Payne said that the “temporary” move to ban travel from India to Australia was made in response to the high number of Covid-19 infections among Australians in hotel quarantine who have returned from the country. AP Photo
CANBERRA: Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has denied suggestions that the government’s decision to ban travel from India amid the country’s worsening Covid-19 situation was motivated by racism.
Payne said that the “temporary” move to ban travel from India to Australia was made in response to the high number of Covid-19 infections among Australians in hotel quarantine who have returned from the country, Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.
“The burden that has placed on the health systems in the states and territories, including through particularly Howard Springs, is a very significant one,” she told reporters on Sunday.
“The decision which has been made under the Biosecurity Act on the basis of the advice of the Chief Medical Officer is a temporary pause on returns.”
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday also defended his government’s decision to ban and impose a jail term and a penalty for Australians trying to return from India, saying it is in the country’s “best interests” and to prevent a third wave of infections.
The Australian government, for the first time in history, recently imposed a ban on its citizens from returning home, if they have spent time in India up to 14 days before flying back.
Morrison said this is a temporary arrangement and a very difficult decision. “It has been put in place to ensure that we do not get a third wave here in Australia and that our quarantine system can remain strong,” he said, adding that it is in the country’s “best interests”.
He said that he feels terribly for the Indian community.
”We’ve seen a seven-fold increase in the rate of infection of those in our Howard Springs facility coming back from India.
“It’s important that we ensure that we have a temporary pause here to strengthen those arrangements in those quarantine facilities, get stronger testing arrangements, both when leaving India but also on people coming from third countries,” Morrison said.
On May 1, the government announced that anyone who enters Australia and has been in India within 14 days of the person’s time of departure may face up to five years’ imprisonment and heavy fines.
The temporary pause comes into effect on Monday and will be reconsidered on May 15 by the government following advice from the Chief Medical Officer.
Asked if the radical move was motivated by racism, Payne said “absolutely not in any way”.
Payne’s comments came as a leading citizenship expert warned that the government could face a legal challenge to the travel ban.
Kim Rubenstein from the University of Canberra’s Faculty of Business, Government and Law said that if the ban goes beyond the initial expiry date of May 15, a challenge would be more likely.
“A challenge could be made in federal court as to the lawfulness of the determination,” she said, according to Nine Entertainment newspapers on Monday.
“The longer that this goes on, the more chance there is for a legal challenge on its inconsistencies with the frameworks of the Biosecurity Act.”