COVID travel ban: Morrison Government opens itself up to claims of discrimination

The Morrison Government in Australia has opened itself up to discriminating between countries when it comes to allowing people to enter the country after it put in place a ban on people from India coming into Australia after the outbreak of COVID-19 in India went out of control.

When similar conditions existed in the US, no such travel ban was enacted. Mary-Louise McLaws, a professor at the University of and a World Health Organisation adviser, noted in The Guardian that an analysis of data which showed India had less cases per capita than either the US or the UK during the COVID peaks in those two countries.

She said this suggested Australia’s ban on flights from India was “an act [borne] out of fear” and Canberra must bring home its citizens “to ensure there is no misconception the ban is in any way racist”.

But bringing people back would mean that they would have to be effectively quarantined to ensure they did not spread the disease and the Australian Government abandoned its responsibility for quarantine last year.

This was done after a national cabinet was formed and the states themselves offered to handle quarantine in their own jurisdictions. Scott Morrison’s government, never known for its competence or efficiency, was very happy to allow the states to look after quarantine – and take credit for any successes, while blaming the states when anything went wrong.

Over the last year, since the World Health Organisation declared the pandemic in March 2020, the states have found that being ultra-strict on borders and locking down things at the smallest sign of disease has worked for them politically. One of the most draconian in this regard, Mark McGowan, the premier of Western Australia, became so popular because of his iron-fisted approach, that he roared back to power in an election a few months back, with his Labor Party grabbing 53 out of the 59 seats in parliament. In the process, the Liberal Party was pushed out from being the official opposition, getting just two seats.

A similar, though somewhat less tight-fisted approach, also won re-election for Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. The popularity of Victoria’s premier Daniel Andrews has also soared, despite numerous missteps which led to some 800 deaths in the state.

So which premier would be willing to back anything than the most draconian measures any time there is a chance that the number of COVID cases will increase?

The federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has even invoked emergency powers to block travellers from India from 3 May and will use those powers, under the Biosecurity Act, after receiving advice to this effect from chief medical officer Paul Kelly.

Anyone who breaches these rules can be jailed for five years or face fines of up to $66,600.

This is a mess of the Morrison Government’s own making. It failed to carry out a vaccination campaign in time, resting on its achievements — or, rather, those of the states — in keeping the count of COVID deaths down.

Morrison boasted that four million people would be vaccinated before the end of March and failed to achieve that figure by some 3.2 million.

The entire government fails to have realised that only vaccinating as many people as would accept a vaccination would make it possible to reopen the country’s borders to visitors. A country at the arse-end of the world needs a lot of visitors to feed its tourism industry.

But that is all in the past. It now does not look possible that Australia will be able to reopen its borders any time before the end of 2022. And that, too, could be too soon.

In the meantime, as complaints of treatment of Indians based on their race ratchet up, Morrison will have time to repent at leisure.

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