Scott Morrison has slammed claims that his Indian flight ban is racist warning he’s making the “hard calls” that have helped save 30,000 Australian lives.
The Prime Minister has attacked Labor leader Anthony Albanese for “politicising” the flight ban this morning arguing it was “heartbreaking” but necessary to pause the repatriation flights.
On Saturday, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced anyone who breaches a “temporary pause” Indian arrivals by travelling through another country could face a $66,600 fine or a five-year jail term.
“We are deeply, deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis in India. But the best way I can get them safely home is by doing what I am doing right now,’’ the Prime Minister told 2GB radio.
Critics including former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane have argued there’s “an inconsistency” in the Indian flight ban given we didn’t ban US flights when daily cases were even higher.
That’s prompted Labor to hint the real motivation is racism.
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“The Government’s got to justify how it is that the figures from India are similar to what they’ve been in the past from the UK and the US, but we haven’t seen these sort of measures,’’ Mr Albanese said on Sunday.
But the Prime Minister said the policy was designed to save lives and was not motivated by racism.
“I am disappointed the Labor Party has chosen to politicise this once again and make those claims,’’ Mr Morrison said.
“There’s no politics or ideology in a pandemic. This is a virus. It doesn’t care if you’re Labor or Liberal.
“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.
Pointing to the death rate in other OECD countries, Mr Morrison said if Australia had a similar experience we would have deaths in the thousands.
“If we had the fatality rate of COVID that the average of all the OECD countries had … 30,000 more people would have died in Australia.
“30,000. It’s a staggering figure. And we’ve prevented that here in Australia. But it also meant we’ve had to take some unpopular decisions. This is one and my heartbreaks for the Indian community but I assure them I am going to restore those repatriation flights once we can get them safely back to Australia.”
Mr Morrison also noted Australia had recently suspended direct flights from PNG to Cairns.
“I mean a few weeks ago we needed to do something similar for Papua New Guinea. That was a hard decision. We needed to stop those direct flights coming into Cairns to protect North Queensland,’’ he said.
Australia is putting new protections in place so that repatriation flights can return to Australia as soon as possible.