There were always serious question marks over the decision to ban Australians returning from India, and the hasty capitulation on the ban last week by the Morrison Government was probably inevitable. It was not well thought through.
Yes, Covid has cut a terrible swathe through the subcontinent in recent weeks, and in the last month 50% of all the infections in Australian quarantine derived from India. However, the current rate of infection in India is actually much lower than the rate in either the USA or the UK earlier this year. Of course, there were no bans on people returning from those countries.
There are over 600,000 Australians of Indian descent, and they make a huge economic contribution to this nation. Indian Australians, for example, are three times more likely to have a university degree than the average Australian.
The outrage among Indian Australians at the snub of a national ban was palpable, and perfectly understandable. A lot of bridges will need to be rebuilt between the Liberal government and that community over the coming years.
With a Federal election not far away, it seemed that everybody was lining up to kick the government in the head last week, but you may have noticed that one set of usual suspects were uncharacteristically silent: the state governments. There’s good reason for that.
Until the brown matter hit the fan, the states had gone along with the idea of a ban. Under the rules of National Cabinet, they were consulted about the ban, and clearly approved of it. At that time, they were running the hotel quarantine system, and evidently none of them were keen to be hosting a new wave of infected returnees from India.
More to the point, what the Morrison Government did by banning returnees from India was to adopt the same zero-tolerance approach the states have been applying to internal borders for the past 12 months.
State governments have been prepared to shut their borders at the slightest risk. Sometimes a single case of community transmission has led to millions being placed in lockdown. Whether this was strictly necessary on health grounds is debatable. What is much clearer is that being hairy-chested on quarantine measures has made state premiers very popular.
So, it’s more than a little ironic to see the federal government criticised now for adopting precisely the same populist approach on border closures which has worked such a treat for state governments over the past year.
There is an important difference, however. The temporary ban on Australians returning from India, while dubious public policy, has virtually no economic impact. The random closure of state borders by state administrations, and the periodic lockdown of their citizens, on the other hand, has already had a massive adverse impact on the livelihood of millions. The ripple effect of those decisions, some of which were probably overreactions, will be felt for decades, long after people have forgotten the angst of Australian cricketers trapped in India.
For more news: