Sunday, May 9, 2021

Australia’s India travel ban: Hard to find it not racist

Reading Time: 3 minutes 

Australian citizens have been banned from Australia.

It would be interesting to conduct a global poll about why citizens would be refused entry into their own nation and see what the results would be.

We could reasonably guess that they would reply as follows:

“They must have engaged in terrorist acts.”

“They must have been convicted of indictable offences.”

“They must have acted against the national interest.”

It is highly unlikely any normal, sane person would reply, “Because they were supporting their families, supporting sick and dying relatives at a time when globally there is no more pressing need.

Australia’s travel ban on India has revealed a lack of planning and extremely poor quarantine management by the Commonwealth. Outsourcing quarantine to the States could only have ever been a short-term response while the Commonwealth organised appropriate facilities. Alas no. A government without targets can only ever be reactive. The narrative is not presently proactive or purposeful.

That there may have been a need to ban flights has been contested. When the Northern Beaches community outbreak occurred, from US aircraft personnel, I do not recall any ban on US flights. When there was a community outbreak in Brisbane that involved the UK COVID strain, I do not recall any ban on flights from the UK.

So why the travel ban from India now? The justification was ‘the high rate of covid in quarantine in a defence force facility’. Not in the community. Not a direct threat at all.

It seems to me it is hard to defend the accusation that it looks racist. When assessing justice, there is a notion called ‘apprehended bias.’ This means bias that is perceived. Apprehended bias is widely felt – not only by Indian Australians but by the Australian Human Rights Commission, high profile commentators and numerous others.

The threat of five-year jail terms has something to do with it.

This ridiculous, punitive, excessive overreaction leaves more than one community shocked, and then angry. Let’s be clear: five-year jail terms are given out for manslaughter. Sexual assault. Organised drug importation.

READ ALSO: It’s not surprising Indian-Australians feel singled out. They have long been subjected to racism

It bewilders me that a person returning home to Australia, having cared for sick relatives, could be threatened with a five-year jail term. Surely this is Russia? If a good person returns, arrest them at the border and jail them. It confounds me that having sought and been granted permission to travel, Australians have now become demonised.

This suggests a systemic failure. A failure to integrate reasons for leaving with a need to return. A failure to implement a quarantine system befitting current and predictable future needs. A failure to read how punishment for no crime other than exercising the natural human rights that flow from citizenship is a breach of the rule of law.

Claims that the decision to shut out citizens from India is not racist may be genuinely held by the government. Alas, when constrained by a lack of options, hasty decisions by the Commonwealth will be made that hurt vulnerable communities.

When there is no genuine intention by the Commonwealth to listen and recalibrate, within the context of medium and long-term plans, it may well be that this mess will be predictably repeated.

READ ALSO: Alex Hawke addresses ravel ban on Australians in India

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Mohan Dhall
Mohan Dhall
Academic leader, M2K Education and Advisory and CEO of Australian Tutoring Association and Global Tutoring Association.

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