Backlash is growing over a controversial decision to ban Australians from returning home from India or face time in jail.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has defended a decision to ban Australians from returning from India, saying the move is designed to “keep Australians safe”.
On Monday a temporary ban will come into force, blocking the return of any Australian who has visited India within 14 days of their intended date of arrival in Australia.
Australians who breach the ban could face up to five years in jail, a $66,000 fine, or both, under the changes to the Biosecurity Act.
But many have reacted with fury to the decision, saying Aussies are being left for dead in a country in crisis. On Saturday morning, #strandedaussies was trending on social media, with more than 3000 tweeting under the hashtag.
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It’s understood to be the first time Australia has taken the step of banning its own citizens from returning home, and enforcing criminal penalties on those who make it to our shores, the ABC reports.
‘Outrageous’: Decision criticised by Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch called the move to jail Australians trying to return home “outrageous” in a statement released on Saturday.
“This in an outrageous response. Australians have the right to return to their own country,” Elaine Pearson, the Australian Director of Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
“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.”
Mr Frydenberg defended the decision on Saturday, saying the situation in India was “dire”.
“We have taken drastic action to keep Australians safe, and what we face in India is a very serious situation where the medical advice provided to the federal government has been to put in place these strict measures,” Mr Frydenberg said on Saturday.
“With respect to India and the decision we have taken recently with the Biosecurity Act — the situation in India is dire.
“It’s very serious. More than 200,000 people have died, and there are more than 300,000 new cases a day. When national cabinet met they received the most up-to-date briefing from our Chief Medical Officers (CMOs).”
He said the CMOs had advised the implementation of “secure measures when it came to people coming from India to Australia”.
Mr Frydenberg said the travel ban was temporary and would be reviewed on May 15.
The travel ban was announced this week by the Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt who said the number of arrivals from India who had tested positive to COVID-19 was currently unmanageable.
In a statement he said it was “critical” the Australian public health and quarantine systems were protected.
Amid reports the country is running out of supplies of oxygen, Mr Frydenberg was asked if it was “irresponsible” to leave Australians in the country.
“The best thing we can do is get supplies into India which is what we’re doing. Ventilators, masks, other PPE equipment. We’re doing everything we can to support India at this very difficult time,” the Treasurer said.
“We’ve also got to protect Australians, and the situation in India is very serious and it’s dire. And we need to take and act on the medical advice.
“That’s what we did at the start of the pandemic and that’s what we’re doing right through this.”