An Australian court in Sydney on Monday dismissed the legal challenge filed by a 73-year old citizen stranded in Bengaluru, Karnataka, against the government’s decision to temporarily ban the return of its citizens from COVID-19 stricken India.
In its first hearing, Justice Thomas Thawley, who presided over the case, said the law was drafted with an appreciation that biosecurity emergencies might take a wide variety of forms and the precise nature of future threats could not be known.
“It is tolerably clear that the chief medical officer thought further relief would come to Australia’s quarantine endeavour by preventing further entry, even for those travelling indirectly through transit hubs,” the judge said.
The application was filed by lawyers acting for Gary Newman last week, seeking to overturn an emergency declaration made by Health Minister Greg Hunt last month under the Biosecurity Act.
Gary Newman, who is stranded in Bengaluru since March last year, has said that the ban was “unconstitutional”.
The declaration had taken into effect last Monday making it punishable with a maximum $66,000 fine, five years’ jail term, or both, for those who tried to return back to Australia and have been in India in the past 14 days.
The temporary suspension was aimed to reduce the public health risk posed due to massive COVID-19 cases in India, the government said.
The decision was widely criticised in the country, including by Australian-Indians.
Last Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced lifting the ban on repatriation flights as of May 15.
According to reports, the case was split into two parts with the court dealing first argument on if the government was acting outside the powers conferred on it by the Biosecurity Act.
More arguments on if the ban was out of the Commonwealth Constitution, including if it acted as an impermissible fetter on implied freedom of citizens to enter Australia, were taken off to be dealt with at a later date if needed.
The case may now proceed to hearing Mr Newman’s third and fourth arguments, which contend respectively that the travel ban was a disproportionate response in the circumstances and that it was unconstitutional.
After recording over four lakh fresh cases for four consecutive days, India witnessed a single-day rise of 3,66,161 COVID-19 cases on Monday, which pushed its tally to 2,26,62,575, according to the health ministry.
The death count due to the viral disease climbed to 2,46,116 with 3,754 more people succumbing to it, the ministry’s data updated at 8 am showed.
In Australia, the total number of cases stand at 29,931 while the deaths due to the disease are 910, according to Johns Hopkins University.