Australia’s immigration minister is threatening deportation for some attendees of a large party in Sydney’s eastern suburbs on Christmas Day who breached COVID-19 rules.
But the opposition doubts Alex Hawke could follow through because the government is already having trouble deporting released criminals due to the pandemic and global border restrictions.
“His government has had enough trouble deporting a few convicted criminals, let alone hundreds of backpackers,” Labor immigration spokeswoman Kristina Keneally told AAP on Tuesday.
“These kinds of empty threats can actually do more harm than good and I would encourage the minister to make sure his department can actually do what he says.”
Mr Hawke earlier said he was “shocked at the scenes” from Bronte Beach where the crowd breached social distancing and other rules imposed due to a virus outbreak in Sydney’s north.
Some of the party are believed to be backpackers who remained in Australia during the coronavirus pandemic, or expatriates mostly from the UK.
“Under the Migration Act, if someone is threatening public safety or health their visa can be cancelled or revoked,” Mr Hawke told Sydney Radio 2GB.
“The federal government is looking at that issue.”
The Department of Home Affairs is apparently working with NSW authorities in the lead up to New Year to make sure people do the right thing, he added.
“We’re very happy to deport people if people are flagrantly disobeying public health orders,” Mr Hawke said.
Asked for her reaction, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she wasn’t sure how far the federal government had gone down that path.
“That is a matter for them and we would support whatever decision they think is appropriate,” she said.
Senator Keneally said everyone in Australia, including foreigners, should follow health directions or “face the consequences”.
At present people can be fined or face potential jail sentences for breaches of health orders.
NSW is trying to suppress a COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney’s northern breaches, which has now grown to a cluster of 129 cases.
The area will remain in lockdown into the new year after three new cases of community transmission were confirmed on Tuesday.
A plan to give frontline coronavirus workers from around NSW prime seats to watch Sydney’s famous harbour New Year’s Eve fireworks has also been cancelled.
“It’s too much of a health risk having people from the regions and from Sydney and from broader regional areas congregate all in the CBD,” Ms Berejiklian said on Monday.
Victoria on Tuesday marked 60 days without any cases of community transmission after winning the battle against a second wave outbreak earlier this year.
Australia’s death toll from coronavirus is 909, after a NSW man in his 70s who was infected with COVID-19 in March recently died of respiratory complications.