A conservative action group’s legal case against the federal government’s outbound travel ban is set to be heard by a full Federal Court bench.
LibertyWorks – a group that professes to support free speech, natural rights and free markets – launched a legal challenge to Australia’s travel ban in December, arguing it was a “fundamental breach” of human rights.
The group’s court action is separate to threats of legal action against the federal government’s recent ban on returnees from India.
The government has walked back threats to arrest Australians who circumvent the India travel ban amid rising outrage this week. On Wednesday, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack ruled out imposing penalties available under biosecurity laws.
“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.”
In its case, LibertyWorks has argued Health Minister Greg Hunt does not have the power under the Biosecurity Act to legally enforce a ban on outbound travel.
Outbound travel without a special exemption from the Department of Home Affairs – with the exception of New Zealand – has been banned for more than 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The non-profit group argued the outbound border could be open within weeks if it wins the case, which is set for a full Federal Court bench on Thursday.
“Over the course of the past year LibertyWorks has become aware of tens of thousands of Australians that have been forced to be absent from significant events that often have a sometimes tragic and personal impact on their lives,” LibertyWorks president Andrew Cooper said on Wednesday.
“We are aware of people missing funerals of loved ones, others being unable to leave Australia and care for sick relatives, couples that have been separated and cannot reunite, the birth of children with the father or relatives not in attendance.”
The group said the government retained the power to impose quarantine restrictions on inbound passengers, limiting the risk of COVID-19 transmission prompted by outbound travel.
Outbound travellers could also be made aware that leaving Australia did not guarantee a right to return, given limitations on quarantine systems.
“Any individual, in the act of departing Australia, does not increase the health risk of any Australian left behind,” Mr Cooper said.
In March, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties also called on the federal government to end the outbound travel ban, saying it had adopted an “authoritarian approach” to travel amid the pandemic.
In April, Mr Hunt said slashing outbound travel was important to avoid overloading Australia’s hotel quarantine systems when those people seek to return.
Should LibertyWorks’ legal challenge fail, the outbound travel ban will remain in place until at least June 17, at which point Mr Hunt will have the option to extend it further.
“The Australian Border Force operates an exemptions process … they consider each case on its merits and I will leave the individual cases to them,” Mr Hunt said.
“You have the categories of critical work, of assisting the national interest and compassionate exemption … those are the fundamentals and they should remain the basis of it.”