Scott Morrison, Australian Govt under pressure over India flight ban

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Tue, 4 May 2021, 9:54AM
Scott Morrison is facing criticism from many sides over the suspension of flights from India to Australia. (Photo / News Corp Australia)
Scott Morrison is facing criticism from many sides over the suspension of flights from India to Australia. (Photo / News Corp Australia)

Scott Morrison, Australian Govt under pressure over India flight ban

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Tue, 4 May 2021, 9:54AM

Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly says the threat of fines and jail time for people returning home from India was not ordered by him.

Professor Kelly today told Sky News the criminal punishment was a separate part of Australia’s Biosecurity Act, but health authorities had not been asked to advise on that section of the government act.

“Let’s be very clear, we were asked for public health advice on the nature of threat, how long (a measure) was needed, that was the advice given,” he told Sky News.

“We weren’t asked about penalties. I’m an adviser, I don’t make decisions for the government.”

Professor Kelly warned of the “consequences” of Australia’s travel ban on India in a letter to Health Minister Greg Hunt. He highlighted the risk the ban would have on Australian citizens and permanent residents in COVID-ravaged India as a result of our pause on flights and entry into Australia.

“These include the risk of serious illness without access to healthcare, the potential for Australians to be stranded in a transit country, and in a worst-case scenario, deaths,” he wrote in a letter to Mr Hunt tabled in parliament today.

“I consider that these serious implications can be mitigated through having the restriction only temporarily in place, ie a pause, and by ensuring there are categories of exemptions.”

This came as cricket great Michael Slater slammed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Indian flight ban, warning he has “blood on his hands” for banning Australian citizens from fleeing COVID-ravaged India.

While the broadcaster got out of India on one of the final flights to the Maldives before the ban came into force, he took to social media to attack the threat to jail Australian citizens trying to flee.

“If our Government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home. It’s a disgrace!!” Slater wrote. “Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this. How about you sort out the quarantine system.

“I had government permission to work on the IPL but I now have government neglect”.

Shortly afterwards, the 51-year-old tweeted at “those who think this is a money exercise” telling them to “forget it”.

“This is what I do for a living and I have not made a penny having left early,” he said. “So please stop the abuse and think of the thousands dying in India each day. It’s called empathy. If only our government had some!”

The Australian newspaper’s cricket writer Peter Lalor reported on Monday night that Slater, a commentator at the tournament, had been trying to get out for a week and eventually found his way to the Maldives where he will wait until he can return to his home country without the threat of being thrown into jail.

While Slater escaped India just in time, cricketer David Warner remains stranded amid the humanitarian crisis. Warner recently posted a photo of himself and a teammate, New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, dressed in a full protective body suit on a flight to Delhi.

Adding insult to injury, Warner has officially been dropped by the Sunrisers Hyderabad in recent days.

The Prime Minister is now under extreme pressure to dump the flight ban before May 15.

Earlier, Sky News host Andrew Bolt declared he is “ashamed of Australia” over the threat of jail terms for Indian-Australians trying to return home, slamming the Prime Minister’s decision as a bad call that “stinks of racism.”

“I hate people playing the race card. But even I must now say I am ashamed of Australia, which is making it a crime for Indian Australians to come back home,’’ Bolt said.

“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’.”

Chillingly, Bolt went on to argue, just like Slater, that the death of any Australian left trapped in India should “shame” the Prime Minister.

“The death of any Australian in India because of this ban will shame the Prime Minister and everyone cheering this despicable and irrational policy,’’ he said. “Any death will be because we turned our back on our own.”

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan also broke ranks on Monday to criticise the decision.

“We should be helping Aussies in India return, not jailing them. Let’s fix our quarantine system rather than leave our fellow Australians stranded,’’ he said.

Bolt argued that Australian hospitals could cope with the influx of citizens fleeing India and should not ban mercy flights.

“And what is our government suggesting: that Australians who get sick in India must take their chances with Indian hospitals that are short of even oxygen, when the taxes of these citizens helped to pay for Australian hospitals at home that could save them?” Bolt said.

“This policy is so mean and irrational that I must also blame racism.

“I can’t believe we would impose such a travel ban on white Australians fleeing from, say, England.

“Indeed, I keep hearing people criticise Indian Australians for having gone back to India in the first place, as if they were recklessly choosing some foreign hellhole over Australia. As if they were phony Australians.

“The truth is that many went back to do the kind of things we’d expect from people with good hearts — to help a sick or bereaved parent, or introduce a baby to their grandparents, or go to a funeral or get married.”

Bolt said he was disgusted by the sentiment that these Australians had “made their bed in India and must now lie in it?”

“In fact, these are Australian citizens. They had to renounce their Indian citizenship to become Australians. Australia is their only country, and has a duty of care towards them,’’ he said.

“It should mean something to be Australian. It should mean that when disaster strikes, wherever you are in the world, Australia will try to save you.

Earlier, the Prime Minister rejected claims that his Indian flight ban was racist, warning he’s making the “hard calls” that have helped save 30,000 Australian lives.

Pointing to the death rate in other OECD countries, Mr Morrison said that if Australia had a similar experience, we would have deaths in the thousands.

The Prime Minister insisted the flight ban was based on medical advice.

“I have clear advice from the chief medical officer that this is a decision that is supported.”

However, chief medical officer Paul Kelly told Sky News this morning the jail threat was not ordered by him.

Prof Kelly said the criminal punishment was a separate part of Australia’s Biosecurity Act, but health authorities had not been asked to advise on that section of the government act.

“Let’s be very clear, we were asked for public health advice on the nature of threat, how long (a measure) was needed, that was the advice given,” he told Sky News.

“We weren’t asked about penalties.”

“I’m an adviser, I don’t make decisions for the government,” he said.

The Prime Minister has pledged to review the decision by May 15 — or earlier if it can be lifted.

But he suggested he had little sympathy for the cricketers playing in the IPL.

“They’ve travelled there privately under their own arrangements. This wasn’t part of an Australian tour,” Mr Morrison said.

“And they’re under their own resources and they’ll be using those resources, I’m sure, to see them return to Australia in accordance with our own arrangements.”