The federal government’s ban on Australian citizens returning from India has been dubbed “immoral and un-Australian,” with a former race discrimination commissioner asking why the subcontinent is being handled differently than other parts of the world hit by catastrophic COVID waves.
Australians trapped on the subcontinent have been devastated by the new laws, which threaten people returning from India with up to five years in prison and fines of up to $66,000.
The crackdown is intended to deter Australians from returning to Australia via a third nation, after some were able to do so via Doha.
The rules, described by the government as “drastic but necessary”, mean anyone who has been in India within the previous 14 days is prohibited from entering Australia.
Among those critical of the move, which comes into force on Monday and will last until at least May 15, is Kylie Moore-Gilbert — a recently-freed Australian academic who was detained for more than two years in Iran.
“I know what it means to do time for absolutely no reason whatsoever,” she tweeted.
“I also know what it means to be rescued from a COVID-riddled overseas hellhole and be brought back to Australia [yes into quarantine].
“This outrageous policy is immoral, unjustifiable and completely un-Australian.”
Some advocates are also questioning whether the ban could potentially be a violation of Australia’s international law obligations.
“The section that the minister has made the emergency direction under also requires whatever action is the least restrictive and least intrusive way of dealing with the risk,” peak civil rights group Liberty Victoria’s president Julia Kretzenbacher said.
“We have hotel quarantine to deal with the risk, so in Liberty Victoria’s view the actions taken are not the least restrictive or least intrusive way of protecting Australians.”
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission, the latest restrictions would have a “significant effect” on Australians’ human rights.
The commission stated that it would be specifically addressing its concerns with the government, as well as urging Parliament’s Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 to reconsider the restrictions.
“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,” it said in a statement.
Former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said there was an inconsistency in the government’s policy, that he hoped was not related to race.
“We didn’t see differential treatment being extended to countries such as the United States, the UK, and any European country even though the rates of infection were very high and the danger of arrivals from those countries was very high,” he said.
“There are different standards at play here depending on which part of the world you’re coming from.”
The government has acknowledged the policy is difficult but said it was implemented on the back of expert health advice.
“We have taken drastic action to keep Australians safe and what we face in India is a very serious situation where the medical advice has been to put in place these measures,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.
“It’s temporary, it’s based on the medical advice and it will be reviewed on the 15th of May.”
On the same day that Mr Frydenberg characterized the situation in India as “dire,” the country reported more than 400,000 COVID-19 cases, a world record.
State and federal officials, as well as health experts, have expressed increasing concern about the number of Indian cases in Australia’s quarantine system, especially after two separate leaks from Perth’s hotel setup in less than a week.
Prior to this move, there were calls for the government to do more to limit travel from India.
“India is an epicentre of death and destruction as we speak,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said last week.
“I don’t think there is any need to go to India, I don’t.”
But for Australians stranded in India, the commentary and the decision-making has been deeply hurtful.
Source: ABC World News