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First things first: no reasonable person would challenge the view that during a pandemic any country has the right to impose immigration rules intended to stop the spread of the pathogen and to safeguard the health of the population. This piece is NOT about Australia’s approach to the COVID-19 outbreak, its immigration rules or its sovereign rights.
What I’m writing about here is Australia’s recent failure to comply with its own international commitments, be them big (like the submarine deal with France) or small (like granting to Novak Djokovic an exemption in order to be able to participate at the Australian Open). Incidentally such behavior is one of the defining features of self-proclaimed exceptionalism, a moral and legal failure for which the British Empire was known only too well.
Most of the international community was shocked in mid-September 2021 when Australia announced it would work with the US and the UK to acquire at least eight nuclear-powered submarines in a partnership (subsequently) known as AUKUS. France temporarily recalled its ambassadors from Australia and the US in protest. In short, Australia scrapped the $90bn submarine deal with France claiming it now needed nuclear submarines (to be built in Adelaide) despite the fact that it had specifically requested conventional (non-nuclear) submarines when signing the deal with France’s Naval Group. Things went so far that Australia’s former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared “This is an appalling episode in Australia’s international affairs and the consequences of it will endure to our disadvantage for a very long time.”
The dust settled quite fast over Australia’s AUKUS diplomatic debacle, as during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic the general public showed very little interest in big international disputes, particularly between countries which are essentially on the same side. But just after the 2022 New Year came a story that struck much closer to the general public’s interest: the unvaccinated Novak Djokovic, today’s tennis super-star, was granted an exception from Australia’s Draconian anti-COVID immigration rules in order to be able to compete at this year’s Australian Open and possibly become the sole holder of the Grand Slam record with 21 wins. The social-media exploded, with many people around the world voicing disappointment over Australia “bending the rules” for the rich and famous and attacking Djokovic for using his celebrity status in order to do what common folk cannot do. Many other people were quite prompt in using this case as a ground to challenge the COVID-19 restrictions, particularly in Australia where the measures taken by the government were quite harsh.
Under the public scrutiny, the Australian authorities (federal and state, plus the AO organizers) found themselves in a very uncomfortable spot, but the “solution” they found was even worse than the problem they had created: Novak Djokovic was held in a room for eight hours upon landing in Australia. He was first questioned without being allowed access to his mobile phone, then he was given back his phone after the Serbian embassy got involved. All this happened while on Instagram Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vučić vowed to „fight” for Djokovic to be able to enter Australia, and said he would use all diplomatic avenues available to Serbia to help the player. In the meantime, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison went out to declare that „Entry with a visa requires double vaccination or a medical exemption,” adding „I am advised that such an exemption was not in place, and as such he is subject to the same rules “
Of course, the major problem is that Djokovic WAS granted a medical exemption and invited to compete at 2022 AO and the irregularity claimed by Australia’s border control appears to have been selecting the wrong type of visa.
Subsequently Novak Djokovic was denied entry but being one of sport’s multi-millionaires he lawyered up and is now challenging the deportation order in court, while stuck in a quarantine hotel. The problem with that being that the courts could drag their feet long enough to make it impossible for Djokovic to compete at 2022 Australian Open, then declare the visa debacle a border control error and grant the Serbian a totally useless Australia trip. This way Scott Morrison’s bidding could be done while maintaining a shred of rule of law appearance.
Regardless how the Djokovic saga will end, it becomes painfully clear now that within 5 short months Australia managed to appear in two very different instances as a country that fails spectacularly to comply with its international obligations, be them a $90bn submarine deal with France or a rule exemption granted to a tennis super-star and world celebrity. Imagine for a second that North Korea granted Djokovic a COVID-19 medical exemption and then held him 8 hours at the airport before interning him in a quarantine facility, under “denied entry” status. The whole world would be falling on Kim Jon-Un’s head.
Why is this happening? Why a country generally seen around the world as a well-off, benevolent but out of the way member of the international community is suddenly acting like it lost its moral compass and feels no need to look for it? Citește restul acestei intrări »