Returning citizens who live abroad will need an exemption to leave Australia

Health Minister Greg Hunt

Last Thursday, the federal government ‘quietly’ passed an amendment to legislation to deny Australians who normally live in other countries, from returning home without a border force exemption.

Until now, residents of other countries who are Australian are allowed to leave the country without applying for an exemption.

The government’s rule change, effective from August 11, means a person will have to demonstrate to the Australian Border Force Commissioner a “compelling reason for needing to leave Australian territory”, according to the government’s explanatory statement tabled in Parliament.

It’s a change that’s come under fire and comes on top of Australia’s other controversial and ‘go it alone’ measures to ban its citizens, temporary visa holders, permanent residents and dual citizens from leaving the country, without having a compelling reason to do so.

Australia is also alone in the world in locking out its citizens through a cap on the number of people who can enter the country in a single week – recently halved to around 3000 at the request of several Labor premiers.

The knock-on effect is a waitlist of more than 35,000 Australians around the world who are trying to get home at any one time but can’t because of the restrictions on hotel quarantine spaces and exorbitant airfares.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the change was introduced out of consistency and to close a ‘loophole’. “This does not stop Australians ordinarily resident outside Australia from departing. However, these people will now need to apply for an exemption,” she said.

The amendment, which cannot be disallowed, “will reduce the pressure on Australia’s quarantine capacity, reduce the risks posed to the Australian population from COVID-19, and assist in returning vulnerable Australians back home,” the government said.

“The exemption’s regime is based on health advice and enables people to travel if essential, but is ultimately about keeping Australians safe from overseas COVID transmission.”

Exemptions can be granted for business travel, but the government has previously said it intends to clamp down on the number of them being granted.

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