Australia may be set to resume flights from India next week to get stranded citizens home, but the Morrison government received a lashing on Q+A from guest Mannie Kaur Varma, who said Australians of Indian heritage are not being seen as equals by the Prime Minister.
Ms Varma said those in the Indian community felt abandoned by Mr Morrison, as she took aim in a show opening that mocked the PM’s love of curries, suggesting he thinks they are India’s major contribution to Australian society.
“First you grant us exemption to go to India to look after our loved ones who are fighting for their lives, then you abandon us and leave us in a country that is gasping for air,” Ms Varma said.
“In 2019 the Prime Minister said Australia is like a fragrant garam masala…for the Prime Minister, is the value of Indians reduced to just our food or does he see us as equals?”
Asked by host Hamish Macdonald how the flight ban and the threat of jail time for those returning from India made her feel, Ms Varma said the government ruling, under the Biosecurity Act, made it feel like Indian-Australians were not equal.
“What is going on in India is horrible and to know we are not treated the same as everyone else is just appalling,” she said.
Coalition Member for Reid in NSW, Fiona Martin, said the ruling was simply a case of following the health advice available to the government due to the high number of COVID-19 cases in returned travellers from India.
“Last month we saw over 40 per cent of people travelling home from India testing positive to COVID-19,” Ms Martin said, before adding other countries such as the United States (6 per cent) had a much lower rate.
Asked if those of Indian descent in her electorate had expressed similar feelings to Ms Varma, Ms Martin said that was not the case, but they did feel the threat of jail was overly aggressive.
“The penalty is what has been of concern by constituents, not the ban itself,” she said.
“As I mentioned, earlier in the week, I thought the penalty was a little heavy-handed and that part of it was problematic.”
Shadow Minister for Families and Social Services Linda Burney, who herself has a sizeable Indian population in her Barton electorate in NSW, said she had heard similar gripes to Ms Varma’s.
She said constituents felt “abandoned” and pointed out that to become Australian citizens, those who hail from India had to renounce their India citizenship, making the government’s flight ban an even more egregious move.
“We’re not talking about people who are not Australian citizens,” Ms Burney said of the Australians stranded in India.
“They are Australian citizens and Australian governments are responsible for keeping their citizens safe and providing them with as much support as possible in difficult circumstances.
Ms Martin was quick to refute the notion of it being a political response.
“This is not a political response. This is a health response. This decision has been based on health advice,” she said.
While India and coronavirus opened the show, a large part was devoted to the discussion of coercive control and how Australia can tackle the issue moving forward, including making it illegal.
In a powerful opening to the topic, audience member Suzette Sutton said she endured abuse for 25 years during which she tried to take her own life twice. She asked how the issue could be solved in relationships that involve domestic violence.
SBS journalist Jess Hill said that criminalising coercive control would make the entire gamut of domestic violence visible — not just physical or sexual assaults — and that it would ultimately help victims.
“What we’re proposing with criminalising coercive control is to make the entire arc of what you were subjected to visible,” Hill said.
“Not just the physical incidents, not just the things that our criminal justice system recognises now, but everything from the start to the finish so that we understand what the risks are, what the damage has been and how dangerous the offender is.”
Ms Burney, herself a survivor of domestic violence, said she wanted Australians to understand just how crippling coercive control could be, adding that it should be criminalised.
“Something that I want people to understand is this often the basis to destroying a person,” Ms Burney said.
“It takes away who you are.
“I agree that coercive control should be criminalised.
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