How Novak Djokovic got any sort of exemption to get into Australia remains a mystery. Despite claims from Tennis Australia that Djokovic’s exemption was the result of a blind selection process, it smacks of special pleading—one rule for celebrities and another for citizens, refugees and others who still cannot come here.
If Djokovic had been an au pair who had the immigration minister’s number when he landed perhaps none of this would have happened.
Morrison no doubt thinks cancelling Djokovic’s visa is a popular move and a great diversion from the complete fiasco of the cost and availability of rapid antigen tests or RATs.
But whatever we think of Djokovic, the fiasco surrounding his visa cancellation and subsequent detention has thrown a light on the arbitrary abyss that is the Australian immigration system.
Someone in Immigration approved Djokovic’s visa before he got onto the plane in Doha. He got on the plane understanding that the Australian government had approved his entry. In that regard, Djokovic was duped.
Visa cancellation is a little-known immigration power that is far more devastating when it is wielded at the border against people seeking asylum. Border Force is known to have cancelled the visas of Saudi women fleeing violence, putting the women on planes back to Saudi Arabia.
Border Force agents also prowl departure lounges of international airports looking for potential asylum-seekers whose visas can be cancelled.
Even when there is enough legal and community support to prevent Border Force putting asylum-seekers on a plane, they can spend months and years in immigration detention.
Around three-quarters of people in detention in Australia are what’s called 501s, permanent residents and other non-citizens whose visas have been cancelled (under section 501 of the Migration Act) after being sentenced to imprisonment for 12 months or longer. The immigration minister has broad powers to cancel visas on character grounds for those with lesser sentences or even none.
Detaining Djokovic in the Park Hotel in Melbourne has also meant that almost every TV report and international article highlighting the plight of Djokovic has also highlighted the plight of the 36 Medevac refugees who are still in that hotel-prison more than two years after the government brought them to Australia following six years of detention in PNG and Nauru.
Now refugees detained in the Park are demanding that Djokovic be released. Adnan Choopani, an ex-Manus refugee, told American TV, “I don’t wish detention for nobody … detention places are the same as hell.”
Morrison is making a song and dance about Djokovic just as he faces growing criticism for refusing to make RATs free, as Omicron cases explode across Australia.
Astonishingly, while upholding the right of supermarkets and chemist shops to make profits from selling the test, the government has had to admit that it has not ordered enough tests to be able to provide them free.
Jane Halton, former COVID-19 commissioner and health department head, said, “The fact that supplies aren’t currently available is clearly problematic.”
Morrison is responsible for both the fiasco surrounding Djokovic and for the on-going incarceration of the Medevac refugees.
He has tried to insist that there are no special rules but everywhere you look Morrison is master of the double standards—first Djokovic was granted a visa and then had it cancelled. Now Border Force has retrospectively cancelled the visas of two other tennis players to make it look like the government has been consistent.
There is one rule for non-citizens who can have their visas cancelled and face indefinite detention, and another for citizens, who don’t.
Some Medevac refugees have been freed to live in the Australian community but some remain in hotel-prison and detention centres.
Under the Coalition, refugees who arrive by boat will never be entitled to permanent visas or family reunion while refugees selected under Australia’s humanitarian program are permanent residents and wealthy businesspeople can essentially buy visas.
With COVID, there is one rule for those who can afford RAT tests and another for those who can’t.
Morrison champions “can-do capitalism” but capitalism relies on there being one rule for the rich and another for the poor.
It is ironic that it’s taken a celebrity tennis player, Novak Djokovic, to throw a light on the corrupt immigration system that Morrison runs.
Long after Djokovic has left Australia and taken up residence in one or other luxury hotel, we will need to fight Morrison, and the system, to free every refugee and asylum-seeker still left in detention.
By Ian Rintoul