While government fears India's coronavirus crisis could lead to a third wave of COVID-19 in this country are well justified, the backlash to its criminalisation of Australian nationals returning from the sub-continent is also understandable.
Australia has benefited greatly from the Indian diaspora. It is understood at least one in 10 Canberrans were either born in India or are of Indian descent.
They, like millions of Indian-Australians around the country, were shocked and alarmed when the ban, mandated under the Biosecurity Act which makes it a criminal offence for people to attempt to return from India during the 14-day exclusion period, was announced late on Friday.
An Australian citizen can now be jailed for up to five years, fined $66,000, or both just for trying to return home from India in order to be with their family. These are the most punitive, indeed Draconian, measures introduced by the government since the pandemic began.
Dr Sunita Dhindsa, the president of the Federation of Indian Associations of the ACT, thought she was reading "fake news" when the news broke. She felt "like we were going back to colonialism".
"Why just target people returning from India?" Dr Dhindsa said. "The maximum number of infections that had come in [in] the past were from the USA? Did we look at a ban at that time?"
While Dr Dhindsa has no issue with the temporary suspension of flights announced last week, she objects strongly, and with good reason, to the criminalisation of attempted returnees.
This does appear to have racist overtones. Indian-Australians are being targeted on the basis of where they come from.
While the government was scrambling to defend its decision over the weekend and on Monday with Josh Frydenberg, Marise Payne, Paul Kelly and Brendan Murphy all buying into the issue, nobody could quantify the additional benefit of threatening Australians with criminal sanctions on top of the existing flight suspensions.
The decision to invoke the Biosecurity Act appears to have been made in haste, after rushed consultations with the chief medical officer, in response to the surprise arrival of a couple of Australian cricketers who had travelled via Doha late last week. This was hardly a tsunami of backdoor arrivals.
In his written advice to the government, which has since been published, Professor Kelly reportedly warned the ban could result in the deaths of vulnerable Australians stranded in India.
The blowout in positive cases arriving from India over recent months is a legitimate justification for the suspension of the direct flights. The question nobody in government wants to address is to what degree this latest action will further reduce arrivals.
Where is the evidence thousands of people were suddenly going to leave India for parts unknown in the hope they might be able to slip into Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane or Perth by a backdoor?
By going what appears to be a step too far the Australian government has raised serious questions about what it means to be an Australian citizen and what its obligations are to assist Aussies who are in strife abroad.
It also managed to offend a significant cohort of the population at a time when we are all supposed to be "in this together" for what appears to be no very good reason.
The authorities would be well advised to reverse the invocation of the Biosecurity Act and to rely on the perfectly legitimate suspension of flights from India to do the heavy lifting here.
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