For the first time in our proud history, it is a criminal offence to enter the country from overseas, even if you are an Australian citizen. The Morrison government has temporarily banned all flights from India, effectively stopping stranded Australians from returning home.
The federal government have enacted the Australian Biosecurity Act 2015. People who have been in India in the previous 14 days face a fine of up to $66,600 or five years in prison, or both, for returning to Australia.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne stated that positive cases who arrive from India are “placing a very, very significant burden on health and medical services in state and territories”. Out of those positive cases, how many have been hospitalised, entered ICU or died? A positive case in hotel quarantine isn’t burdening the health care system.
Education Minister Alan Tudge claimed that the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory has an “infection rate of 15 per cent, well above the goal of 2 per cent”. Isn’t the purpose of hotel quarantine to protect the community by quarantining those who have the virus? Why does the government have a goal to quarantine 98% of people who are not positive?
Inside your Australian passport, it states that the Commonwealth of Australia “requests all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer, an Australian citizen, to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford him or her every assistance and protection of which he or she may stand in need”.
This travel ban certainly doesn’t allow citizens to “pass freely without let or hindrance”, nor does it “afford him or her every assistance and protection”. Thankfully, and rightfully, experts are questioning the lawfulness of such drastic measures.
Professor Kim Rubenstein from the University of Canberra claimed that “individuals who are stranded might seek to get legal representation to challenge it as unlawful. They would be wise to be speaking to their representatives in Parliament to ask the Senate committee, to, as a matter of emergency, review this measure as appropriate. I think there are serious legal questions the Parliament should be interrogating.”
Lawyer Michael Bradley stated that the law requires Health Minster Greg Hunt to consider the least intrusive way of ensuring the quarantine system is not overwhelmed and that “it’s very difficult to say that (Greg Hunt’s) appropriately applied that discretion”. Mr Bradley continued by saying that “there are real question marks about the constitutional validity of this exercise of power”.
Liberty Victoria’s president Julia Kretzenbacher says that “we have hotel quarantine to deal with the risk, so in Liberty Victoria’s view the actions taken are not the least restrictive or intrusive way of protecting Australians”.
The Australian Human Rights Commission said in a statement that these restrictions on Australian citizens returning from India “raises serious human rights concerns”.
“The need for such restrictions must be publicly justified. The Government must show that these measures are not discriminatory and the only suitable way of dealing with the threat to public health. The Commission urges Parliament’s Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 to review these new restrictions immediately. The Commission is approaching the Australian Government directly with its concerns.”
The United Nations recently requested that Australia promptly allow two Australian citizens to return from the United States. According to Amnesty International, “Australians have been and are continuing to be harmed, by the government’s slow and bungled approach to getting them home amid the global pandemic crisis. People have been left homeless, unemployed, absolutely penniless, and stressed and anxious.”
More than 36,000 Australians are currently stranded overseas, with approximately 9,000 of those in India. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has catastrophically failed in his promise to get all stranded Australians home by Christmas.
Human Rights Watch director Elaine Pearson said that Australians have a “right to return to their own country”.
“Any such limitations on that right due to public health grounds should be necessary and proportionate. The government should be looking for ways to safely quarantine Australians returning from India, instead of focusing their efforts on prison sentences and harsh punishments for people who are facing desperate conditions and simply trying to return home. This is an outrageous response.”
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young tweeted that she is “horrified that the Morrison government thinks this is an acceptable response to the humanitarian crisis in India”.
If other countries around the world, with low cases numbers such as Australia, can manage hotel quarantine, whilst still allowing their citizens to return home, why can’t we?
We warned about the government’s ability to enact the Biosecurity Act in November 2020. At the time, many people, including members of parliament, either didn’t realise that the Act existed, or they didn’t believe that it would ever be enforced. Here we are six months later and the government have made it illegal for Australian citizens in India to enter the country.
What other draconian measures will the government enforce? What precedent does this set? What does this mean for the rest of those Australians stranded overseas?
These measures are a violation of our basic human rights. We must not consent to such measures, and must hold our politicians accountable for their actions.
Write to your members of parliament to tell them that you do not support such measures. It takes less than 5 minutes to do through our website.
Let’s pray for those stranded overseas, especially in India. They are Australian citizens like you and me. We must continue to fight for them, so that they can safely return to the country that they call home.