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A Response to the question: What to do with a Citizenship that costs 10,000AUD to use?

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

So much and yet so little has really changed, since our last blog post calling on the Australian government to respond to Australians stranded abroad for over a year. This follow up blog post charts the answers I have received from politicians from the LNP, ALP and the Greens, more specific criticisms of the budget, more relevant vaccination and legal research as a response, and ultimately addresses the crucial question of the government's responsibility to Australian citizens in light of a constantly morphing COVID landscape.


Just quickly, I would like to reaffirm that this process of contacting political representatives, albeit excruciatingly frustrating and seemingly obsolete at times, is extremely important for our processes of democracy. As such, I have updated the previous letters with the below-covered points if you would like to continue contacting relevant representatives (Minister of Home Affairs and Minister of Health) and the PM’s office- please find links at the bottom.


My local representative for Fairfax, Ted O’Brien from the LNP, who only responded to me after numerous emails, and after talks with my dad (always good to have a male close by to help you be heard), stated the LNP position was only to reconsider travel restriction after the vaccine program has been executed fully for the Australian population. I responded with the specific problems I had with the budget- that the government has not stipulated any detailed targets or comprehensive operational strategy of when they expect to fully vaccinate the population- even within a 5 year COVID response strategy and especially considering the government does have contracts with these large pharmaceutical companies. Their response was a political one, reiterating the widely-circulating misconception that it is all the fault of vaccine export prohibitions in Europe. Claims that have not been backed up by Federal government data, and to which reputable news sites have dismissed as confusing at best, and factually incorrect and misleading at worst (Reuters, 2021. BBC, 2021)


Lastly in response, Ted O'Brien sent me his speech of a parliamentary address from last week. He talks for 1min 33seconds about love, however still stating no clear position on the border restrictions. He uses the time to talk of the sacrifice of Aussies to keep Australia safe and to speak of a reunion of a sunny coast family and a daughter in Germany who had been separated for 15 months(Not sure if this was creative licence in light of my situation, or some random half coincidence). This speech, although moving in its emotional content, entirely sidestepped the most important question, which is: how high was the cost of this family reunion? And the fact that many people are simply not able to afford this same "luxury".

Vaccination roll-out has been arguably the biggest criticism thus far of the Morrison government, however, a similar and concurring one is the lack of public health messaging to combat what can be viewed from popular media outlets as complacency and hesitancy towards the vaccines- especially the vector vaccines(AstraZeneca and Johnsson & Johnsson). Despite billion dollar vaccine advertising campaigns reportedly in the pipeline, there appears a marked gap of clear communication and example from political leadership at all levels. Addressing in particular the global reality of a pandemic that is now endemic- that people can not just wait for the rest of the world to be vaccinated so that they will not have to.


The only concrete solutions observable in the budget have been an increase in quarantine facilities over the next five years. Meaning that the Australian government predicts that this quota and quarantine situation will remain for the next few years at least. This is all whilst just recently, the EU has agreed on a strategy to open its borders to fully vaccinated people holding an international vaccine passport- with the US predicted to follow suit soon. On the Australian side however, the Department of Health has declared that only Australians vaccinated in Australia will be recognised- and thus exempt from hotel quarantine- in a strange and unsubstantiated move (Bourke, 2021)


The LNP's response was a mixed bag, most duck-shoving my questions to another department/person, some not answering my questions but sending me generic information about Australia’s COVID policy, and a good deal reiterating a "sit and wait" policy on the travel restrictions. Even the PM's office response was to redirect my concern to the ministry of Health, of whom, both at federal and state levels, did not answer.

Eric Abetz and Micheal Moore (Senator for Tasmania from the LNP), was kind enough to take the time to reply and engage in a conversation- even if I did not entirely agree with what they were saying. Their argument (as touted by many politicians in the media) of news stories from the US and Australia supported their reasoning that "a lot of people particularly overseas have contracted COVID-19 after being fully vaccinated". Whilst there is truth to this statement, which is that, yes people who are vaccinated can still contract the disease- just like people who have been given the flu jab. However, if they do contract COVID-19, which is in itself reduced by 65%-95%[1], their rate of hospitalisation is reduced by 89%[2]. Their ability to transmit the disease as someone who has tested positive is also markedly reduced, as the viral load is significantly lower. Studies show up to a four fold reduction and a one week shortening of this viral load compared to that of a non-vaccinated person, making them both far less contagious, as well as if they do pass it on, far less severe for the receiving persons[3]. This is voiced most succinctly by the Robert Koch Insitut in Germany- “In the overall picture the available data suggests that the COVID-19 vaccination significantly reduces virus transmission and that fully vaccinated individuals no longer play a significant role in the epidemiology of the disease.”


