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Forgetting Citizenship: Australia Suspends Flights from India

As India is being devastated by COVID-19 cases that have now passed a daily rate of 400,000, affluent and callous Australia has taken the decision to suspend all flights coming into the country till mid-month. The decision was reached by the Morrison government with the blessing of the State Premiers and the Labor opposition.

Not happy with banning flights from India, the Morrison government promises to be savage in punishing returnees who find ways to circumvent the ban (for instance, by travelling via a third country). Citizens who breach the travel ban can face up to five years’ imprisonment and fines up to AU$66,000. “We have taken drastic action to keep Australians safe,” explained the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. The situation in India was “serious”; the decision had only been reached after considering the medical advice.

According to a statement from Health Minister Greg Hunt, it was “critical the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected and the number of COVID-19 cases in quarantine is reduced to a manageable level.”

The decision fails to carry any weight. It did not take long for more alert medical practitioners to wonder why the approach to India was being so selectively severe. Health commentator and GP Vyom Sharma thought the decision “incredibly disproportionate to the threat that it posed.” Sharma is certainly correct on this score in terms of international law, which requires the least restrictive or least intrusive way of protecting citizens.

Then there was the issue about the previous policies Canberra had adopted to countries suffering from galloping COVID-19 figures. A baffled Sharma wondered, “Why is it that India has copped this ban and no people who have come from America?” Former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane seconds the suspicions. “We didn’t see differential treatment being extended to countries such as the United States, the UK, and any other European country even though the rates of infection were very high and the danger of its arrivals from those countries was very high.”

The Australian Human Rights Commission has also asked the federal government to justify its actions. “The government must show that these measures are not discriminatory and the only suitable way of dealing with the threat to public health.”

In the face of such behaviour, aggrieved citizens are left with few legal measures. Australia, among liberal democratic states, is idiosyncratic in refusing to adopt a charter of rights. Down Under, parliamentarians are supposedly wise and keen to uphold human rights till they think otherwise. (Human rights, the argument goes, would become the fodder of lawyers and judges, interfering with the absolute will of Parliament and the electors.) The Australian Constitution is hopelessly silent on the issue of citizenship. Left at the mercy of legislative regulation, Parliament and the executive can be disdainful towards their citizens without consequences.

One avenue remains the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Committee. On April 15, the UNHRC ruled on the case of two petitioners of FreeAndOpenAustralia.org (formerly StrandedAussies.org) that the Morrison government had to “facilitate and ensure their prompt return to Australia.”

Represented by the notable sage of international law Geoffrey Robertson QC, the petitioners argued that Australia was in breach of Articles 12(4) and 2(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The first article provides that no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country; the second provides for “effective” remedies to be granted to those whose rights and freedoms have breached under the ICCPR. The petitioners also freely admitted that they had no issue with quarantining for 14 days on returning to Australia.

In the words of Free and Open Australia spokesperson Deb Tellis, the Commonwealth should “use its power to expand quarantine facilities, and end travel caps that are being dictated by the states. There are thousands of our fellow citizens suffering loss of their relatives and loss of their jobs.”

The government has preferred a meaner, penny pinching approach in coping with quarantine, reducing flights when needed rather than expanding facilities to accommodate a greater number of infected arrivals. The hotel quarantine system continues to receive effusive praise from the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison as being 99.99 percent effective. But it is impossible for him, and his ministers, to conceal the fact that they do not trust, and are unwilling, to use other facilities and expand existing ones.

Since last November, there have been 16 COVID-19 leaks across the cities of Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth from quarantine hotels. At this writing, another quarantine leak is being reported in Western Australia, involving the now customarily infected hotel security guard and the inevitable seepage into the community. The problem of airborne transmission continues to plague, as does the uneven provision of Personal Protective Equipment. No national standard of quarantine has been formulated through the country, with each state adopting its own approach. Audits of the ventilation systems in many such hotels remain sketchy.

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan, who recently imposed a lockdown of the Perth and Peel areas and may well do the same thing over the next few days, suggested that the Commonwealth be generous with some of its facilities. Why not use the RAAF Curtin Air Base, or the immigration detention centres of Yongah Hill and Christmas Island? “It’s kind of staring us in the face and there are things that could assist, it’s just that the Commonwealth doesn’t want to do it.”

The evidence so far is that facilities such as Howard Springs in the Northern Territory tend to work. It features single-storey cabins, segregated air conditioning systems, outdoor veranda space and, in the vicinity, a fully functioning hospital. No leaks have been recorded. And location is everything: distant from densely populated areas. This government, however, is miserly on the issue of quarantine, an obligation it has transferred without constitutional justification to State premiers who fear both the virus and its electoral consequences.

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15 comments

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  1. pierre wilkinson

    just tell herr dutton that they are refugees, dangerous illegal desperate people who must be incarcerated with no consideration of the cost, and we could have all our expatriates returned by xmas… oops, sorry, that was the last promise, but soon, Jen said it would look good on my form sheet

  2. GL

    Are any of us surprised anymore by the behaviour of this corrupt and almost downright gang of criminals? It’s once again just par for the course.

  3. Andrew J. Smith

    Desperate measure by the national government which seems to struggle with the most basic management issues and implicit competence including pre departure, quarantine, logistics and post arrival; so Australian citizens are thrown under the bus….. except two top cricket players returning via Qatar, but remain nameless.

    Unclear what pre departure protocols exist i.e. if tests are required? There was media chatter or rumours of issues with Covid test bona fides? Simple solution is drafting panel doctors in India, approved for visa/migration health tests by the Australian government, being co-opted for pre departure testing and related?

