Novak Djokovic affair exposes Australia’s Covid policy as hysterical and paranoid

After two years of fiercely policed lockdowns and restrictions, Australians, like Britons, feel rightly outraged when they perceive one rule for the elites – be they participants in the G20 and COP26 jamborees, Hollywood celebrities or tennis stars – and another for the rest of us.

But Novak Djokovic did everything by the rules and deserves an apology for the treatment he’s received. The Australian government’s attempt to cancel his visa smacks of playing to the crowd.

The Djokovic affair will sadly feed international perceptions that Australia, long rightly seen as a land of robust common sense, has become hysterical and paranoid in response to the pandemic.

Australia still deserves credit for its early, efficient response to the virus, and its recent lightning-speed vaccine roll-out. But this soon turned into an obsession with achieving zero-Covid, leading to absurdly disproportionate over-reactions such as entire cities and states being locked down over handfuls of cases and Australians long being denied the right to leave or enter the country.

The Morrison government claims that to enter Australia you need not only a visa but to meet separate Covid ‘entry requirements’, which are policed only on arrival. This is ridiculous.

As happens with other countries, all entry requirements should be sorted out before the visa is issued and the visitor steps on the plane – as Djokovic clearly did.

Federal judge Anthony Kelly has salvaged some of Australia’s reputation over the affair by overruling the government’s cancellation of Djokovic’s visa.

In doing so, he noted the shabby treatment Djokovic received at the hands of border officials on arrival in Melbourne, who cancelled his visa without allowing him an opportunity to speak first to Tennis Australia and urged him, on the basis of a ‘spurious rationale’, not to get in touch with his lawyers.

Despite a judge freeing Djokovic early yesterday, the federal immigration minister has the authority to cancel Djokovic’s visa a second time – which would have the indefensible effect of banning Djokovic from visiting Australia for three years.

When you’re in a hole, don’t keep digging.

As Clive James famously said, the problem with Australians is not that so many of them are descended from convicts, but that so many are descended from prison officers. We can only hope that the pandemic is on the wane and that we’ll soon be able to focus again soon on the likes of Djokovic on the tennis court rather than in courts of law.

Mark Higgie was Australia’s ambassador to the EU and international advisor to former prime minister Tony Abbott

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