There’s a ban on leaving Australia under COVID-19. Who can get an exemption to go overseas? And how?



Darren England/AAP

Anthea Vogl, University of Technology Sydney

Australians are all too aware of the restrictions on interstate travel and on who can currently enter Australia.

But people may not realise there is also a ban on overseas travel for all Australian citizens and residents, subject to a limited number of exemptions.

Since March, about one in three requests to leave the country have been granted. This comes amid reports of Australians facing huge hurdles to see sick and dying relatives overseas.

So, what’s going on? Who can actually leave Australia at the moment?

What is the ban?

The ban on leaving Australia was put in place by Health Minister Greg Hunt on March 25, as an “emergency requirement” under the Biosecurity Act. It is the first time Australia has had such a ban, and it was made on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

The determination says plainly:

An Australian citizen or permanent resident … must not leave Australian territory as a passenger on an outgoing aircraft or vessel.

The accompanying statement explains,

[This] is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to represent a severe and immediate threat to human health in Australia and across the globe.

Is this legal?

The government legally made the determination under the Biosecurity Act, which gives the health minister power to put in place “any requirement” they believe is necessary to prevent or control the entry or spread of the virus into Australia.

International law recognises the right to leave any country, including your own, but there is no equivalent constitutional protection in Australia.

Man pushing a baggage trolly past an empty airport carousel.
There is a legal ban on Australians leaving Australia.
Darren England/AAP

In other words, Australians don’t have a constitutional right to leave Australia.

Strict exit bans for citizens are generally associated with authoritarian states, like North Korea and the former USSR. But the Health Department has said the ban is needed because of the burden returning residents place on quarantine arrangements, the health system and testing regimes.

The government has also argued it is “impossible” to only ban travel to specific places, due to the fast-moving nature of the pandemic in different countries.

Who can leave Australia at the moment?

Anyone who is isn’t a citizen or resident is allowed to leave Australia.

Some Australians are also still free to leave. This includes those who are “ordinarily resident in a country other than Australia”, airline and maritime crew, outbound freight workers, and essential workers at offshore facilities.




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All other citizens and residents must have an exemption if they want to leave. They need to apply online (which is free) and then bring the approved exemption to the airport.

To be granted an exemption, you must have a “compelling reason” for needing to leave Australian territory, and your travel must fall into one of the following categories:

  • compassionate or humanitarian grounds
  • part of the response to the COVID-19 outbreak
  • essential for the conduct of critical industries and business
  • to receive urgent medical treatment unavailable in Australia
  • urgent and unavoidable personal business
  • in the national interest.

Most applications to leave are not successful

Despite these exemptions, it is still difficult to get permission to leave. Only about one in three requests are being granted.

According to Border Force, between March and mid-August it received more than 104,000 requests to leave Australia. About 34,300 exemptions have been granted.

Exemption applications are assessed by Border Force and applicants are advised to apply at least two weeks but not more than three months before departure.

Border Force adds:

If you are travelling due to death or critical illness of a close family member, you can apply inside this timeframe and we will prioritise your application.

However, timeframes haven’t been guaranteed and people have reported significant delays even in emergency situations. If a request is refused, an applicant can reapply.

Failing to comply with the ban is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years’ prison, a $63,000 fine, or both.

Are Victorians especially banned?

There is nothing to exclude Victorians, currently under Stage 3 and 4 restrictions, from applying to leave Australia.

The Victorian government directs residents to federal government advice regarding overseas trips.

However, Victorians would also need to comply with or seek exemptions from state-based restrictions (including for travel to the airport, for example) where an exemption was granted.

What are the problems with the ban?

Usually when governments pass legislation, they provide definitions of key terms. However, no definitions for any exemptions are included in the travel ban determination, which was made by Hunt and not reviewed by parliament.

What exemptions like “urgent and unavoidable personal business” cover is unclear, to say the least (luxury yacht, anyone?).

Grounded Qantas planes against Sydney skyline.
The ban on overseas travel was introduced in March as the coronavirus crisis took hold in Australia.
Biance De Marchi/AAP

There have been repeated stories of Australians having enormous difficulties getting permission to see family and loved ones overseas. Although recent reports suggest the process is becoming easier.

One woman reported difficulty meeting the “compassionate grounds” exemption because her dying step-parent was not in hospital, due to a choice to spend his last days at home. Another received three different responses to the same request.




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Applicants must provide sufficient documentation, but it is also unclear what documents are required. People whose documents are not in English must have them officially translated as part of an application. Those in distressed or bereaved states must nonetheless gather complex documentary evidence, which may include death certificates, or proof of an event or relationship.

Due to this lack of clarity, some people are seeking the advice of migration agents to help them leave Australia.

