Nikola writes:

The current debate on a consular levy has seen some good points with both sides of the argument highlighting the advantages and disadvantages of introducing a consular levy. I will try to contribute to this debate by proposing a middle ground solution.

As pointed out by readers and contributors, it would not be fair to 'penalise' Australia's whole traveling population based on poor decision-making by a minority few, nor can the ever increasing strain on consular resources be ignored. While increasing the passport fee by let's say $25, as pointed out by Gar Pardy, may raise sufficient revenue to subsidise the rising cost of providing consular service, it would be an unpopular move for any government (with a growing travelling population) to make. In fact, any solution requiring introduction of a levy, increase in taxes, or introduction of fees targeting the mass or a specific demographic group is bound to be met with fierce opposition.

Instead, there should be a middle ground where Australians who end up requiring consular assistance get charged a specific amount based on type of assistance obtained (eg. welfare cases tend to be more resource consuming than passport cases) or whether the case is self-inflicted vs bad luck (eg. those who are arrested for a specific or group of crimes could be charged a higher fee than those who are hospitalised due to events outside of their control).

Prior to receiving consular assistance, where possible and practicable, the client could sign an undertaking to repay the consular fee. In order to incite the traveler to repay the fee owned as soon as possible, a 'freeze' could be placed on the client's passport preventing further travel until the amount owed is repaid to the government. This type of policy is best reflected in the current policy governing the issue of Traveller's Emergency Loans (TELs) where recipients of TELs cannot receive a new passport until the loan is repaid to the government.

The above would ensure that those Australians who are responsible travelers are not penalised for the actions of few, it will make potential consular clients think twice before engage in risky behaviour, it will make consular clients think twice before approaching the government as first point of contact, and lastly it does not penalise those clients who require consular assistance due to events outside of their control.

At the end of the day, while the taxes collected from the taxpayer are sufficient to make consular assistance available to those who need it, they are not sufficient to cover the provision of such service to Australia’s rising traveling population...and this is where both sides of the debate agree.