Since the pandemic began, Australia has waged war against Covid with a zero-tolerance policy that was almost victorious until Delta and Omicron breached Fortress Australia and is now spreading like wildfire across Melbourne and Sydney.
Rather than be vanquished by draconian lockdowns, it appears the virus has exacted its own revenge by eradicating the laidback rule-breaking larrikin spirit that Australians have lionised for generations as the essence of the Aussie ethos.
From the bushranger Ned Kelly who built a suit of armor from stolen ploughshares and vowed to establish a republic in the Victorian scrub, to comedian Paul Hogan of “throw another shrimp on the barbie” fame, irreverent anti-authoritarianism has been celebrated as an archetypical Australian trait.
The pandemic seems to have well and truly quashed that sentiment as Australians dutifully obeyed at times draconian and nonsensical rules in the name of “doing the right thing”.
Among the more ridiculous of the rules heeded by residents of Melbourne, where Djokovic was due to defend his title at The Australian Open this month, was 9 p.m. curfews and mask worn by walkers on deserted wind-swept beaches lest they be accused of endangering public health.
It was to end lockdowns that Australians rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated, largely because politicians made clear that the public comply with the rules or stay under lockdown indefinitely. More than 90 percent of Australians aged 12 and over are double vaccinated.
It’s for this reason that Australians have little patience for the likes of Djokovic with his refusal to “do the right thing” and get vaccinated and his claims of natural immunity from past Covid infections. Indeed newspaper polls suggest that 80 percent of Australians want Djokovic booted out for his anti-vaccine stance and reported murkiness around his Covid positive test results in Serbia last month, as well as incorrect information on his airport arrivals form.
It hasn’t helped Djokovic’s cause that he arrived amidst a Covid wave that has terrified Australians who have spent much of the past two years hoping lockdowns would allow them to escape the virus.
Indeed many Australians clambered for the borders to be closed, even to its own citizens, for much of the pandemic. There’s been little public tolerance for any opposition. Australians obeyed harsh restrictions amidst a government campaign to encourage neighbours to ‘dob in’ rule breakers to the police. Even a pregnant woman arrested in her own home and charged with conspiracy for planning a masked socially distanced protest won little public sympathy.
Djokovic, never popular with the Australian tennis crowd which tends to prefer more humble players, provoked a wave of national outrage with his arrival at Melbourne Airport earlier this month waving what he claimed was an exemption that allowed him to enter the country even though he was unvaccinated. His irregular paperwork appears to be partly due to contradictory information provided by the Morrison and the Victorian governments, both of which are taking hardline positions on Djokovic to appease voters in a federal and state election year.
It’s in this context that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s used his sweeping deportation powers to rescind Djokovic’s visa on the basis of “health and good order” and “public interest”. The Serbian tennis champion will likely be deported and unable to defend his Australian Open title unless he wins a second court reprieve. Last week, a judge rescinded the cancellation of his visa by Border Force due to irregularities. The Immigration Minister has powers that can trump the courts’ decision.
The holes in the government’s argument to deport Djokovic are big enough to drive through a semi-trailer. As prominent journalist Leigh Sales pointed out on social media: “With Covid cases in the hundreds of thousands, how can it be ‘health’ and how can “one person whose job is hitting a ball with a racquet be a threat to civic order”.
Megan Goldin is a Melbourne-based journalist and writer who is the author of The Night Swim and the upcoming thriller Stay Awake