While we’re free to travel to New Zealand, those who abuse the travel bubble will be subject to criminal prosecution.
The Australia/New Zealand bilateral ‘travel bubble’ came into effect on 19 April 2021, enabling Australian residents to travel across the Tasman without having to obtain authorisation from the government.
But in a pre-emptive move to prevent citizens and permanent residents from using our Kiwi neighbour as a stepping stone to other countries, Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Greg Hunt invoked his powers under sections 44(2) and 477(1) of the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth) to make the Biosecurity Legislation (Human Coronavirus with Pandemic Potential) Amendment (No. 1) Determination 2021 (the Determination).
The Minister’s Determination amends the Biosecurity (Entry Requirements—Human Coronavirus with Pandemic Potential) Determination 2020 to require Australian citizens and permanent residents who travel from Australia to New Zealand pursuant to the ‘travel bubble’, and then on to another country, to provide a signed statement to officials on their return to Australia declaring that they: Left Australia to travel to New Zealand, and travelled to the foreign country or countries for a ‘compassionate reason’ or ‘urgent medical treatment that was not reasonably available in Australia or New Zealand’.
The statement must also provide the traveller’s name, date of birth, passport number, phone number in Australia, intended address in Australia, email address and flight number, as well as information regarding: Whether he or she has ‘signs or symptoms of human coronavirus with pandemic potential, and whether he or she has been exposed to human coronavirus with pandemic potential in the past 14 days.
The Determination does not provide a list of what may constitute a compassionate reason for travelling to another country from New Zealand. However, Note 1 of the Determination states: ‘an example of a compassionate reason for an individual is the death or serious illness of a close family member of the individual or of a close family member of the spouse or de facto partner of the individual’.
There is no such guidance as to ‘urgent medical treatment that was not reasonably available in Australia or New Zealand’.
What are the potential consequences of breaching the rules?
Breaching the Determination carries potential consequences under both the Biosecurity Act 2015 and the Criminal Code Act 1995. Section 479 of the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth) makes it a criminal offence punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a fine of 300 penalty units (or $63,000, as a Commonwealth penalty unit is currently $210) to contravene a direction made under section 477 of the Act – which is the section pursuant to which the Health Minister made the relevant Determination.
In addition to this, section 532 of the Act prescribes a civil penalty of up to 60 penalty units (currently $12,600) for giving information in compliance or purported compliance with the Act while knowing the information is false or misleading or by omitting any matter or thing without which the information is misleading.
Section 533 of the Act imposes the same 60 penalty units maximum penalty for producing a document to another person in compliance or purported compliance with the Act while knowing that the document is false or misleading.