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(1/20/2007) If you meet an Australian traveler and he or she seems a little confused, be sure to cut them a little slack. That befuddled state of mind is the natural result of trying to decipher and understand the current load of travel warnings posted by the Australian Government at
The Levels of Warning
By way of background, the Australian Government classifies every destination in the world under one of five levels of danger, ranking from the "safest" to the "most hazardous" with the following respective ratings:
▪ "A" - Be alert to your own security
▪ "B" - Exercise caution
▪ "C" - High degree of caution
▪ "D" - Reconsider your need to travel
▪ "E" - Do not travel
The World as The Australian Government Sees It
A quick jump around all the countries and travel advisories listed on the smarttraveller.gov.au website suggests that Australian taxpayers may be getting precious little for the money they pay for thoughtful travel advice from Canberra.
Here's a sampling of the inconsistencies served up to Australians considering a globe-trotting walkabout.
Thailand "C" – High Degree of Caution
Despite a series of bomb attacks on crowded public places in Bangkok on New Year's Eve and the recent coup, Thailand, as a whole, warrants the "average" or "neutral" rating of "High degree of caution".
Southern Thailand "D"- Reconsider Your Need to Travel
The Country's South, where almost daily attacks continue and nearly two thousand people have died in bombings, shootings and decapitations over the past two years gets the "D" rating of "Reconsider your need to travel" - putting that very troubled area where even school teachers are allowed to carry guns on an equal footing with Bali.
Spain "B" – Exercise Caution
The bombing of Madrid's Barajas Airport on December 20, 2006, signaled an end to a six-month cease fire between the Spanish government and Basque separatists while re-opening the probability of future ETA attacks on public places. Add to this Spain's vulnerbility to violent attacks by radical Islamists, as demonstrated by the March 2004 Madrid train attack that injured over a thousand and killed 192 people, and you might wonder how the Australian Government manages to bestow upon Spain its tame "B" ranking of "exercise caution."
United Kingdom "B" – Exercise Caution
Rated equally with Spain is the United Kingdom which also gets a "B" security rating of "Exercise Caution", despite the widely-held perception that the U.K. remains extremely vulnerable to terrorism following the July 2005 attacks on London's public transport and the Blair government's continued support of the Bush Administration's military intervention in Iraq.
Underlining the idiocy inherent in how Australia's appraises security is the the fact that Britian's MI5 doesn't share Canberra's optmistic view on security, choosing instead to issue a "D" or "Severe - an attack is highly likely" rating for the U.K. on its official website.
Indonesia "D" – Reconsider Your Need to Travel
Earning a ranking just one step above the very worst "no go" warning possible from Canberra is Indonesia and the island of Bali.
Despite John Howard's lavish praise for Indonesia's leading role in the "war on terror" and the fact that terror attacks in Bali and Jakarta now pre-date similar attacks in London and Madrid, Indonesia and Bali still remain in the "dog's house" when it comes to Australian travel advisories.
Reflecting the lack of careful thought Australian bureacrats invest in formulating their Indonesian travel warnings, the smarttraveller.gov.au advisory current(sic) for January 14, 2007 still states: "There is a credible threat of terrorist attack in Indonesia during the Christmas and New Year period."
Unless the Australians now celebrate the Christmas holidays at a later date than the rest of the world, this warning is wrong on several levels.
United States "A" – Be Alert to Own Security
And, as a final rebuttal to any lingering doubts that Australia's travel warnings have more to do politics than any objective review of security threats, consider the case of the United States which earns Australia's "safest" grade-"A" rating of "Be alert to your own security."
Supporting the view that Australian travel advisories are capriciously constructed is the simple fact that Canberra's "A" appraisal of overall U.S. Security is even more bullish than the "C" or "Elevated" rating America's own Department of Homeland Security gives to the current domestic security situation in the U.S.A., not to mention the even more foreboding "D" or "High - Orange" alert for the U.S. airline sector from Homeland Security.
While Washington diplomatically defers American travelers to Australia's self-assesment on security issues, Canberra seemingly knows better than even Washington when it comes to U.S. security, as revealed in its puppy-like eagerness to ingratiate itself with the Bush Administration.
Warning: I'm from the Government and I Want to Help You
Are Australian travel advisories politically motivated?
Naw . . . do you think?