Wednesday, 12 May 2021
Biosecurity Amendment (No Crime to Return Home) Bill 2021; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.
I table an explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows—
Today I introduce the Biosecurity Amendment (No Crime to Return Home) Bill 2021.
This Bill will stop the Minister for Health from banning, for biosecurity reasons, overseas Australian citizens and permanent residents from coming home during a declared human biosecurity emergency.
Importantly the Bill addresses the current situation criminalising Australians in India from returning home by repealing the current determination.
However, the Bill does not stop the exercise of other existing powers under the Biosecurity Act 2015 to require persons to quarantine or arrive at a particular destination or require other measures necessary to protect the Australian community. It simply stops the Australian government abandoning Australians in a time of crisis.
I appreciate that there will be many Australians who think or say "tough luck, you left and now you shouldn't be able to compromise the health of the entire Nation by letting Australians return from a COVID hotspot".
I'm not here to criticise that position, it's driven by fear and uncertainty—fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of everything we know and don't know about COVID.
But let's not lose our compassion and humanity for our friends and neighbours either…
Last week it was revealed that there are 173 unaccompanied Australian citizen children in India.
That's 173 kids far from home without their mum or dad who are now stuck in a scary situation as a result of the Minister's decision.
And there are also 9500 Australians, in India, still waiting to come home with 950 of those listed as vulnerable.
What is important to remember is most of these Australians have been stuck overseas for MONTHS - they have all been trying desperately to come home.
But travel bans and the cancellation of flights has meant that for many it has been impossible to just get a seat on a flight.
Whatever the Commonwealth has been doing—it's obvious it hasn't been doing enough.
A combination of international travel bans and insufficient quarantine has compounded the problem.
The remedy was simple—ban all overseas travel, have sufficient quarantine capacity and arrange enough repatriation flights.
More than a year into the pandemic, the quarantine and repatriation work has not been done.
But it's all a little late for that now—9500 Australians, in India, can't get home and that really is a shameful place for Australia to be. We need to be doing it better.
It is a responsibility of the Australian Government to assist Australians who are in difficulty overseas, not to criminalise them for coming home.
And certainly, any such decision to do so should properly be the decision of the Parliament, not some faceless official drafting an instrument and getting a Minister to sign it into law.
It's illogical, callous and heartless that this Government can grant an exemption and allow an individual to travel overseas on compassionate grounds and then later thinks it's acceptable to leave them stranded overseas.
Isn't that perverse? Yes, you can go—but just don't expect to be able to come home any time soon…
A single Minister should never have the authority to outcast an Australian from coming home—it is improper and immoral.
This Bill will prevent that ever occurring in the future.
I commend the Bill to the Senate.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.