Prime Minister Scott Morrison has seemingly walked back on his government’s weekend announcement to penalise Australians returning home from India, saying it is “highly unlikely” that will happen.
Morrison appeared on The Today Show on Tuesday morning to address the torrent of disgust directed at his government after it implemented a “temporary pause on travellers from India”.
Australian citizens and residents who violate the emergency determination under the Biosecurity Act could face a $66,000 fine or a five-year stint in jail, the statement read.
The blanket ban applies to anyone entering Australia who had been in India over the past 14 days, with flights from the country on hold until at least May 15.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the decision was based on the “proportion of overseas travellers in quarantine in Australia who have acquired a COVID-19 infection in India.”
— Political Alert (@political_alert) April 30, 2021
The determination pissed off a lot of people, to say the least, including – and I cannot believe I’m typing this – conservative commentator Andrew Bolt.
In his latest column for the Herald Sun, Bolt claimed he hates “people playing the race card”, but is “ashamed for Australia, who is making it a crime for Indian Australians to come back home.”
“To me, it stinks of racism to tell the 8000 Indian Australians trying to come home that they must stay in India, in what Western Australia’s Premier admitted was the ‘epicentre of death and destruction’,” he said.
So what did Morrison do when The Today Show gave him 10 minutes to explain his government’s decision? Well.
The Prime Minister was repeatedly asked about the “incredibly heartless” decision to penalise Aussies for returning home and Morrison repeatedly denied this was a likely possibility.
"I'm not going to fail Australia, I'm going to protect our borders."
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) May 3, 2021
“These laws have been in place under the biosecurity act and the measures have been put in place for 14 months, no one is going to jail,” Morrison said.
And, again: “I think the likelihood of anything like that occurring is pretty much zero, this is a measure that ensures that we can keep Australia safe at this time.”
Once more: “It is highly unlikely, highly unlikely.”
Morrison added that if an Australian did return home from India during the travel ban, he would expect the Australian Border Force to “deal with the issue sensitively and within their authority”, whatever that means.
“These arrangements have always been dealt with responsibly and proportionately and that’s what I’m expecting from Border Force officials,” he said.
“The likelihood of any sanction, anything like that, is extremely remote and that’s what it is.”
So, to conclude: the sanctions are available, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison doesn’t believe Border Force would “reasonably apply [them] in the foreseeable future.”