Letter from Australia 107 – What Really Happened with Novak Djokovic?
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Do you want some good news? We passed our RAT tests yesterday and so now have permission to travel to Tasmania. That means for the next couple of weeks Annabel and I will be on holiday. It’s over two and a half years since we have had a holiday, so it is something that is really needed and looked forward to. I’m not sure holiday means for you – but for me it means lots of reading, relaxing, recreation and just generally chilling out. It’s a time for recharging batteries. Mine are worn down! I was supposed to be speaking at a youth conference in the Blue Mountains this weekend, but unlike the infamous Hillsong one, it was cancelled. Maybe I dodged a bullet?!
The newspapers and media throughout the world are full of the Djokovic saga – today – tomorrow they will move on to something else. But I think that this case is not as trivial as its brief news saturation suggests. It is something that reveals a great deal about the direction of Western democracy in general and Australian democracy in particular.
In order to get the wider picture, it is important to get the facts right – and not just rely on the memes and titbits we pick up from social media.
The Story So Far
In summary Novak Djokovic, who refuses to reveal his vaccination status, wanted to come and defend his Australian Open tennis title. In order to come to Australia, you have to have been double vaccinated, however there are exemptions. Djokovic applied for one, and after two independent panels met, they ruled he should be given one. Tennis Australia and the Victorian government agreed – and so the Federal government granted him a visa. Djokovic was delighted and made the mistake of tweeting his delight. There was political pushback in Australia and the usual outrage from the Twittering classes. Scott Morrison and the Australian government, who had granted the visa, then started making noises about the documentation and lo and behold, when Djokovic arrived at Melbourne airport, he was detained, and his visa was cancelled. At the beginning of last week, he challenged this and won his court case. But the Australian immigration minister, Alan Hawke, has the arbitrary power to throw people out of the country whenever he wants – if he deems they are somehow a threat to the country. He took four days until at 6pm on Friday he decided to revoke Djokovic’s visa again – this time on “health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”. Djokovic appealed and the Federal Court on Sunday rejected his appeal – and so after ten days the reigning champion has gone home. He has behaved with a degree of dignity which his self-righteous accusers would do well to emulate
So what does this all this mean?
To be clear this decision was not made because Djokovic lied, or because he is arrogant, or because he tried to cheat the system, or because he is rich. It has nothing to do with him moving house to Spain or speaking at an event in Serbia after contracting Covid. These are the reasons I have heard many people, including Christians, say why they support Djokovic’s ban. But these are completely irrelevant – as is the ‘well, I don’t like him’ one. Why? Because the government said so. They said that Djokovic did not lie on his form, that he did not seek to game the system. They have given their reasons and we should believe them. Or should we?
A Health Risk to Australians?
It is hard to take seriously a government that takes four days to argue that one of the fittest athletes in the world is a health risk to Australians – this in a country where two-thirds of adults are obese or overweight! Given that there were one million cases of Covid in Australia in the past ten days, it is hard to argue that someone who doesn’t have Covid is going to be some kind of existential threat.
But what about the ‘good order’? The government made the argument that allowing Djokovic to stay would reinforce those who are opposed to vaccinations. Again, it is hard to take this argument seriously – not least because many of the few who are anti-vaxxers are so on the grounds that they believe it shows an authoritarian government seeking to impose its will upon individuals. For the government to then act in such an authoritarian way kind of proves their point. In fact, it is the government’s actions which go against the health and good order of the nation. The anti-vax sentiment will have been fuelled and strengthened by the government’s actions, more than Djokovic’s.
Is being Anti-Vax now a Crime?
There is another disturbing aspect to this. The government’s lawyers cited a BBC article from two years ago as there only evidence for Djokovic being a dangerous anti-vaxxer. Djokovic had said at that time he was opposed to vaccination but also that he was ‘no expert’ and would ‘keep an open mind’. He also wanted the ‘option to choose what is best for my body’. There was a time – two years ago – when every Western government accepted that enforced vaccination was a basic breach of human rights. In theory Australia still holds that position. In reality we have now reached a stage where expressing that opinion is seen as dangerous to the public health. The Australian Lawyers’ Alliance put it well: “One of the most dangerous aspects of the matter is the preparedness of the federal government to deem someone a risk to public order simply on the basis of what it perceives that person’s views might be.”
