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Australia Controversy continues over 'un-Australian' India travel ban as lawyers prepare to challenge its legality

21:26  04 may  2021
21:26  04 may  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Assistant Multicultural Affairs Minister Jason Wood has declared most Australians support the federal government's controversial India travel ban, as lawyers prepare to challenge its legality in court.

While some Coalition MPs have labelled the decision to make it illegal for Australians to return from India "extreme" and "heavy-handed", Mr Wood said it was the right approach to take.

"We have to put every measure in place to protect Australians," he told the ABC.

"I have a very big multicultural, Indian community in my electorate and the leaders and others I've spoken to understand the decision that's been made.

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"And it's only temporary".

Mr Wood represents the Victorian seat of La Trobe, where after Australia and England, the most common country of birth is India.

The Liberal MP said he had been in contact with India community leaders who understood the government's reasons for the ban.

But Federation of Ethnic Communities of Australia CEO Mohammad Al-Khafaji said that was not the feedback he'd been receiving.

"Our communities are telling us that they've got loved ones stranded in India and they're very distressed," he said.

"It's unprecedented, a clear over-reach of power and it's really unjustifiable."

Travel ban labelled 'un-Australian'

Last week, the government put a temporary ban on flights from India to curb the number of COVID cases ending up in hotel quarantine before it upped the ante on Friday, announcing criminal penalties, including jail terms, for anyone caught breaching the ban.

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The move has left an estimated 9,000 Australians stranded in a country in the grip of a humanitarian disaster.

Amid a fierce backlash, the Prime Minister conceded on Tuesday that the likelihood of a prosecution is "pretty much zero" and indicated the ban could be reviewed before it's due to be lifted on May 15.

While voters have been largely supportive of hard-line border policies during COVID, this is the first time, it's believed, that Australia's ever sought to make it illegal for a citizen to return home.

According to Mr Al-Khafaji, it is "un-Australian" and raises questions about the value of Australian citizenship

"We didn't bring in this measure when the outbreak from the US, UK or China happened," he said.

"We're talking about Australian citizens wanting to come back to their country and we're threatening them with a prison sentence and a hefty fine.

"This is un-Australian."

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Challenge to the ban expected

The ban has brought together an unusual alliance of critics, from conservative commentators and cricket stars to doctors and human rights groups.

But when asked if he believed most Australians backed the government, Mr Wood said "absolutely".

He argued if Australia were to experience a COVID outbreak, the government wouldn't be able to send essential supplies to India.

"If we do have another outbreak in Australia, it means the personal protective equipment we're sending to India would potentially not be sent," he said.

"So that's another issue people need to think about who are getting excited about this."

A case challenging the legality of the ban, and the Health Minister's power to impose it, is expected to be lodged in the Federal Court as early as today.

Home Affairs Minister says India COVID travel ban being reviewed daily .
Home Affairs Minister says India COVID travel ban being reviewed daily

usr: 1
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