This adds to the ever-growing costs of mobility during the pandemic, while creating the extraordinary circumstance where legal advice is needed to help residents and citizens depart their own country.

When will the ban end?

Australia’s complete travel ban has not been adopted in similar countries. In New Zealand, Canada and Britain, overseas travel is strongly advised against but not banned.

Other countries to have completely prohibited travel include Kazakhstan, Lithuania and Uzbekistan.




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Australia’s ban will automatically cease when the “biosecurity emergency period” is declared over, unless revoked beforehand.

But while the the current period runs until September 17, it is likely to be extended. In June, Hunt warned borders will remained closed for a “very significant” amount of time.

Although he also described Australia as an “island sanctuary”, it’s unlikely the many people held on either side of its borders feel the same way.The Conversation

Anthea Vogl, Senior lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Can I cross the NSW-Victoria border? There are exemptions, but you’ll need a very good reason


Jon Iredell, University of Sydney

The NSW-Victorian border will be closed as of midnight Tuesday this week, the NSW and Victorian premiers have announced, in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The announcement comes amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Victoria, which has returned several postcodes to Stage 3 Stay-At-Home restrictions and instituted a “hard lockdown” in at least nine Melbourne tower blocks.

In a press conference on Monday morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said people seeking an exemption to the temporary border closure will be able to apply through the Service NSW portal.

It’s good exemptions are available – but it’s crucial these options are not abused. The exemption option is there for people who really need it but please don’t treat it as a challenge.

We all have a shared responsibility to do all we can to limit the spread of COVID-19. That means staying home if unwell, practising physical distancing where warranted, washing hands diligently and getting tested if you have any COVID-19 symptoms.


The Conversation, CC BY-ND

What we know about exemptions to the border closure

In her press conference, Berejiklian said

Tomorrow midnight is when all Victorians will be prevented from coming across the border unless they have a permit […] The next 72 hours will be difficult, for some people who normally travel across the border for their daily lives will be restrained until we get the permit system in place and we hope that will happen in the next two days.

When asked about people who already had flights or train trips booked, Berejiklian said

There will always be exemptions due to hardship cases, people can apply for permits or exemptions. And so, for those reasons, we anticipate there will still be some flights and trains services available. There will also be NSW residents returning home […] we will be relying on them to self-isolate.

In the same press conference, NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said:

it will be difficult, not impossible, but difficult to make that crossing. There will be delays whilst we work through who are essential workers.

Victorians in NSW would be allowed to return to Victoria, the ABC reports. A NSW government press release said “NSW residents returning from a Melbourne hotspot are already required to go into 14 days of self-isolation. This requirement will be extended to anyone returning from Victoria. This will be backed by heavy penalties and fines.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said:

There will be a facility for people who live on those border communities to be able to travel to and from for the purposes of work, the purposes of the essential health services they might need… [but holidays would] not be an acceptable reason.

Infectious diseases clinicians and researchers in my field realise this will be frustrating for many people, especially as it comes during school holidays. But the risk of cross border transmission is very real.

Please don’t treat the border closure as a challenge, or seek exemption unless you have a very good reason to do so. Many of us will miss out on much-anticipated family catch-ups and events; it is sad but necessary, unfortunately. Any cross-border movement increases risk and we all have a responsibility to do what we can to minimise it. It’s not even a law enforcement issue; it’s about doing what’s right.

Everyone feels frustrated but moving across the border right now really does magnify risk and we risk losing control.

It’s possible to have trivial or even no symptoms but still be capable of spreading COVID-19.

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Don’t dismiss it as ‘just a cough’

Australians have a culture of soldiering on when sick and dismissing symptoms as “just a cough” or “just a runny nose”. We really need to change that mindset and make sure we get tested if we have any symptoms at all, and physically distance from others.

The key messages are to wash hands and if you’re at all unwell, cover your cough and face, stay home, self-isolate and get tested.

Testing in Australia is phenomenally available. We are so lucky to have such great testing facilities so easily accessible and we should avail ourselves of them.

The risk is if we don’t observe the border closures sensibly, minimise spread and test appropriately we will do excessive damage to the economy or lose control of the outbreak – or both.




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The Conversation


Jon Iredell, Professor, Medicine and Microbiology (conjoint), University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Australia should strengthen its privacy laws and remove exemptions for politicians


David Vaile, UNSW

As revelations continue to unfold about the misuse of personal data by Cambridge Analytica, many Australians are only just learning that Australian politicians have given themselves a free kick to bypass privacy laws.

Indeed, Australian data privacy laws are generally weak when compared with those in the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union. They fall short in both specific exemptions for politicians, and because individuals cannot enforce laws even where they do exist.




