The Morrison government has walked back threats to arrest Australians who circumvent an Indian travel ban after being forced into retreat over warnings it would put people behind bars.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack insists the government needs to be uncompromising but ruled out biosecurity laws being applied.
“Nobody’s going to be jailed,” he told ABC TV on Wednesday.
“We made that decision based on medical advice. We didn’t want plane loads of people coming back and swamping our quarantine system.”
But as pressure grows to repatriate Australians trapped in India’s coronavirus nightmare, the government is backing away from threats for people who find a way around a temporary flight pause.
Mr McCormack struck a more conciliatory note as reports emerged the Prime Minister’s flight ban could face a legal challenge amid a growing backlash from inside and outside Parliament.
The Deputy Prime Minister echoed the sentiments of Prime Minister Scott Morrison who yesterday said it was unlikely anyone would be charged for breaching the ban, and that he expected it to be implemented “proportionately”.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the government is reviewing the temporary travel ban to India “every single day”.
Ms Andrews said as well as improving testing systems, one of the other avenues the government was considering was how to deal with travellers from India who were vaccinated.
“How we’re going to know who has been vaccinated, which vaccination they have had, which countries they have come from, whether it will be hotel quarantine when they get here, whether it will be home quarantine — those are all the issues that are being discussed across government,” she said.
But Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the government shifted from a late-night announcement of the penalties last week to ruling out enforcing the law days later.
“This is a shambles. The government should be getting the vaccinations right and it should be getting quarantine right,” he told the ABC.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the government was looking at measures to strengthen the quarantine before lifting the pause, which is due to end on May 15.
Ms Andrews said vaccinating Australians in India was under consideration.
“Everything is being done to ready Australians to come home,” she told ABC radio.
India’s official count of cases surpassed 20 million on Tuesday, nearly doubling in the past three months, while the death toll has passed 220,000.
Former Test cricketer Michael Hussey, who is one of about 40 Australians in India for the IPL, has reportedly tested positive.
There are 9000 Australians in India who want to come home with about 650 considered vulnerable.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is warming to a Victorian quarantine centre on Melbourne’s northern fringes.
The 500-bed facility would cost about $200 million to build, with the state government committing $15 million to get the project ready for construction.
“A lot of effort has gone into it and we will look at it seriously,” Mr Morrison said.
Crossbench MPs and senators have urged the prime minister to repatriate Australians in India starting with the most vulnerable and set up a dedicated surge capacity quarantine facility.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke will sit down with Indian community leaders on Wednesday to discuss the flight pause.