Australian Consul-General Blog, Part 2

Last week I ‘introduced’ you to Dr Helena Studdert, our Australian Consul-General in Bali. I have loved getting all the questions and feedback so I’m hoping this blog helps explain the role of the consulate here in Bali and also answers all of your questions.

The consulate is located in Denpasar and as much as the action movies love depicting people skidding and sliding across the gate into the grounds, it’s actually a very calm and organised place, with strict rules about entry – which is necessary considering the role the consulate and its staff play. So I’ll set the record straight on a few questions I was asked: you do need identification to gain entry; you will go through airport style security checks once inside; and unless you have prior approval your phones and electrical devices will be held for you until you leave.

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The consulate can and will help with administrative tasks such as lost passports or lost identification, witnessing documents, providing a list of local lawyers if you need legal advice, support with accident or illness, and assisting you if you are a victim of crime or in trouble with the law. On that note I learnt a fascinating fact, 1.1 million Australians came to Bali last year which is an enormous contribution to Bali’s tourism – I hope similar numbers come this year as well! But interestingly of that 1.1 million, 568 (less than 1%) actually required consular assistance. That includes losing passports, accidents, and illness. Of the 568, only 45 that got into trouble were actually crime related. What this tells me, which we all suspect anyway, is that the overwhelming number of Australians who visit Bali, enjoy a carefree and relaxing time.

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Dr Helena, but I guess sensationalist news sells. There is no doubt that crime does occur here in Bali, by all nationalities, but if you just go on what is portrayed in the media, it always looks a lot worse and in higher numbers than it really is. There is no doubt some have committed terrible crimes and that some have been victim to these crimes, however with a number so small, it is certainly not a reflection of what actually goes on daily in Bali. And before anyone thinks I’m being callous about these crimes, I have been a victim here as well. It hasn’t put me off Bali or living here, it’s a sad reality of where the world is at now and certainly not a representation of the beautiful people here.

The team of local staff at the consulate have been there for many years – some more than 12 years - and so they have incredible local experiences they can draw on to help people. Together with highly experienced staff from Australia, they care deeply about the work they do and the relevance and importance it has in their communities. They offer bilateral consular services to Canadians as part of Australia’s bilateral agreement with Canada and they work closely with US, UK and NZ consuls among others. The consulate and the Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra, offer 24/7 consular services and assistance and do not turn away anyone who needs helps.

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There is no doubt there is a large presence of Australian expats in Bali with business interests - a fact Dr Helena and her team have tried hard to quantify. Although most business people in Bali do not need assistance from the consulate, the consulate team can be of help in promoting Australia’s influence in building Bali’s tourism sector, the sharing of new technology and creative ideas and the widespread employment and training this brings to the island. But the consulate does not have any control over the approval or management of licenses or kitas’ and they cannot get involved in business dealings or legal disputes.

Indonesia and Australia have had a long and successful relationship, working in partnership on many programs and projects. The consulate has Direct Aid Program funding that can be used to support grass root community projects and at times this funding is the difference between a project getting off the ground or not. Obviously there is never enough money to go around but the consulate does offer financial assistance to 10 – 12 projects every year. Usually the community groups or charities they assist differ from the year before to ensure fairness and that there is good representation across different areas that need welfare.

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These projects are mostly focused around education, women’s health and empowerment, medical programs and assistance in remote or marginalised villages and communities. As I mentioned in last week’s blog, I met Dr Helena at a charity function for Bali WISE, which is a program that the consulate has supported in the past, offering education and empowerment to marginalised women around Indonesia.

The consulate has a public outreach program that can promote the not for profit work of Australians who are committed to helping local communities through charitable works and Australians dedicated to cultural and social exchange.

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The consulate also promotes Australia as the destination of choice for students here looking for external study options through the Australia Awards Program, which is administered by the embassy in Jakarta. In doing so, it is further strengthening the relationship between Indonesia and Australia as they are working together to create opportunities in science and research, environment and sustainable energy work, and to further develop the tourism industry here which is obviously a leading factor in the economy.

In writing this I’ve realised the blog could actually be a 3 part article because the role of the consulate is so complex, I’m not entirely sure that I have done it any justice. I am the first to admit I wasn’t entirely sure what the consulate actually did other than the administrative services it offers. However I now have a much better understanding that while the administrative services are necessary and important, they are actually a very small part of the daily work done by the consulate. With so many projects, programs and initiatives, the role of the consulate is more around promoting Australia’s interests through diplomacy, charitable support, the perception of Australians, and the continuation of developing and strengthening the bond that despite times of terrible loss and adversity, has remained a shining example to others.

I encourage you all to follow Dr Helena and her team on Twitter @KonJenBali and as usual, please don’t hesitate to send me any questions that I will happily pass onto the consulate team to answer.

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