‘Failure of basic humanity’: Readers respond to jail, fines for those returning from India

As this week progressed the chorus against the threat to fine and even jail anyone trying to enter Australia from COVID-ravaged India grew louder.

With flights from India already subject to a temporary ban, the government on the weekend confirmed it could invoke powers under the Biosecurity Act, making it a crime, punishable by a maximum $66,000 fine and/or five years’ jail, to stop anyone in India returning to Australia.

A new wave of the pandemic has totally overwhelmed India’s healthcare services and has caused crematoriums to operate day and night as the number of victims mount.Credit:Getty

As journalist Latika Bourke reported in the article, ‘Fines, jail time on cards for Australians who enter country from India’, news of the potential penalties came just days after Australian cricketers Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson managed to fly home from India via Qatar.

At least 9000 Australians, including 900 considered vulnerable, are trying to return from India, where hospitals are overrun as the country battles a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Australian Medical Association wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt asking them to immediately overturn the “mean-spirited” order.

In a social media post former Australian cricketer Michael Slater, who had been in India commentating for the Indian Premier League, accused Morrison of having “blood on his hands” over his handling of the issue.

Morrison, who dismissed Slater’s accusation as “absurd”, said the likelihood of jailing or fining Australians who somehow made their way back from India amid the flight ban was “highly unlikely”.

“We needed to take a pause to make sure we put Australia in a safer position to bring people safely home,” he explained.

By the end of the week, the travel ban was being challenged in the Federal Court and the Prime Minister said repatriation flights from India would resume from May 15.

Volunteers treat patients suffering from Covid-19 with free oxygen at a makeshift clinic in a parking lot outside the Gurdwara Damdama Sahib on May 03, 2021 in New Delhi, India.Credit:Getty

Smithy: “Organise planes for the registered 9000. Move those Australians, quarantine them, anywhere, in any conditions… they just want to get out. It’s just like a war – our leaders must make actions occur rather than hollow, vague words. Mobilise our forces, planes, boats.”

Beproactive: “Why not use Christmas Island? Triage those wishing to return. The 4500 who left between January and March go to the end of the queue. That way those who have genuinely tried to get back before get priority.”

Good Logic: “They at least should be vaccinated as well as the DFAT workers who have been neglected.”

Nixon: “Yes, offer the Indian government and people all the help we can now but Australian governments must sort out the overdue quarantine issues before we can discuss bringing anyone here en masse.“

Others said the latest order didn’t make sense in the context of government rhetoric that our quarantine systems and vaccine rollout are working well.

pkevans: “We are meant to have world-first quarantine arrangements that work really well but instead we will jail Australian citizens for returning to their families. The system either works or it doesn’t.”

Lou: “So they had 15 months to build quarantine facilities but nope not their problem since the states are managing it. Everyone was going to be home by Christmas and nope again. Now citizens are banned. This government needs to go.”

Le parc vert: “What a complete admission of failure this is. It just leaves me speechless that Australians can be fined for trying to get back to THEIR OWN country. A failure of adequate quarantine facilities. A failure of vaccine rollout. A failure of basic humanity.”

Lester: “And which gaol would you put them in? The risk of spreading COVID in a custodial situation is very real.”

Bourke says it is clear the world is watching Australia’s reaction.

“Just today I spoke on BBC TV about it and the subsequent fallout with high-profile criticism from those affected like Michael Slater’s comments propelling it on the international stage,” she says.

“On the weekend I went kayaking on the Thames and the team leader, upon hearing my accent, raised the jail threat with me out of shock and completely unprompted.

“Most Britons I’ve spoken to about Australia’s treatment of its citizens overseas usually associate it with Australia’s long-standing stance on border control measures used against asylum seekers.”

As the crisis unfolds, several readers warned there is a cautionary tale for us all.

Penny: “Beware Australians, you may find yourselves in exile like these poor people in the future.”

Bt: “Good luck when the next pandemic comes around. This won’t be the last one. This precedent has now been set. You will be deserted by your government when the next pandemic comes around. You better hope it’s not you overseas and stuck there.”

Online readers of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age made 41,330 comments on 575 stories in the past week.

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