The Human Rights Commission has revealed it has “serious concerns” about threats to jail or fine Australian citizens returning from India under a federal government travel ban. From Monday, people who have been in India within the previous fortnight before their intended arrival in Australia will face a $66,600 fine, as well as five years imprisonment for entering the country.
The government has staunchly defended the tough move saying it was necessary to protect Australia’s public health and the quarantine systems, as India records more than 300,000 new COVID-19 cases a day. The subcontinent nation reported more than 400,000 new cases on Saturday, the highest ever daily count globally, after 10 straight days of more than 300,000 new daily cases.
But the human rights watchdog said the shock move “raises serious human rights concerns”. “The commission holds deep concerns about these extraordinary new restrictions on Australians returning to Australia from India,” it said in a statement. “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 is approaching the Australian government directly with its concerns.” The watchdog has urged a Senate COVID-19 committee to immediately review the restrictions.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Saturday rejected the suggestion the government was abandoning around 9000 Australians in India. “We have taken drastic action to keep Australians safe,” Mr Frydenberg said. “This is a temporary measure … The situation in India is dire and very serious, and we need to take and act on the medical advice that was provided to us.”
The government will reconsider the travel ban on May 15 following advice from Australia’s chief medical officer. Australia has agreed to provide emergency medical supplies, including more than 1000 non-invasive ventilators, and has offered to supply personal protective equipment. Labor treasury spokesman, Jim Chalmers, said on Sunday the closure of the international border was doing a lot of damage to businesses and workers.
“That international border will be closed for longer than it needs to be because Scott Morrison has bungled his two key responsibilities – to get the vaccination rolled out safely and quickly and effectively, and to manage the quarantine system,” Dr Chalmers told Sky News.