Monday 26 Sep 2022 | 03:34 | SYDNEY
Monday 26 Sep 2022 | 03:34 | SYDNEY

'Abandoned' Pippi Bean and Carr consular conundrum


Alex Oliver


9 October 2012 09:33

Following aid-worker Alexandra ('Pippi') Bean's safe departure from Libya last week, Foreign Minister Bob Carr felt compelled last Friday to issue a press release explaining the Australian government's handling of the case, in an attempt to fend off a barrage of criticism from the media, Ms Bean and her family for 'abandoning' her at her 'lowest point'.

Seven months into the job, Senator Carr is beginning to comprehend the intractability of the consular conundrum: managing the soaring demand for consular services from an Australian travelling public which takes more than 8 million overseas trips each year, while resisting the temptation to rescue every Australian in trouble overseas, no matter how worthy the case.

Unnwittingly entangled in a political scandal in Tripoli, but now safely extracted, Ms Bean condemned the Foreign Affairs Minister for failing her in her time of need. Her passport had been taken from her by authorities at Tripoli airport after she refused to sign a statement relating to allegations against a Libyan government deputy minister.

A day later, her family's call for urgent assistance made national headlines.

Senator Carr's exculpatory press release comprised a detailed history of Ms Bean's contacts with DFAT consular officials, beginning with her call to the Australian Embassy in Cairo before her first meeting with the investigators. He listed the phone calls and contacts with the relevant embassies, the arrival of a consul in Tripoli two days after her passport was taken and the consular escort the embassy provided for her departure from Libya four days later.

Senator Carr has pointed out that DFAT officials had extended valuable assistance to Ms Bean. She was able to leave Libya freely four days later. Yet asked on the weekend by Sky journalist Peter van Onselen, 'So how do you explain her feeling so aggrieved?', Senator Carr could only answer, 'I don't know'. He then assiduously drew fine distinctions with the case of Australian ICC lawyer Melinda Taylor, detained by militia in Zintan for 26 days in June and July this year.

As I warned after that case, and as we have frequently argued here and in our earlier work, the media 'beat up' of which Senator Carr complains is the result of a vicious cycle, fuelled by none other than himself, accompanied by a long line of foreign ministers and prime ministers who have rushed to intervene in hyped-up media cases of Australians in trouble overseas. This is one of the few aspects of foreign affairs that brings the Australian public into the orbit of Australia's foreign affairs and the interaction can be calamitous for the sane management of Australia's diplomacy.

Unfortunately for the Minister, his predecessors and his successors whoever they may be, a successful high-level intervention in one consular case leads to calls for the same intensive level of ministerial service in the next. It's not sustainable.