Gerard Rennick, Matt Canavan and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (Images: AAP)

The Coalition is facing grumbling discontent from its conservative flank over a decision to impose criminal penalties on people returning from India. Queensland LNP Senator Gerard Rennick is the latest to break ranks over the issue, telling Crikey he disagrees with the government’s travel ban.

“I don’t think we have an obligation to get people home right away, but we can’t stop them if they’re Australian citizens,” Rennick said. “It just sets a terrible precedent.”

He joins a growing list of conservative Coalition MPs to openly criticise the ban.

On Monday, Queensland LNP Senator Matt Canavan, best known for his coal enthusiasm, spoke out against the ban, saying the government should be helping not jailing Australians. NSW Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, from the party’s right flank, also expressed concern about the precedent set by the ban. Overnight, outgoing member for Dawson George Christensen, one of the most conservative MPs in Parliament, also came out against it.

Under the ban, anyone returning to Australia from India could face heavy fines or jail time of up to five years thanks to powers in the Biosecurity Act. The ban has been heavily criticised by human rights organisations and the United Nations. There is a feeling among many in the Indian community that it is motivated by racism.

It’s also copped widespread public anger, including from some surprising places. Far-right commentator Andrew Bolt said the ban “stinks of racism”. Former Australian test cricketer Michael Slater accused the Morrison government of having “blood on its hands”.

Morrison has repeatedly claimed the criminal sanctions won’t be used against anyone returning from India, suggesting Australian Border Force will handle their discretion “sensitively”.

All up, there are now at least eight Coalition MPs who’ve raised concerns about criminalising people returning from India — Liberal moderates such as Fiona Martin and Dave Sharma have also made their discomfort known. There’s also a fair bit of opposition on the crossbench. Nearly the entire lower house crossbench (Craig Kelly excluded) wrote to Morrison asking him to remove the ban. They were joined by independent Rex Patrick and Centre Alliance’s Stirling Griff in the Senate.

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