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Nobody could say the government wasn’t warned. Yet this case sits in a long line of dubious government decisions on consular affairs which make the department’s consular work almost impossible.

This year, there were the free government airlifts out of Cairo, an inevitable consequence of the questionable decision to evacuate Australians from Bangkok after airport closures there in 2008, and the mass evacuation of 6000 people from Lebanon in 2006. Silly cases like the Melbourne woman accused of stealing a bar mat from a Thai pub receive almost equal prominence to serious consular cases with real ramifications for Australia’s international relations, such as Stern Hu’s arrest and conviction in China.

Every political intervention in such consular cases creates a vicious cycle in which the government of the day whips up public expectation amid a fanfare of media attention, creating dangerous and increasingly taxing precedents on a department already struggling with a growing workload and inadequate resourcing.