An outspoken backbencher has taken drastic action to condemn his own government, after the PM stood firm on a controversial measure.
Former resources minister Matt Canavan has voted against his own government over its controversial India travel ban.
The Nationals senator crossed the floor on Thursday to back a Labor motion condemning the ban, and claiming the government had “no comprehensive plan” to bring stranded Australians home.
The federal government in April announced a ban on Australians travelling home from India, threatening those in breach with five-year jail terms or $66,000 fines.
In wording mimicking a tweet from Mr Canavan in May, the motion also called on the government to “help Australians in India return, rather than jailing them, and fix our quarantine system rather than leaving our fellow Australians stranded”.
The backbencher has been outspoken against the controversial ban, which was implemented as India grappled the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreak, including daily case numbers rising above 400,000.
He was joined by fellow Coalition backbencher Gerard Rennick in backing the motion, pushed by Labor home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally.
Labor has backed a ban on commercial flights from India, but said the government had failed to bring stranded Australians home since the pandemic began.
Ms Keneally accused the government of a “double standard” after failing to impose similar bans on travel from the UK and US during outbreaks in those countries.
“Suddenly, when there is an outbreak in India, the government threatens jail time and severe financial penalties to Australian citizens who seek to come home in the middle of a humanitarian crisis,” he told the ABC on Friday.
The government has denied accusations of racism, saying the decision was taken on medical advice.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison stood firm over the ban last week, declaring it was “doing its job”.
Mr Morrison confirmed repatriation flights from India would begin to return home on Friday when the ban expired.
“We are doing that responsibly while at the same time doing everything we can to sustainably bring Australians home from what is currently its most significant hotspot for those travelling into Australia,” he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt described the ban, the first law in the country’s history making it illegal for citizens to return home, as “difficult but temporary”.
“Our job is to protect Australia against a third wave. Our job is to protect our health system. And so we have to manage the balance and the caseload,” he said.
But the comments came after frictions within Coalition, including Liberal senator James Paterson coming out against the “extreme” measure.
Senator Paterson conceded the rapidly shifting COVID-19 environment had forced the government to make difficult decision swiftly, but declared the ban had crossed an “enormous threshold”.
“I hope … that it never happens again,” he told Sky News last week.
“Criminalising Australians returning to their home country is a step too far. I worry about the precedent that sets about the value of Australian citizenship and Australian passports.”