NSWCCL News

Statement from President of NSW Council for Civil Liberties on Legal Challenges to Travel Bans


NSW Council for Civil Liberties welcomes the significant separate legal challenges commenced today to the travel bans.

Both the harsh criminal penalties facing returning Australians and the authoritarian exit bans are causing great distress for tens of thousands of people.

The right of Australians to return to Australia is basic, as recognised in international law, and the right of an individual to leave a country, does not need to be infringed to achieve the protection of the Australian community.

Leaving Australian citizens stranded in a country whose hospital system is overwhelmed by COVID-19 exposes them to a deadly disease and is unconscionable.

Our Government should not be preventing Australians from leaving our shores and should not be imprisoning Australian citizens for returning home.

Instead, procedures can and should be put in place to enable people who are fully vaccinated to travel abroad and to be placed in effective quarantine upon their return. If hotel quarantine is ineffective, then it is time for the Government to provide purpose-built facilities.

Pauline Wright is the President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.


PUBLIC STATEMENT BY PAULINE WRIGHT

 

The federal Government’s move to criminalise Australians travelling home from India, including massive fines and penalties of up to 5 years’ imprisonment is an extraordinary move and likely to infringe international human rights law. This will abandon Australian citizens to their fate in an utterly overburdened health care system in India. It is inhumane and unconscionable.

It is certainly not the only suitable way of dealing with the threat to public health. A less restrictive and intrusive way of protecting Australians would be to improve quarantine systems instead of criminalising our citizens who are doing nothing more than wishing to come home.

The Government’s move also looks discriminatory. While there can be no denying that the situation in India is critical, no such measures were taken for Australians returning from the United States, the United Kingdom or Europe during the height of their dire pandemic crises.

This action and Australia’s restrictive travel bans underscore the urgency of a federal charter of rights to better protect human rights and freedoms in Australia. Australia is unique in the western world for lacking federal legislative or constitutional human rights protections. So, when an extreme measure of this kind comes along, there are few legal grounds to contest it.

The travel bans imposed over a year ago have caused immense suffering. People requesting exemptions to travel in both directions are being rejected with boilerplate responses without reasons or recourse, and decision-making appears to be arbitrary with some people being rejected several times then approved on subsequent attempts, while others face little if any difficulty. There is a Facebook group of people sharing travel exemption stories that has over 34,000 members, many heart-breaking.

What is most galling is the ease with which rich and well-connected people seem to come and go as they please while ordinary people who have endured separation from loved ones, are denied the right to be with dying parents or with children, and with no hope in sight.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was allowed to travel to London to give a speech. Zac Efron, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Idris Elba, Natalie Portman, Ed Sheeran, Melissa McCarthy and Julia Roberts were allowed to enter Australia. Some of these stars were permitted to quarantine at a location of their choosing rather than a cramped quarantine hotel.

The exit ban in particular lacks any logical justification. This Thursday will see the commencement of the Federal Court in Sydney hearing a significant legal challenge to the travel bans. The lives of tens of thousands of anguished people hang in the balance of the decision of the Full Court.

No other country has imposed exit bans, including the stars of COVID management, New Zealand and Taiwan. Prior to the move to criminalise Australians returning from India, the Minster imposed fines that in theory apply to people who take advantage of the New Zealand ‘travel bubble’ to travel on to other countries.

It is not acceptable for the Government to point to the need to keep numbers in hotel quarantine under control. Nor is it defensible to blame returning travellers for the shortcomings in Australia’s hotel quarantine system.

For decades during the Cold War, this country campaigned against the communist bloc that prevented its people from leaving. Our Government should not be preventing Australians from leaving our shores and should not be imprisoning Australian citizens for returning home.

Instead, procedures can be and should be put in place to enable people who are fully vaccinated to travel abroad and to be placed in effective quarantine upon their return. If hotel quarantine is ineffective, then it is time for the Government to provide purpose-built facilities.

Pauline Wright is the President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.


Facing the Senate committee, probing the Data Availability and Transparency Bill 2020, was Jonathan Gadir from the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, who highlighted the discrepancy between the goals of the Bill and what it actually allows to occur.

"The term 'public sector data' is really giving the impression that data contemplated by the Bill is aggregated statistics of some kind -- the definition in the Bill is far broader than the goals would require, encompassing 'all data collected, created, or held by the Commonwealth or on its behalf'," he said.

"This obviously includes detailed personal information. And this kind of information is often intimate and sensitive."

Such information, Gadir explained, includes information about relationships and finances, which is disclosed to Centrelink to receive a pension, or disclosed to Immigration as part of a visa application.

"People are revealing most intensely intimate parts of their lives right now to Border Force as they beg for permission to be allowed to leave the country," he said. "So the broad definition of public sector data is not really the right one for this Bill."

He said that if the Bill was really just to improve service delivery, inform policymaking, and allow for research, then there should be a definition of public sector data to reflect that.

"Let's exclude personal information from the definition of public sector data and say that it must be anonymous. Let's also say the permitted purposes should not include making administrative decisions that will affect individuals," he continued.

"Basic fairness and civil liberties are really under threat when personal information we're compelled to disclose to a government agency is then spread silently behind the scenes to other agencies or private companies, and is able to be used in surprising and unexpected ways."

https://www.zdnet.com/article/critics-label-data-sharing-bill-as-eroding-privacy-in-favour-of-bureaucratic-convenience/

Also:https://thewest.com.au/politics/commissioner-defends-data-sharing-bill-c-2638549