From Monday, people who have been in India within the previous fortnight before their intended arrival in Australia will face a $66,600 fine as well as five years imprisonment for entering the country.It is the first law in Australia’s history making it illegal for citizens to return. Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the move, arguing it is necessary to use emergency powers under the Biosecurity Act to protect Australia’s health services and quarantine program.Mr Morrison attempted to allay fears, saying the powers would be used “appropriately and responsibly”. “I understand the measures have strong sanctions with them, but we’ve had the Biosecurity Act in place now for over a year, and no one’s gone to jail,” he told 2GB on Monday.RELATED: Human Rights Commission concerned about India travel banBut Mr Morrison was forced to deny accusations of racism after equivalent measures were not implemented during outbreaks in the UK and the US.“The same accusations were made against the government over a year ago when we closed the borders to mainland China. That was one of the most important decisions we made as a government,” he said.“There’s no politics or ideology in a pandemic. I’m constantly taken aback by those who seek to inject it into it. It’s got nothing to do with politics, this is a virus.”Chief medical officer Paul Kelly on Monday said medical advice warned against having above 2 per cent infection rates in the hotel quarantine system.He said that limit had been exceeded during outbreaks in India and Papua New Guinea but had otherwise been well below. Education Minister Alan Tudge on Monday said about 15 per cent of people in the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs quarantine facility had tested positive for COVID-19, with the majority of cases in passengers returning from India. “The medical experts are saying that you only want a maximum cap of 2 per cent of people with COVID in your quarantine system,” Mr Tudge told Today.“We are giving those quarantine systems a breather so that we can have surety that they will be safe and infections won’t spread throughout the Australian community.”The federal government also moved to close a loophole allowing Australians to return from India via a third country.“The alternative to doing what we’ve done was preventing those flights in their entirety, which would have stopped many hundreds, if not thousands, of other Australians coming home from other places,” Mr Morrison said.But Labor backbencher Joel Fitzgibbon told Sunrise that the government was stopping Australians from exercising their right to return to their own country. “He is threatening to send Australians to jail,” Mr Fitzgibbon told Sunrise.“Aussies would not be locked out if the commonwealth had acted and established proper quarantine facilities.“We are not the United States, we are not any of those European countries, we have next to zero community transmission.”Labor supports the move to stop flights from India based on health advice but is demanding the government explain why threats of fines and jail are necessary. Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations chair Jane Halton, who conducted a review of Australia’s quarantine system, has also raised concerns about the new ban.“Australians should be able to come home,” Ms Halton told Today. “We know we have a struggle with having enough quarantine for those people coming out of India, and we know that the situation in India is really, really difficult. “Whether we need fines, I am not so sure.”India recorded 400,000 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, the highest ever daily count globally, on top of 10 straight days of more than 300,000 cases daily.Professor Kelly said he provided advice to national cabinet on Friday about penalties in the biosecurity act.“I didn’t advise anything in relation to fines or any of those other matters, that is the law,” Professor Kelly told ABC. “The act is very explicit that the minister must be satisfied … that whatever is brought into place is proportionate to the risk.“We were faced with a quarantine system under stress.”The travel ban will be reviewed on May 15. Questions have also been raised over the legality of the tough restrictions imposed by the Health Minister under Australia’s biosecurity act. Sydney lawyer Michael Bradley said the ban could be illegal on several grounds, but it was difficult to say if the minister had appropriately applied discretion.Mr Bradley told ABC that the validity of the law could be challenged in court on behalf of people trapped in India who want to come home.He said it set a “powerful precedent” and accused the government of breaching its international law obligations, an allegation it has rejected.
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