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Australia Prime Minister criticised on Q+A over abandoning Indian Australians during COVID-19 crisis

18:16  06 may  2021
18:16  06 may  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Australia may be set to resume flights from India next week to get stranded citizens home, but the Morrison government received a lashing on Q+A from guest Mannie Kaur Varma, who said Indian Australians are not being seen as equals by the Prime Minister.

Ms Varma said those in the Indian community felt abandoned by Mr Morrison, as she took aim in a show opening that mocked the PM's love of curries, suggesting he thinks they are India's major contribution to Australian society.

"First you grant us exemption to go to India to look after our loved ones who are fighting for their lives, then you abandon us and leave us in a country that is gasping for air," Ms Varma said.

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"What kind of government does that to their own people?

"In 2019 the Prime Minister said Australia is like a fragrant garam masala...for the Prime Minister, is the value of Indians reduced to just our food or does he see us as equals?"

Asked by host Hamish Macdonald how the flight ban and the threat of jail time for those returning from India made her feel, Ms Varma said the government ruling under the Biosecurity Act made it feel like Indian Australians were not equal.

"What is going on in India is horrible and to know we are not treated the same as everyone else is just appalling," she said.

Coalition Member for Reid in NSW, Fiona Martin, said the ruling was simply a case of following the health advice available to the government due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in returned travellers from India.

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"Last month we saw over 40 per cent of people travelling home from India testing positive to COVID-19," Ms Martin said, before adding other countries such as the United States (6 per cent) had a much lower rate.

Asked if those of Indian descent in her electorate had expressed similar feelings to Ms Varma, Ms Martin said that was not the case, but they did feel the threat of jail was overly aggressive.

"The penalty is what has been of concern by constituents, not the ban itself," she said.

"As I mentioned, earlier in the week, I thought the penalty was a little heavy-handed and that part of it was problematic."

Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Linda Burney, who herself has a sizeable Indian population in her Barton electorate in NSW, said she had heard similar gripes to Ms Varma's.

She said constituents felt "abandoned" and pointed out that to become Australian citizens, those who hail from India had to renounce their India citizenship, making the government's flight ban an even more egregious move.

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"We're not talking about people who are not Australian citizens," Ms Burney said of the Australians stranded in India.

"They are Australian citizens and Australian governments are responsible for keeping their citizens safe and providing them with as much support as possible in difficult circumstances.

"And I think that there are a number of Indian people who are Australians with Indian heritage, are feeling absolutely abandoned and the repatriation flights that are being resumed, I hope are not a political response to a human issue."

Ms Martin was quick to refute the notion of it being a political response.

"This is not a political response. This is a health response. This decision has been based on health advice," she said.

Coercive control 'destroys you from inside'

While India and coronavirus opened the show, a large part was devoted to the discussion of coercive control and how Australia can tackle the issue moving forward, including making it illegal.

In a powerful opening to the topic, audience member Suzette Sutton said she endured abuse for 25 years during which she tried to take her own life twice. She asked how the issue could be solved in relationships that involve domestic violence.

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SBS journalist Jess Hill said that criminalising coercive control would make the entire gamut of domestic violence visible — not just physical or sexual assaults — and that it would ultimately help victims.

"What we're proposing with criminalising coercive control is to make the entire arc of what you were subjected to visible," Hill said.

"Not just the physical incidents, not just the things that our criminal justice system recognises now, but everything from the start to the finish so that we understand what the risks are, what the damage has been and how dangerous the offender is."

Ms Burney, herself a survivor of domestic violence, said she wanted Australians to understand just how crippling coercive control could be, adding that it should be criminalised.

"Something that I want people to understand is this often the basis to destroying a person," Ms Burney said.

"You can get your bones broken, you can get spat on, you can get choked, you can experience all those things but coercive control destroys you from inside.

"It takes away who you are.

"I agree that coercive control should be criminalised.

"I know that it's difficult because of the way in which domestic violence is viewed, but it is such a prevalent thing in most domestic violence relationships that it has to be dealt with."

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Ms Hill cited Scotland as a possible example for Australia to follow as they consider all aspects of domestic violence, not just the physical, in court cases.

"What the specialist prosecutor for Scotland has found is now that they're looking at that entire relationship and not just the incidents, they have a whole heap more evidence that is admissible to court," she said.

"They can admit text messages, bank records, photos, testimony from friends and family as to whether that person was isolated.

"And it has been so effective this evidence collection that the vast majority of defendants are pleading guilty, so victims are not even having to go through trial.

"That is vastly different to the situation that existed before."

'Houses have never been more affordable'

Australia's housing affordability crisis also took centre stage, as median house prices rise across capital cities with few signs of slowing down.

Asked for a fix, economist Alan Kohler said the Reserve Bank needed to take a look at their practices. But it was a line about how "houses have never been more affordable" that drew a surprised response.

Mr Kohler said his children were struggling to break into the market, but that low interest rates gave first home buyers an in.

"Prices are so high but the the problem is we call it an affordability crisis or unaffordability crisis — houses have never been more affordable because of interest rates," Mr Kohler said.

"The mortgage rates are 2 per cent, everyone can afford a house now because of that.

"The reason prices are going up because everyone is bidding them up because they can afford to pay the repayments."

The response drew a surprised reaction from host Hamish Macdonald, who queried whether Mr Kohler was suggesting first-time homeowners were to blame.

"First-home buyers have been huge and big entrants into the market in the last 12 months," Mr Kohler responded.

"The fundamental problem, which is to do with COVID, is the cash rate is 0.1 per cent.

"The Reserve Bank manipulating interest rates in order to achieve an economic outcome is distorting asset prices of all sorts, particularly property.

"So all asset prices have been distorted and house prices have been driven up."

He conceded that saving for a deposit was the hard part, adding that those who are renting are the ones in trouble.

"One of the problems with being a tenant is the laws in Australia favour landlords, and they're only just starting to change," he said.

"In Europe it's OK to be a tenant and people are tenants all their lives, because you get protected.

"In America there's rent control, we have none of that in Australia.

"Tenants are really screwed here."

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This is interesting!