It could not have escaped anyone’s notice that the government and the Prime Minister in particular have been accused of racism. This is because of the decision to ban Indians who are Australian or permanent citizens from returning to Australia.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2016 census, 619,164 people or 2.8% of the Australian population acknowledges that they are of Indian descent. About 592,000 were born in India. Quoting the Department of Home Affairs, “At the end of June 2018, 592,310 Indian-born people were living in Australia, more than twice the number at 30 June 2008. This makes the Indian-born population the third largest migrant community in Australia, equivalent to 8.1 % of Australia’s overseas-born population and 2.4 % of Australia’s total population.” This year (2021) Indian-born people moved into the second largest migrant community, behind British-born and in front of Chine born people. These figures do not indicate any deep seated “racism” in Australia’s selection of immigrants.
The decision not to permit people from India who are Australian or permanent citizens to return right now is perhaps unfair rather than prejudice. I prefer the term prejudice instead of racism. The word racism is very “America centric” and is based on the idea about different human races where biologically there are none. Prejudice reflects an unfavourable judgement towards a particular group. Based on the statistics quoted above, Indian citizens are able to migrate to Australia and take up Australian rights in solid numbers. This to me indicates that prejudice is not necessarily the underlying reason for closing the borders at this point. I am not suggesting that there are not people who hold prejudicial beliefs about people from India or other parts of the world for that matter. That would be unrealistic but to brand the government or even just the Prime Minister as racist is an emotional overreach.
At most we can say that the government may have acted unfairly as a result of the unfortunate high rate of Sars-Covid19 infections currently found in India. Unfairness which involves behaving differently, usually unfairly, toward the members of a particular group seems on the surface to perhaps be relevant here. But we must not forget that according to the ABC, there are additionally about 30,000 Australians above and beyond the Indian community living overseas. They too have not been able to return home with many of them regarded as vulnerable individuals. Sadly, there is a long list of countries who have also passed bans on arrivals from India, including Hong Kong and Pakistan, both nations with people of colour.
While other countries have also enacted bans on people travelling from India, the decision the Morrison Government has made, I believe, is political rather than anything to do with skin colour. It is a tough decision that might be morally questionable but not “racist”. Once again, the Morrison Government overreacted and overreached as they have a tendency to do, by threatening to jail people and exact heavy fines. Remember the reaction to Christine Holgate and the national postal service saga – that was also a kneejerk reaction by The Prime Minister.
The strong point for the Australian Government in the forthcoming election lies in the fact that they managed the pandemic with such verve. This is reinforced by State elections where Covid safe governments have been successfully re-elected. Allowing people from India to arrive here during a raging pandemic over there threatens this success story here. According to the Minister of Health Greg Hunt, since March 2021 there has been 1,500% spike in COVID-19 cases from Indian travellers. This anxiety was also heightened by Australian cricketers returning from India, evading the ban through destinations such as Doha and Dubai.
The high rate of infection of people arriving here from India has been deemed by Professor Paul Kelly, Chief Medical Officer, as too risky with the possibility of the Covid19 virus escaping quarantine. This could possibly result in new lockdowns, with grave implications for us and the Morrison Government. Were this to happen, it would lead to an equally if not a greater political storm than the one which resulted from the decision to ban flights from India. This is not inconceivable. Part of NSW is back into restrictions with all the consequences due to a man contracting Covid from possibly a US traveller. The Morrison Government is damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Of course, better quarantine arrangements could have facilitated the arrival from India but that is not the case right now. The slow vaccination rate and hesitancy does not help either. In this the federal government has failed.