    Hopefully this passive yet noisy government will get found out……

  4. Terence Mills

    All other considerations aside, this act by a sole minister demonstrates why we desperately need a Bill of Rights !

    While this is going on, this government are avoiding their Constitutional responsibilities for quarantine by insisting that they have delegated that obligation to the states at the same time maintaining that hotel quarantine is 99.99% effective.

    Closing our borders to Australian citizens demonstrates that the prevailing system of hotel quarantine is clearly ineffective.

  5. John Hanna

    This comes about as a result of the Federal Govt shirking it’s reponsibility for quarantine and shoving that onto the states. The states are (belatedly) seeing that they have been duped with the holtel quarantine system that Smuggo insists is 99.9% effective so he can shove any breakout onto the state responsible. The Andrews govt found a military base near Laverton I think that can house 15000 but Scomo does not want a bar of that because it would put him in the frame. Sites such as that could have been identified last year as places to accommodate large numbers of returnees…..but they don’t want to do that for POLITICAL reasons. Penalising potential returnees from India IS racist when there could have been a far better more humanitarian approach but as always Smuggo wants to hide behind someone else, the man is a shirker.

  6. Harry Lime

    More purely reactionary policy on the run,yet another ill considered brain fart with Payne as the potential fall guy(?) Shades of the Great Strawberry Saga.

  7. Phil Pryor

    John Hanna is on line to explain a severe point, that quarantine is a federal responsibility, that nothing much has ever been done, no foresight now, no planning now, no future and rapid preparation now, no humiliating concessions to states who have filled in gaps, especially with hotel quarantine.., and this morning, a repulsive conservative careerist, Jane Halton, who is a token ongoing, insincere, incompetent dud, with personal lucrative failures on her blotched record, was sidestepping, excusing, ignoring and dodging on the ropes of utter incompetence about federal failure and negligence. The Morrison government wants to prosecute and make criminal Australian citizens who wish to return home. Never mind murder, rape, bribery, corruption, defecation and masturbation on desks, etc, just blame citizens for being keen to remain in existence. This is a stinking failure of government at federal level, avoiding responsibility and attempting to cover up with brainless, gutless, heartless threats. There are plenty of hardly used military bases and sites right now, space galore. Surely those tossers and turds in tow, Gerry and Solly and others, could fund efforts as a patriotic gesture? Quarantine, overseas travel, exposed workers doing double jobs like security, these are ongoing very serious matters for a better effort by a federal government, but not this one that swells and thrives on impure bullshit.

  8. Terence Mills

    Phil

    In the meantime this federal government are preparing to hand over administration and control (and potential blame) of the Howard Springs facility to the NT government.

    Clearly they have made a political decision to get as far as possible away from their constitutional responsibilities for quarantine and just blame the states and territory governments if anything goes wrong – anticipate an early election towards the end of the year if they get away with this .

  9. Henry Rodrigues

    The colour of one’s skin makes a world of difference.

    Advance Australia Fair !!!!!!

    I hope all dark skinned people remember this, come the elections. Don’t be taken in by the cash splash, the grins, the hands on heart bullshit. This is what the conservatives and their apologists really think of you.

  10. New England Cocky

    White Australia has a Black History … and this is one of the darkest episodes yet!!

    Time to export the present COALition misgovernment in toto to Nauru with a one way ticket via Manus to ”holiday” for the ter of their unnatural lives ….. don’t bother about passports, just load them onto their favourite RAAF transport plane and off-load them ove the island …..

  11. Terence Mills

    minister for foreign affairs Marise Payne has said the decision – to stop flights from India and impose fines and prison terms on any breaches – had been made on the basis of advice from the chief medical officer”. and was a “temporary pause on returns”.

    She has since repeated that the decision was “entirely founded in the advice of the chief medical officer”.

    Paul Kelly, Chief Medical Officer said this morning “our advice was the public health advice about the situation” and “I didn’t advise anything in relation to fines or any of those other matters”.

    Crossed wires or porkies ?

  12. Henry Rodrigues

    The monolith that is our foreign minister, is a member of the racist party. As such she is an apologist for all the racists in the party of racists. Lying comes naturally to the racists.

    At least Paul Kelly has some integrity and definitely more courage. Wonder how long he stays in his job.

  13. Phil Pryor

    G Hunt, the minister for consistent failure, has said that bans on travel return from India to Australia were assuredly legal, so he thought. Well, it was legal to chop off Charles’s head, legal to slaughter the Romanovs, legal to kill poor old Louis XVI, legal to murder the defined criminal opposition to Hitler, Stalin and hundreds of obnoxious and repugnant dictators, even legal to thieve, rob, acquire, accumulate, take, occupy…ANYTHING some defined as imperious obedient legal action, simply by controlling law and society. A law to eliminate the federal government is possible, perhaps after an invasion of righteous angels from some heaven imagined by drug induced happy dreams…but only here on earth is rotten injustice a normal part of putrid government.

  14. Hotspringer

    In the words of their Messiah, “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come”

  15. GL

    “We’ll fine them thousands of dollars. We’ll put them in gaol. Gr, snarl,” sayeth (paraphrased) Scotty and in almost the same breath (not paraphrased). “I think the likelihood of anything like that occurring is pretty much zero.”

    Once again his political cowardice comes out when it blows up in his face. Even Andrew Bolt is jumping up and down on him, which surprised me. Could it be that dog had nothing to say this time so he thought he would use his cane toad brain and severely depleted initiative gland to come up with such a brilliantly ill-conceived turd of a plan. If his ideas and plans were golf strokes he is now somewhere around 500 over par for the course and still counting and he’s only on the third hole of eighteen.

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