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Australian court rejects lawsuit claiming that tough Covid-19 restrictions on overseas travel violate human rights

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An Australian court has dismissed a lawsuit challenging a rule that says travelers must apply for special permits if they want to leave the country. 

Since March 2020, Australians have been required to get a special exemption from the government if they want to travel abroad. The only exception to the rule was made in April 2021, when people were allowed to fly to New Zealand without applying for a permit. 

Lobbying group LibertyWorks challenged the travel restrictions after one of its employees failed to get an exemption to travel in late 2020. The Federal Court of Australia dismissed the case on Tuesday.

According to AP, LibertyWorks lawyer Jason Potts argued that the country’s biosecurity laws only allow travel controls to be placed on individuals, rather than on the entire population, and only if the person has symptoms of a disease, was exposed to it, or failed to comply with the travel requirements. Potts also claimed that Australia’s travel restrictions violate the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Australia ratified.

The judges ruled that the lawsuit was based the “erroneous premise that the right [to leave Australia] is absolute.” They added that the country’s lawmakers were aware that the harsh restrictions enshrined in the Biosecurity Act “intrude upon individual rights” when they passed the law in 2015.

Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue told the court in early May that ruling in favor of the plaintiff would impede the government’s ability enforce other health safety regulations, like requiring people to wear masks, according to SBS TV channel.

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LibertyWorks President Andrew Cooper promised to take the case to Australia’s High Court, the highest court in the land. “We continue to believe that the outbound border closure is defective in law and, perhaps more importantly, unjust on human rights grounds,” Cooper said in an email to AP.

“While Europe and most of the world open up their borders, only North Korea and Australia stubbornly continue with strict controls over their citizen’s ability to leave their country,” Cooper said.

Last month, the Federal Court rejected a case against a controversial order that had temporarily banned thousands of Australians from returning home from India. The lawsuit, which was also taken up by LibertyWorks, was filed by a 73-year-old man from Melbourne who was seeing friends in India but was later prevented from going back to Australia. The travel ban was eventually lifted.

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