Ms JODI McKAY (Strathfield) (17:51): I speak on behalf of the Indian Australian community, including in my electorate, who are rightly appalled by the travel ban on Australian citizens wanting to come home from India. Over the past few weeks, members of the community have contacted me with heartbreaking stories about the COVID-19 situation that their families and friends are facing in India. I have heard stories, as we all have, about the lack of oxygen and hospital beds. We have heard stories about farewells that are unexpected and sudden. People have told me of the trepidation they feel with each new communication from loved ones, knowing it will likely bring more bad news.
Then there are the stories of Australians who have been stranded in India for months, including those who travelled there in accordance with the Federal Government’s travel advice. As we speak, over 9,000 Australians stranded in India have registered to come home. Last week, it was confirmed that 900 of those Australians are classified as vulnerable. There are 173 Australian children stuck in India without their parents. Those Australian citizens have been told that they face fines of up to $66,000 and five years in prison if they attempt to return home. It is important to note that no such ban on citizens was ever introduced when the USA and the UK were facing significant levels of COVID-19 transmission. Our Indian-Australian community rightfully feels this ban is discriminatory and racially motivated.
I implore those in the Chamber today to imagine a situation when they are told they are no longer welcome in their own country and that their country of citizenship has turned its back on them during their time of need. Imagine living in fear, being terrified that you will acquire the virus while you have limited support around you, and that your country locks you out of all help and support? After much backlash, the Prime Minister announced on Friday that the ban on returned travellers from India would not be extended beyond 15 May. There are also vague promises of repatriation flights. But the question is: Why did the Government implement this ban in the first place? It has not been justified.
For months NSW Labor and Federal Labor have been calling on the Government to repatriate Australian citizens living abroad. This includes those stranded in India. However, the opportunity to get more Australians home has been hampered by entry caps, limited flights and expensive airfares. The Government did nothing to address any of these issues. If there are concerns about the integrity of our hotel quarantine system, then the Premier must show leadership and work with Scott Morrison to find solutions.
It is clear that our hotel quarantine system is inadequate but threatening stranded Australians with fines and prison time if they try to come home is, quite frankly, simply shameful. We are in this situation because of a failure to show leadership and compassion and a failure to adequately prepare. NSW Labor stands with our Indian‐Australian community, including those in my electorate of Strathfield, during this difficult time. We support their calls to overturn this draconian ban immediately.
The Australian Government and the New South Wales Government have a duty of care to our citizens. They simply cannot turn their back on Australians during their time of need, and that is what they have done. I also take this opportunity to thank our many Indian‐Australian community groups. At a time when government has turned its back on its own citizens, our Indian‐Australian community has fiercely advocated for those who cannot come home. They are raising money and collecting supplies to assist with on‐the‐ground efforts in India in the battle against COVID‐19.
We saw this same spirit of charity, compassion and determination during our own battle against COVID‐19. Many in New South Wales were on the front line helping those impacted by the pandemic, particularly supporting temporary visa holders and international students who received no government support. The Australian Government and the New South Wales Government have a duty of care to their citizens. Wherever they are in the world and whatever their background, Australians have a right to enter this country, particularly in their hour of need. We have to do better to help our Indian‐Australian community.