Australia is a country that prides itself on mateship. Many Aussies believe they live in a culture that embodies loyalty and helping out a friend.

Bitten by a shark? Don’t worry, your fellow Aussies will risk their lives and swim out to save you.

A bushfire engulfing your home? Brave fireys will risk their lives to save it.

But god forbid you find yourself in the wrong country in a pandemic. In that case you’re on your own, mate.

As of this morning after 18,302 votes, a poll by news.com.au found 70 per cent of them believe the threat to jail and fine Aussies returning from India is fair enough as we need to keep ourselves safe.

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But what of the thousands of Aussies stranded in India amid a crisis that’s worsening every day, a crisis that could see those Aussies potentially die of COVID-19? Why aren’t people worried about keeping them safe?

At the moment we seem to be in the truly bonkers situation where the left and right agree for once.

On Monday, Sky News host Andrew Bolt called out Prime Minister Scott Morrison for announcing that Aussies in India who tried trying to return home would be fined $66,000 and jailed.

“I must now say I am ashamed of Australia, which is making it a crime for Indian Australians to come back home,’’ he said.

“To me, it stinks of racism to tell the 8000 Indian Australians trying to come home that they must stay in India, in what Western Australia’s Premier admitted was the ‘epicentre of death and destruction’.”

Similarly Labor’s Penny Wong said she can see why the government’s India policy could be seen as racist. “Surely Australian citizenship has to mean something,” she added.

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But what of the rest of us? Well they seem to be taking a selfish ‘I’ll be right’ approach.

Yes, you can criticise people for going overseas during a pandemic but they didn’t escape illegally.

As cricket commentator Michael Slater tweeted on Monday: “I had government permission to work on the IPL but I now have government neglect.”

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He’s got a point. Why even have Australian citizenship and play by the rules if your own country can shut its border to you?

And playing the blame game doesn’t feel very Aussie. Would you blame someone for being bitten while swimming in shark-infested water? Should fireys not help people who live in areas where we know there’s risk of bushfires?

It’s true that we don’t want people arriving here and infecting other citizens with COVID-19 but the Morrison government has had over a year to organise a better alternative to hotel quarantine. COVID isn’t going anywhere and people need to travel – for work, for family, for health reasons – and we can’t keep the border closed forever.

At the moment the Morrison government has stopped commercial flights from India to Australia on health advice from Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly. I’m not saying he should ignore health advice, after all sticking to the advice of experts is what has saved Australia in this pandemic. But announcing he will fine jail and fine citizens for entering Australia from India, while also not announcing a repatriation plan stinks of abandonment to me. Surely he has an obligation to get Aussies home?

So maybe the Morrison government and unsympathetic Aussies need to dig a little bit deeper and find some of that mateship they’re so proud of.

Riah Matthews is the commissioning editor for news.com.au

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