Federation of Indian Associations of New South Wales chairman Yadu Singh said he and others were not told of the checks in meetings leading up to the late-night move.
“We heard about it on Saturday morning and I was alarmed – there was no communication,” said cardiologist Dr Singh. “We have been blind.”
Dr Singh said he did not characterize the move as racist, but knew other people who used the word to describe checks that had not been imposed on people returning from the UK or the States -United last year.
“I’m not sure about the language, the timing, the tone and how it was announced late Friday night,” he said. “So some people say it seems discriminatory.”
Mr Morrison’s office responded to concerns Monday night by releasing figures showing the scale of the problem among 6,670 people who have passed through the Howard Springs quarantine facility near Darwin since October 23.
Of the 121 cases of COVID-19 in this group, 103 involved people returning from India, compared with just two cases from the UK, one from South Africa, two from France and seven from Germany.
When the flights arrived from India between April 15 and April 17, the government said there were 47 cases of the coronavirus, an infection rate of 13.6%.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said serious action needed to be taken after a sharp rise in cases in India.
“These decisions are being made to protect Australians, to protect against a third wave, to protect against a massive risk to Australia, and taken with a heavy heart but without hesitation,” he said on Monday. midday.
Quarantined infections rose from 14 in February to 38 in March and 210 in April, he said. The proportion of those cases originating in India also increased, from 8.8% in February to more than 56% just before the decision to halt flights.
A safe rate of quarantined infections in hotels is 2%, according to the national cabinet’s health advice, but the quarantined infection rate of hotels in Australia rose to 14% in mid-April.
Kim Rubenstein, a professor at the University of Canberra who specializes in citizenship law, said the checks were on the “borderline” of what people should expect from a democratic government.
Liberal New South Wales Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said the move highlighted the problem of ministerial decisions that could not be overturned by Parliament and that had not been given sufficient consideration.
“I am troubled by the decision to make it illegal for Australians to return to their homes in Australia,” she said.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells, who chairs the Senate committee that reviews delegated legislation and regulations, has previously warned of the growing number of decisions that escape parliamentary scrutiny.
The committee recommended last December that Biosafety Act rulings such as India’s ban be subject to debate and rejection in Parliament.
Foreign Secretary Marise Payne said on Sunday the decision was based on health advice, while Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said on Monday morning it was not his decision to impose the fines and penalties from prison.
“No advice has been given regarding fines or jail time, that’s how the biosafety law works,” he told Radio National on ABC.
Professor Kelly’s advisory letter, however, recommended the move on Friday and spelled out penalties for violating Section 477 of the Biosafety Act, including jail time and fines.
The letter was not released with the government press release at midnight Friday night and did not appear until Monday.
Sen. Payne and Immigration Minister Alex Hawke held a conference call with Indian community leaders at 11 a.m. Friday, but did not mention the potential move, according to meeting attendees.
The ban went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Monday and will be reconsidered on May 15.
While state governments have not criticized the move, Federal Coalition MPs are urging Mr Morrison and ministers to end the checks as soon as possible.
“There is no doubt that this is an extreme measure and that it is causing considerable hardship for the Australian Indian community,” said Dave Sharma, MP for Wentworth in eastern Sydney and former diplomat for Australia. Indian origin.
“I fully expect that these restrictions will only be temporary and that enhanced powers will be used sparingly and as a last resort.”
Queensland Liberal MP Julian Simmonds called the move “hard but the right call,” but NSW Liberal MP Fiona Martin said she hoped the government could start repatriation flights out of the country. ‘India as soon as possible.
“The travel ban and the associated legal penalties are quite severe,” said Ms. Martin, who represents Reid in West Sydney.
“There are a lot of stricken Australians in India that we should repatriate as a matter of priority.”
Queensland Nationals Senator Matt Canavan said the government should repatriate people quickly in the same way Australians did in Wuhan last year.
“I don’t think we should jail our fellow Australians who are trying to return home, we should be actively trying to help them out of a situation that has obviously moved very quickly south,” he said. declared.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said sanctions against those returning from India were announced without giving it much thought.
“The basis for this is due to the failure of the federal government to put in place a proper quarantine system in Australia,” he said.