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While Australia’s major political parties have denied using the services of Cambridge Analytica, they do engage in substantial data operations – including the Liberal Party’s use of the i360 app in the recent South Australian election. How well this microtargeting of voters works to sway political views is disputed, but the claims are credible enough to spur demand for these tools.

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Greens leader Richard di Natale told RN Breakfast this morning that political parties “shouldn’t be let off the hook”:

All political parties use databases to engage with voters, but they’re exempt from privacy laws so there’s no transparency about what anybody’s doing. And that’s why it’s really important that we go back, remove those exemptions, ensure that there’s some transparency, and allow people to decide whether they think it’s appropriate.

Why should politicians be exempt from privacy laws?

The exemption for politicians was introduced way back in the Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Bill 2000. The Attorney-General at the time, Daryl Williams, justified the exemption on the basis that freedom of political communication was vital to Australia’s democratic process. He said the exemption was:

…designed to encourage that freedom and enhance the operation of the electoral and political process in Australia.

Malcolm Crompton, the then Privacy Commissioner, argued against the exemption, stating that political institutions:

…should follow the same practices and principles that are required in the wider community.

Other politicians from outside the two main parties, such as Senator Natasha Stott Despoja in 2006, have tried to remove the exemptions for similar reasons, but failed to gain support from the major parties.

What laws are politicians exempt from?

Privacy Act

The Privacy Act gives you control over the way your personal information is handled, including knowing why your personal information is being collected, how it will be used, and to whom it will be disclosed. It also allows to you to make a complaint (but not take legal action) if you think your personal information has been mishandled.

“Registered political parties” are exempt from the operation of the Privacy Act 1998, and so are the political “acts and practices” of certain entities, including:

  • political representatives — MPs and local government councillors;
  • contractors and subcontractors of registered political parties and political representatives; and
  • volunteers for registered political parties.

This means that if a company like Cambridge Analytica was contracted to a party or MP in Australia, their activities may well be exempt.




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Spam Act

Under the Spam Act 2003, organisations cannot email you advertisements without your request or consent. They must also include an unsubscribe notice at the end of a spam message, which allows you to opt out of unwanted repeat messaging. However, the Act says that it has no effect on “implied freedom of political communication”.

Do Not Call Register

Even if you have your number listed on the Do Not Call Register, a political party or candidate can authorise a call to you, at home or at work, if one purpose is fundraising. It also permits other uses.

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How do Australian privacy laws fall short?

No right to sue

Citizens can sue for some version of a breach of privacy in the UK, EU, US, Canada and even New Zealand. But there is still no constitutional or legal right that an individual (or class) can enforce over intrusion of privacy in Australia.

After exhaustive consultations in 2008 and 2014, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) recommended a modest and carefully limited statutory tort – a right to dispute a serious breach of privacy in court. However, both major parties effectively rejected the ALRC recommendation.

No ‘legal standing’ in the US

Legal standing refers to the right to be a party to legal proceedings. As the tech giants that are most adept at gathering and using user data – Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon – are based in the US, Australians generally do not have legal standing to bring action against them if they suspect a privacy violation. EU citizens, by contrast, have the benefit of the Judicial Redress Act 2015 (US) for some potential misuses of cloud-hosted data.

Poor policing of consent agreements

Consent agreements – such as the terms and conditions you agree to when you sign up for a service, such as Gmail or Messenger – waive rights that individuals might otherwise enjoy under privacy laws. In its response to the Cambridge Analytica debacle, Facebook claims that users consented to the use of their data.




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But these broad user consent agreements are not policed strictly enough in Australia. It’s known as “bad consent” when protective features are absent from these agreements. By contrast, a “good consent” agreement should be simple, safe and precautionary by default. That means it should be clear about its terms and give users the ability to enforce them, should not be variable, and should allow users to revoke consent at any time.

New laws introduced by the EU – the General Data Protection Regulation – which come into effect on May 25, are an example of how countries can protect their citizens’ data offshore.

Major parties don’t want change

Privacy Commissioner Tim Pilgrim said today in The Guardian that the political exemption should be reconsidered. In the past, independents and minor party representatives have objected to the exemption, as well as the weakness of Australian privacy laws more generally. In 2001, the High Court said that there should be a right to sue for privacy breach.




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But both Liberal and Labor are often in tacit agreement to do nothing substantial about privacy rights. They have not taken up the debates around the collapse of IT security, nor the increase in abuse of the “consent” model, the dangers of so called “open data”, or the threats from artificial intelligence, Big Data, and metadata retention.

The ConversationOne might speculate that this is because they share a vested interest in making use of voter data for the purpose of campaigning and governing. It’s now time for a new discussion about the rules around privacy and politics in Australia – one in which the privacy interests of individuals are front and centre.

David Vaile, Teacher of cyberspace law, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.