Scott Morrison says it is “highly unlikely” that anyone will be jailed for returning to Australia from India under the country’s harsh biosecurity laws, as he is resisting calls from the leading medical association for sanctions be abandoned.
Faced with a backlash from within the ranks of the Coalition and growing community anger over the government’s decision to criminalize return to Australia from Covid-ravaged India, the Prime Minister was forced on Tuesday to pushing back the threat, describing it as a “tool” available to Australian Border Force if needed.
“I think the likelihood of something like this happening is next to zero,” Morrison said. “It is highly unlikely… The sanctions are there, they exist, but they will be exercised in a proportionate and responsible manner.”
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He said the penalties had been in the biosafety law for 14 months and that no one had been penalized using the “extremes” of available penalties, which include a fine of up to $ 66,000 and five years. prison, or both.
But while insisting that the sanction was unlikely to be used, Morrison has always defended the government’s position, saying he had “not apologized” for the sweeping decision taken in response to a growing number. infections in state and federal quarantine systems from passengers traveling from India.
“This is a decision that was made both in the interests of the safety of Australians now, but also to put us in a stronger position to bring more Australians home safely,” Morrison said. .
“I respectfully disagree with the critics on this one, but the responsibility ends here when it comes to those decisions and I’m going to make decisions that I think will protect Australia from a third wave,” and will help me be able to reach out and bring more Australians home safely from places where they find themselves in difficult situations. “
The government has faced a torrent of criticism over India’s travel ban, including from Australian cricketers in India who accused Morrison of having “blood on his hands”.
Government lawmakers are also concerned about the “extreme” and “brutal” move, hoping that a cabinet national security committee meeting this week can provide a resolution.
Australian Medical Association President Dr Omar Khorshid wrote to Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt on Tuesday urging the government to remove tough sanctions and pledge to repatriate vulnerable Australians to India to the end of the current trip. ban on May 15.
“The order to jail or fine those who might violate the current ban is viewed by the medical profession as petty at a time when Australia should in fact be helping India by bringing Australians home in order to avoid an additional burden on their collapsing health system. Khorshid said.
“Australians stranded in India need our support and the threat of fines and jail should not be hanging over their heads for wanting to return home.”
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the opposition supported the travel ban on commercial flights from India, but said the government must restart charter flights to repatriate Australians to India as soon as possible .
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“The government needs to put in place mechanisms so that they can bring Australians home,” Albanese said. “This government has done nothing to put these measures in place. What they did was threaten people and then withdraw the threat and say, “It was just a bit of rhetoric and we don’t think there is a chance that it will be put.” implemented ”. “
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly has warned Australians could die from Covid-19 due to the travel ban, but recommended flights “paused” due to system limitations. quarantine of the country.
Morrison confirmed on Tuesday that the government is currently evaluating a proposal from the Victoria Labor government to co-fund a new dedicated quarantine facility that would cost between $ 200 million and $ 700 million.
“I welcome the proposal,” Morrison said. “It’s a very detailed and comprehensive proposal.”
He also said the government was already doing the “heavy lifting” on quarantine, noting the expansion of the Howard Springs quarantine facility in the Northern Territory, which will house up to 2,000 returning travelers. India once repatriation flights resumed.