Australia’s Human Rights Commission has warned that the travel ban on Australian citizens returning from India, accompanied by criminal sanctions under the Biosecurity Act, raises serious human rights concerns.
It said it supports the continuation of aid to the Indian Government as it copes with the current Covid-19 crisis, but “holds deep concerns about these extraordinary new restrictions on Australians returning to Australia from India”.
“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 noted in a statement.
Select Committee should review restrictions
It is now making a direct approach to the Federal Government to voice its concerns and has urged that Parliament’s Senate Select Committee on Covid-19 to review these new restrictions immediately.
The actions by the Human Rights Commission follow the announcement of a temporary ban that begins today (Monday) and applies to any travellers who have visited India within 14 days of their intended arrival date in Australia.
Changes to the Biosecurity Act mean Australians could face up to five years in jail and heavy fines if they flee India to come home.
Breaches of the travel ban could lead to five years’ imprisonment, a $66,000 fine, or both.
This is believed to be the first time that Australia has banned its own citizens from returning, to the point of instituting criminal action against those who do so. Concern has been voiced in several quarters that this approach may, in fact, be illegal.
Drastic approach is to ‘keep Australians safe’
But the Federal Government has moved to defend its actions, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg admitting to a drastic approach, but saying it is designed to keep Australians safe.
“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,” he said.
The Treasurer was speaking in support of health minister, Greg Hunt, who announced the controversial measures on Friday.
“Tt 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,” Hunt explained.