Melbourne: Australia’s controversial temporary ban on citizens returning home from coronavirus-hit India was challenged in the federal court in Sydney on Thursday by a 73-year-old Australian, who has been stranded in Bengaluru since March last year.
The Australian government, for the first time in history, recently imposed a ban on its citizens from returning home, if they have spent time in India up to 14 days before flying back.
The government threatened to prosecute them with a possibility of five years of jail term or a penalty of 66,000 Australian dollars (USD 50,899).
Federal Court Chief Justice James Allsop Thursday set the hearing of the case Monday and it will be heard by Justice Thomas Thawley.
The application was filed by Gary Newman from Melbourne, who has been stranded in Bengaluru since March last year.
His application has sought to challenge an emergency declaration made by Health Minister Greg Hunt on April 30 under the Biosecurity Act on multiple grounds.
Michael Bradley and Chris Ward, who are representing Newman, filed the application before Justice Stephen Burley Wednesday afternoon.
They are challenging the ban on multiple bases, including on constitutional grounds.
As per the argument, the declaration fails to offer implied freedom of citizens to enter Australia.
The hearing would also focus on the interpretation of the Biosecurity Act which would include if the ban and the sections of the law that are said to enable the ban in fact “abrogate a fundamental common law right of citizens to re-enter their country of citizenship” in circumstances where the law does not set out clearly the government’s power to take such a step.
Lawyers for Newman will argue that the Biosecurity Act does not set this out clearly enough.
The law also requires the Health Minister to be satisfied that the emergency measures are “no more restrictive or intrusive than is required in the circumstances”, a media report said.
A defiant Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison Wednesday stood firm on his decision to halt flights from India, saying positive cases have started to come down as a result of the pause.
The move triggered a backlash with several lawmakers, doctors, civil societies and businessmen criticising the government for “abandoning” Australians in India and threatening the travellers with a hefty penalty and a jail term.
”We’re already starting to see, as a result of the pause, the incidence of those cases at Howard Springs (quarantine facility) starting to come down. We’ve got a bit more distance to travel there,” Morrison said.
The move has left over 9,000 return travellers stranded in India, and according to a peak business body, the Australia India Business Council (AIBC), it could damage the business relations.
AIBC, in a statement, said that though it appreciates the gesture by the federal government providing relief material to India, it was concerned about the temporary border closure, imposition of fines and jail terms for those wanting to return from India.