’s primary focus was Australia’s defence relationship with Timor-Leste. In this role Matthew served in Timor-Leste as an international policy advisor to the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force and later as a strategy and governance advisor to the Timor-Leste Secretariat of State for Defence and the Timor-Leste Defence Force.

Matthew holds a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) from the University of Western Australia and a Graduate Diploma in Education (Secondary) from Edith Cowan University. And now he speaks fluent Indonesian and Thai, and has also completed a Certificate III in vocational Tetum – the language of Timor-Leste.

A recipient of the Australian Operational Service Medal (Civilian) for his service in Timor-Leste and Afghanistan, Matthew has also received the US Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the NATO ISAF Medal for his service in Afghanistan.

And now he’s in Phuket, with a focus on economic diplomacy and tourists’ safety.

“It’s a privilege to work with the close-knit Australian community here in Phuket,” Matthew told The Phuket News over the New Year.

“Australians are an integral part of the local economy – working in a range of sectors and helping the local economy through investment and upskilling.

“The bilateral ties with Thailand are strong and we are keen to see more investment and trade with this part of Thailand into the future,” he said.

“I hope to work with those in the Australian and wider community to see where the opportunities lie and where we can assist,” he added.

As Phuket’s economy continues to grow and diversify, Australia certainly wants to be part of the journey and has a lot to offer, Matthew explained.

“Beyond the already strong hospitality and food and beverage sectors, there are clear opportunities in infrastructure development, vocational skills transfer and marine,” he said.

Safety First

Dive Supply Co., Ltd.

Matthew has already made his intentions clear on taking steps to support moves by local officials to improve safety for tourists and expats on the island, joining the a high-level beach safety workshop organised by the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation office for Phuket in collaboration with the Phuket Disaster Resilience Foundation (PDRF).

The “Phuket Beach Safety Workshop”, held in Phuket Town on Dec 17, saw Dr Rob Brander, Professor and Deputy Head of School at the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences (BEES), at the University of New South Wales, Australia, join to explain key the dangers of key beach hazards and how they can be mitigated.

“We want to continue to be an active and cooperative partner for Phuket and support the provincial authorities’ focus on water safety,” Matthew said.

“We are keen to assist where we can as, ultimately, improved water safety awareness and management on the island benefits Phuketians and tourists from all countries.

“We will be keen to work with local authorities to support initiatives in the lifesaving space, including an upcoming visit by trainers from Life Saving New South Wales,” he added.

Specifically regarding Australian tourists, Matthew raised the key issue of having poor travel insurance leaving tourists injured in accidents while on holiday in Phuket in difficult situations, unable to pay for much needed, or even critical, hospital care.

“Phuket still receives a large number of Australians every year. At least 250,000 arrivals per year direct from Australia, but there are certainly others who enter via Bangkok who make their way down south,” Matthew explained.

“There will always be small fluctuations, but expect Phuket to remain a staple for Australian tourists,” he said.

“Recent research tells us that 10% of travelling Australians surveyed found they travelled without insurance, but accidents can and certainly do occur.

“When you consider 11.2 million Aussies travelled in 2018/19. that could be over 1mn people traveling without backup in the event of an accident,” he pointed out.

“We hope Australians heed the message that traveling without insurance is a dangerous and potentially expensive proposition,” Matthew said plainly.

“People need to prepare themselves when traveling and I encourage all Australians traveling and living overseas to read our advice at before travel and sign up for updates. The new website is easy to navigate and ensures information is clearer and easier to find,” he stressed.

“For those Australians who need assistance, we are ready 24/7 to provide help. They should call 076-317700 [during business hours] or +61 2 6261 3305 (for 24-hour assistance),” he said.

On a personal note, Matthew, who is married to Connie and enjoys cricket, reading about international relations and sketching, welcomes his new posting.

“It’s a rare privilege to live somewhere where people holiday and I am looking forward to my next few years here. But it comes with great responsibilities to provide support to those Australians who need help during times that can be quite distressing,” he said.

“I have just finished Colin Mackay’s History of Phuket and can’t wait to get out and explore the historical sights of the island. Phuket has stood at the cross-roads of so many pivotal historic moments in the region’s history and it will be great to learn more about this,” he added.

“Myself and the team at the Consulate-General are avid readers of The Phuket News. Keep up the great work keeping everyone on the island informed!” Matthew concluded.

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