International Travel Ban

May 12, 2021

I've been privileged to preside over many citizenship ceremonies in Moreton, including for new citizens from the local Indian community. Becoming an Australian is a wonderful celebration, and the new arrivals are always excited to be joining our family. Many Indian Australians were required to give up the citizenship of their home country when they became Australian citizens. They were encouraged to do that and were offered the rights and protections of Australian citizenship wherever they were in the world.

We all expect that, as Australians, we will be welcomed home. I believe in the poet Robert Frost's definition of home, which is: 'Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.' From the very inception of English law—from the signing of the Magna Carta over 800 years ago—the right to leave and return to our kingdom unharmed and without fear has been an important right of citizenship in common law countries. Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Australia is a signatory, says, 'No-one shall be deprived of the right to enter his own country.' So I'm very troubled by the emergency determination made by the health minister under the Biosecurity Act pausing all passengers from India, including Australian citizens returning home. The media release from Minister Hunt included a grim warning in the fourth paragraph that failure to comply with the determination may incur a fine or five years imprisonment, or both.

The Biosecurity Act 2015 gave extraordinary powers to the health minister, powers exempt from parliamentary scrutiny. In 2014, when the biosecurity bill was debated, no-one in parliament could have foreseen how the powers contained in that bill would be used six years later. The word 'pandemic' does not even appear in the 434-page explanatory memorandum. Emergency declarations made under the Biosecurity Act are not disallowable—that is, the people's parliament cannot overturn the minister's declaration. Ordinarily, parliament has oversight of delegated legislation. It is scrutinised by parliamentary committees and able to be disallowed by the parliament. So I'm very troubled that Minister Hunt's emergency declaration is not open to scrutiny and cannot be disallowed by elected representatives.

My office has been contacted by local families impacted by the travel ban announced by the health minister just before the chimes sounded at midnight. Parents were separated from their children, being threatened with jail if they attempted to come home. This is not something I ever expected to see in Australia, in my country. It is not acceptable that Australians are being threatened with jail if they try to come home. That's not who we are. That's not how families protect their own.

Prime Minister Morrison should have heeded warnings last year about the need for surge capacity in quarantine for emergency situations that are just like this. Australians stranded in India should be given immediate support and assisted to safely travel home. I finish with those words of the poet Robert Frost again: 'Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.' That is what my Australia is.