It is actually even worse than that. There was a time when left wingers like myself thought that we stood for freedom, justice and against government tyranny. But one thing Covid has done – is turn todays elitist left-wingers into authoritarians that Stalin would be proud of. The judgement of the federal court should send a shiver down the spine of everyone who believes in the rule of law – and in equality of the law for all. The federal court has determined that the immigration minister has the right to deport anyone he wants on the basis that he thinks they ‘might’, ‘could’ or ‘may be’ a perceived threat to the health of the nation. He doesn’t have to prove anything. He just has to think it and say it. In effect that gives him carte blanche over people like me – aliens who in effect have no rights. We can be removed at a whim. It is not inconceivable in the future that someone who has let’s say, the ‘wrong’ view on whether men can become women, could be removed by an immigration minister because they are a perceived threat. This is an alarming development which the commentators on the SMH, Australian and ABC seem oblivious to. Woe betides any immigrant who the immigration minister regards as a non-desirable. The law does not protect them.
“The Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders. Particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic”. It takes a special degree of special pleading to argue that expelling Djokovic will do anything to help deal with the Covid 19 pandemic. This is far more about protecting the Morrison government in an election year, than it is about protecting the borders.
The naked political cynicism and opportunism of this is stunning. I don’t believe that the government is wicked – it’s just incredibly weak – driven here and there by every wind of political opinion – as expressed in opinion polls, social media and the mainstream media.
Why do you think that Mr Hawke waited until 6pm on Friday to make his announcement? He didn’t have to gather the facts. Was he waiting to see which way the opinion polls were blowing? Was he seeking to limit the reaction time?
When you read in the SMH that 70% of Australians support Djokovic’s deportation, and that the Australian and most media commentators are on the same page, perhaps you might think this is a winner for the Morrison government. But I suspect it is a political miscalculation. Many of those who support the deportation would never vote for the Morrison government. And many of those who are against would normally be inclined to vote for it – but now may have second thoughts. Why vote for an authoritarian ‘conservative’ government, any more than an authoritarian ‘progressive’ government? Is there any substantive difference? Morrison made this decision based on a political calculation. I fear he has got his sums wrong – and it could be that the Djokovic decision will be the nail in his political coffin. Those who live by the Mob, die by the Mob.
The Real Victims
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected.” Scott Morrison.
Of all the statements made during this farce I find this one the most offensive. Does the Prime Minister really believe that my being unable to visit my dying father because of his rules is compensated for by his expelling Djokovic? Does he really have such a low opinion of his fellow citizens that he thinks our motivation is to ensure that if we suffer, then everyone else should have to suffer as well? Besides which most of us did not ‘make sacrifices’ – at least voluntarily. We were compelled. We were generally not given the option. We were treated like North Koreans not Swedes.
One thing that this case should have highlighted – and it would have been good if Djokovic had done so – is the appalling way that Australia treats refugees in order to, as Mr Morrison says ‘to protect our borders’. The Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told the BBC that Djokovic had been ‘tortured and tormented’ and ‘treated like a mass murderer’. Djokovic was there for a couple of days. There are refugees who have been imprisoned, with their families, for nine years – in appalling conditions. My daughter had told me that she could never vote for ScoMo because of his record on this issue. To be honest I had thought she was exaggerating a bit – or at least I didn’t listen. I apologise. I was wrong. The way that Australia treats some refugees is inhumane. The fact that Scott Morrison is a professing Christian makes it doubly embarrassing that he has not made it a priority to deal with this. The Christian position is to argue for ‘the least of these’. Just because you deal with the perceived rich and powerful does not give you a right to deal with the poor unjustly. Think about this. The Federal Court usually takes weeks, sometimes months or even years to deal with refugee cases. But Djokovic was dealt with in days. As one judge said, someone was doing some very heavy leaning.
Let’s not pretend that everyone in Australia is treated equally. Or that the rule of law applies equally to all. This is now officially a country where the government can expel you for having the wrong opinions. This is a country where political power overrules the rule of law.
There is a great insight in Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who is There, where he points out that when a system as a system is wrong, then ‘good’ people just get caught up in that and unless the system is changed, they can do little good. But systems are excellent at self-preservation. We see this is churches, companies, civic organisations and countries. I think that the Djokovic case has shown some of the systemic wrongs in the Australian system (echoed in other Western countries). We have cynical politics, manipulative media, mob rule, the worship of mammon, and a weak leadership. Having rejected the basis of Western civilisation, we have not replaced it with anything other than confusion and naked power. As my good lady pointed out a few months ago we are living in the age of the Kings (1 and 2) or perhaps the Judges “In these days there was no king in Israel. Each did what seemed right in his own eyes” (17:6). May the Lord raise up prophets with courage, leaders with integrity and rulers with justice and compassion…
See you in a couple of weeks,
PS. Coffee with Job will renew on the 31st of January…. DV.
PPS. These arrived this week. When I read Manton I am fed and encouraged….The Puritans were men and women who knew the Lord, loved him and knew how to stand for Him in a wicked and perverse generation. Would that we followed their example!
Lessons from the Novak Djokovic Visa Row