AUSTRALIANS should pay a travel levy for foreign trips and higher fees for passports under a plan to offset the soaring costs of helping travellers who get into strife overseas.
A damning parliamentary report has also found Australia's diplomats are suffering from three decades of ''chronic underfunding'', just as the Gillard government launches a new blueprint for ties to Asia.
The report finds the growing burden of consular support for tens of thousands of Australians in trouble overseas - including high-profile cases such as that of Melinda Taylor, the Australian lawyer imprisoned in Libya - is limiting the ability of diplomats to properly represent Australia.
The Foreign Affairs Department assisted around 14,500 Australians in difficulty overseas last year, including several hundred who were arrested and more than 300 who received emergency loans from the taxpayer.
More than 200,000 Australians also received consular assistance with minor issues such as travel documents and navigating foreign bureaucracy.
The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade report released yesterday called on the government to establish an extra 20 embassies and consulates.
It says consular services should be funded in part by revenue from increased passport fees or ''other modest travel levies''.
The committee chairman and Labor backbencher, Nick Champion, declined to put a figure on the levy, only that a small cost to the estimated seven million Australians travelling overseas would cover the assistance burden. The report also suggests a tiered levy to take into account people who take out travel insurance or who are unable to obtain insurance.
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard's, long-awaited Australia in the Asian Century white paper promised further investment in overseas representation.
But Labor has given no funding commitments or timeline for them.
The tourist hot spot Phuket in southern Thailand is among three locations the white paper has identified for a new post.
But yesterday's parliamentary report - which has bipartisan support - goes much further, outlining a plan for a $300 million investment over three years in the diplomatic service.
This would see an embassy reopened in Kazakhstan, along with new posts in Algeria, Angola, Colombia, Norway and Tanzania.
''I don't think this is diplomatic chest thumping,'' Labor MP Michael Danby said, ''But Australia is a serious country who should be represented.''