Monday, May 03, 2021

A criminal offence to return home? Morrison’s India travel crackdown slammed

The Morrison government’s jail threat to Australians seeking to return from coronavirus-ravaged India is rooted in racism and calls into question the “very essence” of citizenship, human rights lawyers have warned.

For the first time in our history, it will be a criminal offence for Australians to come home from overseas, with the federal government introducing fines of up to $66,600 or five years in prison for anyone returning from India.

Australians stranded in India told The New Daily of their distress at the government’s move.

“I’m just so devastated. I was so excited to come, but now I don’t have any words,” said one woman who has not seen her husband since 2019.

The government’s shock decision was announced late on Friday night and came after two Australian cricketers made it back to Australia, despite the government banning all flights, via a loophole that saw them transition through Qatar.

As public outrage at the decision grew on Saturday, Health Minister Greg Hunt told media the government had taken the tough stance due to an “unmanageable” number of arrivals from India tested positive to COVID-19.

“It is critical the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected and the number of COVID-19 cases in quarantine facilities is reduced to a manageable level,” Mr Hunt said.

Australian Lawyers Alliance spokesman Greg Barns SC slammed the government’s decision as “extraordinarily dangerous”.

“This decision is telling people who are otherwise innocent, who have had the misfortune of being [stuck] in India, that we regard them as being criminals for seeking to return to their homeland,” Mr Barns said.

The move also showed the federal government’s failure to take leadership of hotel quarantine system and ensure every stranded citizen could get home safely, he said.

“It changes the very essence of citizenship, it says ‘You’re a citizen when we want you to be’,” Mr Barns said.

“You run the risk of being jailed simply because you’re an Australian citizen seeking to return to your homeland.”

The fact Australia did not do the same when the United Kingdom and the United States were experiencing surging COVID cases showed the decision was rooted in racism, Mr Barns said.

“It’s an abuse of criminal law and is tinged with racism,” he said.

03/05/21 Cait Kelly/New Daily

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