Major fight hits overseas travel ban
Australia's Federal Court has reserved its decision in a fight against the government's ban on overseas travel.
The government placed a ban on Australians travelling overseas at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, with the only exemptions made for compassionate reasons - and the New Zealand travel bubble.
Yet conservative group LibertyWorks has challenged the decision in Federal Court, arguing the ban is a "fundamental breach of our individual human rights, entirely unnecessary and in our view illegal".
If it wins the case, the border could be open within weeks. If it doesn't, the ban remains until June 17, with Health Minister Greg Hunt given the option to extend.
The group launched the challenge in December but on Thursday was heard by a full bench,
In a statement, LibertyWorks president Andrew Cooper said the group had "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".
"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 list is almost endless."
They believe Mr Hunt does not have powers under the Biosecurity Act to legally enforce such a ban.
The Commonwealth disagrees and is fighting to keep the ban.
A decision is set to be delivered at a later date, and last month Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was urgently asking medical experts to formulate a plan on how vaccinated Aussies can travel overseas and skip hotel quarantine upon return.
But he warned reopening the international borders now could result in more than 1000 cases of coronavirus a week.
He said that in early April the government had considered Singapore and Japan for a separate bubble - among other countries - but ruled out any such prospects.
"I can't confirm what they are at this point, we are in no position to be outlining where the next ones will be," the Prime Minister said.
"These things are regularly assessed by the Chief Medical Officer and we have looked at places like Singapore and Japan and South Korea and countries like this, but at this stage we are not in a position to move forward on any of those at this point."
In a joint statement, the PM, Deputy PM Michael McCormack and Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne bragged about the government's decision to "close Australia's international border early last year, declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic before the World Health Organisation did … to suppress the virus has ensured we are the envy of the world today".
Mr Morrison said he wouldn't speculate on the likelihood of opening international borders as it wouldn't be "fair", despite Australia's vaccine rollout.
"We are seeing populations around the world increasingly being vaccinated, but the important piece of information is that while we know, absolutely, that the vaccines that we're using and that other countries are using are very effective in ensuring against serious disease, and protecting, obviously they can't in all cases."
Originally published as Major fight hits overseas travel ban