The federal government has imposed a temporary travel ban between India and Australia beginning today, with anyone breaching the rule to face up to five years in jail or heavy fines, in a move which some experts say may be illegal. The penalties have been introduced through the Biosecurity Act.
The temporary ban applies to any travellers who have visited India within 14 days of their intended arrival date in Australia.
Changes were introduced to the Biosecurity Act introducing up to five years in jail and heavy fines if Australian citizens and residents flee the COVID-ravaged India to return home.
The changes are historic as “this is the first time Australia has banned its own citizens from returning, to the point of there being criminal sanctions for those who make it home”, the ABC reported.
“This decision to ban Australians in India from coming home is inhumane and flies in the face of all our values as Australian citizens”, Labor’s Peter Khalil, member for Wills said.
“The government’s most basic responsibility is to protect its citizens, and that responsibility doesn’t end at the border.
“All Australians have the right to come home and it’s disgraceful that the government has taken that right away from thousands of our fellow citizens.”
While the critics have described the government’s move as “immoral and un-Australian”, it has divided the local Australian India community.
Many community leaders who do not want to be named find the government’s decision to be “wrong” saying it is a clear dereliction of duty by the government. But there are others equally vocal who side with the government’s approach of taking precautions to ensure safety of Australians in Australia.
“I can completely understand why the government is doing it. I found it heroic of Prime Minister Scott Morrison to publically position himself on the two Australian cricketers not offering them any special treatment when they wanted to come home” Baljit Singh told Bharat Times.
“Our government could not be fairer”, he added “why are our community complaining. This is the challenge of a lifetime and he has to keep Australia safe”.
Speaking to Bharat Times, Vasan Srinivasan, Victoria’s most prominent community leader simply concurred with Australian Prime Minister in introducing the temporary ban.
“Our position is simply the position of our government. Yes, it is very difficult for the families whose members, husbands, wives, children, one parent or anyone else part of their household may be stuck in India, but they have to understand why the government is doing it.” Vasan Srinivasan told Bharat Times.
“My own nephew is stuck in India now for months and if he does not make it by the end of the month, he stands to lose his job – but what to do?
“There are only so many beds in quarantine and the government is doing its best it can. There is a 14 days cycle and we all have to follow it. The biggest slice of infected people – 55% plus – in government’s quarantine centre in Howard Springs – are those who have come back from India. Unless they can be moved out to make room for more to arrive – where can the Prime Minister put those stuck in India..? Vasan Srinivasan asks.
The government is standing by the position it has taken saying it is based on expert medical advice and done to protect Australians.
“Fifty-seven per cent of the positive cases in quarantine had been arrivals from India,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said defending the travel ban decision.
“It was placing a very, very significant burden on health and medical services in states and territories.”
“We have already seen snap lockdowns in Victoria and in Western Australia. Do we want to risk more of the same Australia wide? Do we want to exercise caution – taking baby steps towards normalcy or gamble our way into COVID tsunami the way India did”, adds Baljit Singh.
There is desperation in the families divided on both sides. Young parents of a girl only 7 who is stuck in India with grandparents, one of whom has just recovered from COVID in India are panicking according to a post.
Expressing solidarity with Australian Indians of Victoria, the Hon. Neil Angus said, “During this very challenging time, the Liberal Nationals stand with India and its people.
“We also stand with Victoria’s wonderful and dynamic Indian community at this very stressful and difficult time.”
Only last week, an India vigil was held in Fed Square to spread the message of hope and positivity for all.
Commenting on travel ban, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said repatriation flights from India would be up and running as soon as it was safe to do so.