Member for Riverstone Kevin Conolly has issued an appeal to the Prime Minister to revoke the recent ban on the right of Australian citizens to return to Australia from India.
Speaking in NSW Parliament on Thursday, Mr Conolly told the Legislative Assembly that he had written to the Prime Minister earlier this week, opposing the use of the Biosecurity Act to deny rights to Australian citizens and calling for specialised, purpose-designed quarantine facilities to be developed.
“Everyone accepts that returning Australians will need to undergo 14 days quarantine and test negative before leaving quarantine,” said Mr Conolly. “That is not in question.”
“But being an Australian citizen means having a right to come home when you need to.”
As India does not permit dual citizenship under its constitution, Australian citizens of Indian origin are not dual citizens, but solely Australian citizens.
The text of Mr Conolly’s speech in Parliament is below…
Private Member Statement 6.5.21 Kevin Conolly
As Member for Riverstone I represent a region in which many people were born overseas, with a large proportion from the Indian subcontinent. As could be expected, many of the constituents of Riverstone have strong family links overseas.
Over the course of the last 12 months I have received many anguished appeals for assistance from constituents wishing to travel interstate or overseas for pressing personal reasons, whether to be with a dying parent, or with a seriously ill sibling or child, or to attend a funeral or wedding, or for another of life’s major milestones.
It has been possible to help some of these constituents. For others, the restrictions in place due to Covid could not be overcome.
None of these earlier restrictions, though they were certainly tough, ever involved refusing Australian citizens the right to return to Australia if that proved to be logistically possible, and certainly did not involve imposing criminal sanctions on Australians who did return.
Mr Speaker this week I have written to the Prime Minister of Australia to express dismay on behalf of the people I represent in the electorate of Riverstone at the decision of the Australian Government to deny entry to Australian citizens unfortunate enough to be caught in a country experiencing the worst of the Covid pandemic.
Australians in danger overseas, whether due to war, civil unrest, natural disasters or disease have every right to expect their government to do what it can to help them. After all, they are Australians.
In the current Covid crisis, the Australian government, in conjunction with the states through the national Cabinet arrangements, has the ability to set up specialised quarantine facilities sufficient to house Australian citizens at risk overseas to allow them to return. That is what can be done. So that is what should be done.
I have been shocked and embarrassed as an Australian to know that our government is threatening its own citizens with criminal penalties for simply returning to their home.
There is a fundamental difference between closing the borders to citizens of other countries and refusing entry to our own citizens.
In my view this is an unconscionable abdication of a government’s primary responsibility to protect its own citizens. In effect the Commonwealth has torn up the contract which citizenship entails.
In my letter I wrote of my conviction that this country should have developed custom-designed quarantine facilities during 2020 as the need for them became obvious. This would necessarily have involved co-operation between Commonwealth and State / Territory Governments. I am not apportioning blame or trying to pretend it is one government’s responsibility or another’s. While this should have happened earlier, I believe that it is not too late to start doing so now as the need still exists and is likely to remain for a good while yet.
Using hotels for quarantine was a big improvement on the ‘honour system’ of self-quarantine at home which it replaced. But “hotel quarantine” was still only a stop-gap solution. Proper infection control requires purpose-designed facilities.
Much of what Australia has done in response to the Covid pandemic has been sensible, rational and reasonable. Some mistakes have been made, but reasonable people will accept that mistakes were inevitable in such circumstances. However in my view this recent decision represents fear-driven irrationality, combined with a puzzling unwillingness to take the prudent course of action which is clearly required to make it possible to receive returning Australian citizens without risking the outbreak of Covid in Australia.
If Australian citizenship is to have any meaning, it surely must mean that all Australians deserve the protection of their government, not just most.
In my letter I urged the prime Minister to immediately revoke the ban on Australian citizens returning from India; and to make immediate preparations, involving both Commonwealth and State governments, to develop specialised, purpose-designed quarantine facilities on a scale sufficient to ensure that all Australian citizens can be assisted should they need to return home.
It is right that Australia sets careful, proportionate restrictions on movement and insists on strict quarantine for all international arrivals to keep our citizens safe.
But it is not right to treat some of our citizens as less deserving of our protection than others.