(CNN) – The Australian government has been accused of racism after threatening five years in prison for citizens violating a temporary ban on travel between India and Australia.
“The government does not make these decisions easily,” Hunt said in the statement. “However, it is crucial that the integrity of the Australian public health and quarantine systems is protected and the number of Covid-19 cases in quarantine facilities is reduced to a manageable level.”
“We should help the Aussies in India return, not imprison them,” he said. About 9,000 Australians in India are registered with the government wishing to return to Australia.
“I do not think we will introduce such a travel ban for white Australians fleeing e.g. England, ”he said.
“The need for such restrictions must be publicly justified. The government must show that these measures are not discriminatory and the only appropriate way to deal with the threat to public health,” the statement said.
In local radio on Monday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the decision was made “in Australia’s best health interest.”
He said the powers would be “used responsibly” to enforce the block on arrivals from India to ease pressure on the hotel quarantine system.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Sydney, Australia, on Tuesday 27 April.
Rick Rycroft / AP
At a press conference on Sunday, Foreign Secretary Marise Payne denied that the new measures were racist and said the ban was based on advice from Australia’s medical chief Paul Kelly.
However, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday, Kelly said no advice had been “given” on imposing fines and prison sentences.
“This is how the Biosecurity Act works. If there is a violation of what is seen as a use of emergency powers, then that is what turns out,” Kelly said.
Kelly added that he had told the government that something had to be done about the number of positive cases that came into Australia’s hotel quarantine system.
Secretary of State Payne said on Sunday that 57% of coronavirus infections detected in quarantine were currently from India.
Journalist Angus Watson contributed to this article.