Border closure could result in Australia becoming a ‘pariah’ in the international community

Late last year, Australia’s international border was finally opened, prompting meetings and relief at airports across the country.

But as images of families kissing in tears played on morning news programs, Emma Cochrane couldn’t bring herself to watch.

The mother-of-two and her chief husband have made Perth their home since 2018 and are on a bridging visa while they wait for their permanent residency to be processed.

Transition B visa holders are not included in the list of people allowed to enter and re-enter Australia freely, which includes citizens, permanent residents, international students and backpackers.

There is also a travel bubble with Singapore, Japan and South Korea.

“We can’t bring our family here, and we can’t go see our family abroad.

“I can’t risk going overseas and risk getting stuck. My husband has a job here, his business is counting on him to come back to Australia.”

Emma Cochrane has called Perth home since 2018.(ABC News: Glyn Jones)

If she left Australia to visit family in England, Ms Cochrane would have to apply for an exemption to re-enter, which most other visa holders do not have to.

She has requested exemptions 14 times to leave and bring her triple-vaccinated parents to Australia.

All exemption requests were denied.

“I am frustrated and annoyed that bridge visa holders are not included in this,” she said at 7:30 a.m.

“Australia stands to lose skills, critical skills…because they are so inflexible with this exemption. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Arguments for Fortress Australia are ‘much weaker’

Home Affairs said at 7:30 a.m. that the remaining travel restrictions “balance the need to reopen safely… with the need to protect Australians from COVID-19”.

The statement also said border policies have contributed to low death rates, a strong economy and high vaccination rates.

Fully vaccinated tourists – who may be relatives or friends of Australian citizens and residents – are also not allowed to enter Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a Brisbane radio station last week that he hoped the international border would be open to tourists “well before Easter”.

University of Sydney professor and former race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said closing borders no longer makes as much sense as it did at the start of the pandemic.

A man in a suit poses for a photo in what looks like a sandstone university hall
Professor Tim Soutphommasane warns Australia risks becoming a ‘pariah of the international community’ if borders remain closed.(ABC News: Stephanie Dalzell)

“With a highly vaccinated population, with vaccines that have been shown to offer strong protection, the case for Fortress Australia has become much weaker,” Soutphommasane said at 7:30 a.m.

“Our society [has] built by migration and migrants make an important contribution to our economy, our society and even our culture.

Epidemiologist Catherine Bennett of Deakin University also argues that the risk of people arriving from overseas has dropped significantly as the Omicron variant spreads.

“If you talk about the border as a levee wall and you have so much water on the other side… it makes no difference to the risk to the individual or to the countries as long as we are still monitoring people who are not vaccinated,” Prof Bennett said.

For Emma Cochrane, she does not want her daughters to grow up without recognizing or knowing their grandparents.

Watch this story at 7:30 p.m. tonight on ABC TV and ABC iview.

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