The government has been accused by the opposition of 'playing politics', as such I do appreciate Mr. Abetz's candidacy in stating explicitly in his email that "strong border restrictions remain popular with the vast majority of Australians”. This is election season, and borders remaining closed coincides closely with predictions for the upcoming Federal election. With that in mind, it is little wonder that more populist policies are far more visceral, regardless of more nuanced responsibilities to the entirety of their citizenry. The lie that the government has been selling the Australian people that they can just shut themselves off from the rest of the world will have consequences for the economy, innovation and culture -not to mention the far too high familial/social costs- in the months and years to come. This false sense of security for the Australian people fits neatly into a wider discourse of a long-touted fear politics tailer-made for an island nation.

I wish I could say the opposition did a better job at responding to my queries, considering that the slogan for ALP opposition leader Anthony Albanese is “on your side”, however after numerous follow up emails to numerous representatives at local, state and federal levels, I am yet to hear a response.

The Green’s in their personal reply to my emails clearly stated their criticisms and plans, calling out the government for its flagrant special treatment of Hollywood and sports stars, the India travel ban as racist, and the vaccination roll-out as being “inadequate with too little detail and lacking in real targets”. Their proposed plans of a home-owned and produced mRNA vaccine manufacturing facility was a little more naive, however .


From a more critical historical perspective, we should not be all too surprised by these hard-line policies in Australia, with over 20 years of increasingly harsh immigration policy which fail to meet international conventions on people seeking asylum. The problem in this particular instance, as shameful as it is to say, is that the people being shut out (and also shut in) are Australian citizens, which (should) hold in the very least, a bit more legal weight and responsibility for the government. There is only one other country apart from Australia that is creating such insurmountable restrictions, and refusing to permit its citizens from leaving the country- North Korea. And when it's just you and North Korea doing something, then maybe it's time to rethink what you’re doing.

The problem boils down to the fact that Australia does not have a human rights act- being the only democratic country in the world without a constitutional or federal legislative bill of rights to protect its citizens[4]. This fact may surprise a lot of Australians, and it means that citizens have no grounds, domestically nor regionally, to challenge any such or similar draconian limitations to their citizenship or human rights- measures which would be legally unfathomable in other democratic countries or regions.


I am a proud Aussie, and my time living overseas has made me even prouder to be one. It is shameful for me to admit that it has taken these restrictions which affect me directly to sit up and take notice of the hollow citizenship and human rights legal mechanisms in Australia, as well as a low lying complacency and populism that is all too easily exploited by politicians and the government alike. Whilst I understand the tone of this blog is a little more antipathetic than the previous ones- there's not even one self-denigrating joke in here- I would argue it is something definitely worth getting angry about when going home and being able to see your family is at stake. Australia is a democratic country, a young country premised on its multiculturalism, comradeship and down-to-earth, beautifully-spirited people. I worry what such a populist and reactionary policy, as well as the continuing shaping and socialising of the Australian population by a tendency towards selective, isolationist fear politics will do in years to come.


JKR.




Please email to further similar concerns by filling in the gaps in the text with your details to


1) Prime Minister's Office at this link - TEXT

2) Hon Karen Andrews- Minister of Home Affairs Karen.Andrews.MP@aph.gov.au - TEXT

3) Hon Greg Hunt- Minister of Health - Minister.Hunt@health.gov.au - TEXT

 



[2]Statistics show hospitalisation rates: AZ 100% prevention, Biontech Pfizer 75% prevention, Moderna 100% prevention, Johnson and Johnson 85% prevention. Epidemiologisches Bulletin 19/2021

[3]Epidemiologisches Bulletin 19/2021 Relevant translated English Summary- Summary: a systematic review was carried out the question of the extent to which the currently available COVID-19 vaccines prevent infections and the successive transmission of Prevention of SARS-CoV-2. As of April 15, 2021, 16 studies that demonstrate protection against SARS-CoV-2 total infections (i.e. with and without clinical Symptoms) examined. Six studies looked at, specifically asymptomatic infections. Almost all of the studies identified showed the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccination in terms of protection against any infection as well as after a complete series of vaccinations before asymptomatic infections between 80 and 90%. In people who are PCR positive despite vaccination being tested, a significantly lower viral load and also a shortened one duration of virus shedding can be demonstrated. First studies on herd effects and the prevention of virus transmission in households are available, but are limited in their informative value due to methodological limitations. In the overall picture the available data suggests that the COVID-19 vaccination significantly reduces virus transmission and that fully vaccinated individuals no longer play a significant role in the epidemiology of the disease.

[4] Whilst Australia is a signatory to a few International Human Rights Treaties, "as a whole (Australia) doesn't have legislation that comprehensively brings the human rights from the international system into a domestic enforceable document" (Korff, Jens. 2020). This decision not to enact a bill of rights for citizens in some form was decided in a time where discrimination against Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders, as well as the Chinese would have comprised the governments ability to carry out White Australia policies. Further information at- Williams, G. "The Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities: Origins and Scope". (2006) 30(3) Melbourne University Law Review 880 .





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