Morrison Mild after Djokovic’s deportation

  • Scott Morrison wanted tennis player Novak Djokovic deported from Australian for inciting anti-vaccine sentiment
  • Djokovic took the case to the Federal Circuit Court contesting Morrison’s orders and succeeded the first time.
  • Morrison’s efficacy was questioned by international media about this situation.
Scott Morrison
Eesan1969 Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Why is PM Scott Morrison MILD?

Answer: Djokovic was set to play at the Australian Open but got deported under Morrison’s order due to an unclear medical exemption for the Covid-19 vaccine.

On January 5th, Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic flew to Australia with the intention of playing in the Australian Open 2022. However, during Immigration Control at the Melbourne Airport, Djokovic was detained for not being vaccinated, despite presenting a medical exemption certificate. 

Australian authorities deemed this permission as inappropriate evidence and Scott Morrison prompted his confinement and subsequently canceled Djokovic’s visa. As a result, the tennis star appealed to the Federal Circuit Court to review his case. In light of this, PM Morrison tweeted: “Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above those rules.” This statement, compares to former PM John Howard’s declaration a few years back who gained political advantage and won the elections in 2001 after expressing “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come” over an incident with Indonesian migrants. 

During the first trial, Judge Anthony Kelly appealed to Mr. Djokovic’s request, reinstating his visa, and ordering his immediate release. In the meantime, several inconsistencies arose in Novak Djokovic’s documentation presented to the Australian Border Force.  The timing of a previous infection proved dubious; and,  when comparing the two PCR results given to the Federal Court, the older test had a higher confirmation code than the later. However, the tennis player, his lawyers and his family continued to claim that all documentation provided is legal and true. 

Later the same week, Scott Morrison’s Immigration Minister Alex Hawke revoked Djokovic visa for the second time on health and good order grounds. This came out after more evidence supporting the case against Djokovic. In his health statement, he denied visiting other countries 14 days prior to his entrance to Australia when, in fact, he was seen in Marbella, Spain.

Djokovic, not satisfied with this outcome, challenged his deportation order once again but the Federal Court denied his request. The disappointed tennis player flew back to Dubai on January 17. In a recent interview, Djokovic reinstated his unwillingness to vaccinate and said he would reject any tournaments that force him to do so. 

What is changing Morrison’s temperature? 

Answer: Morrison felt pressured to apply his “tough on borders” policy after the Federal Circuit Court’s hearing and mocking through the media.

Morrison expected an easy win over the issue since a majority of the Australian population is satisfied with the handling of the pandemic. As Djokovic refused to leave Australia without a fight, the Prime Minister had no other choice but to stand by his initial intentions. 

The first appeal contradicted Morrison’s original orders, discomfiting him and his fellow party members. Among them, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke made use of his far-reaching powers and emphasised his loyalty to Morrison by revoking Djokovic’s visa. However, this move backfired on the PM’s public image by portraying his “strong will” to uphold COVID-19 restrictions as persecution towards the tennis player.

In light of these events, international media pointed out how humiliating the buck-passing situation was. Two hypotheses remain: either the immigration department was not working thoroughly or Djokovic was targeted to draw attention away from ongoing domestic issues. 

Similarly, Serbian authorities were outspoken about Djokovic’s situation in Melbourne. Aleksandar Vučić, Serbian president, sent his support to the tennis player during what he labelled as “harassment” on behalf of the Australian government. 

Vučić demanded his immediate release to then name Djokovic a “national hero.” In response, Morrison felt pressured into denying these allegations and said “Australia has sovereign borders and clear rules that are non-discriminatory as so many countries do … all I can say is that the evidence of medical exemption that was provided was found to be insufficient.”

However, this resentment escalated and the Serbian Prime Minister revoked the lithium mining licences from the Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto. Even though PM Ana Brnabić alleged that this annulment was due to environmental concerns, this has to do with Djokovic’s deportation as bilateral relations became tense. 

What is driving Morrison?

Answer: Morrison’s reelection is at risk and is in need for strong and favorable public opinion

Morrison is interested in winning reelection. He runs for the Liberal Party of Australia, which has been in power since the 2013 federal elections, and is out for the fourth consecutive reelection. In case that Morrison fails to secure the seat, his party’s long-standing trajectory will be lost.

On one hand, the opposition, Australia’s Labor Party, has had it out for Morrison and his party for years. In hopes of attracting voters, Anthony Albanese, Labor’s leader, said about the Djokovic saga: “There has been a great embarrassment for Australia, (and) it’s one that could have been avoided.” On the other hand, Morrison’s actions were prompted by his certainty that Alex Hawke would support his decision. After all, Hawke and Morrison belong to the same political party, share ideals and are after the same goal: to stay in office.

Most importantly, Morrison tried to appeal to Australians’ frustration. Families have been torn apart for over two years due to the strict federal policies concerning COVID-19. The Prime Minister was aware of the outrage he would have sparked if Djokovic were allowed to play in the Australian Open whilst being unvaccinated. Then again, it was a political move in order that Australians would see him as an ally that protects domestic borders with fairness and later vote for him.

Under scrutiny by the media for not providing free Covid-19 rapid tests and for supply chain issues affecting trade, Morrison took advantage of Djokovic’s blunder to both distract bad press and garner support for his stance on “tough borders”. His strategy worked (partly) as media coverage stopped focusing on these scandals but now Morrison was under the international spotlight. 

What does this mean for you?

​​Answer: Your vaccination status and compliance with COVID-19 restrictions is more important than ever before. 

Health governance during the pandemic in many ways securitised healthcare, which was what Morrison has taken advantage of the last two years. In the case of Djokovic,  the line between maintaining public order and overstepping freedom over a vaccination status was blurred.

The Djokovic case displayed Australia’s health governance strategy in action, which was aligned with Morrison’s agenda for the following elections. Under the long-standing command of not allowing unvaccinated foreigners into the country, the link between security and health became more visible. 

This phenomenon does not exclusively apply to Australia but to most governments around the world. By securitizing the Djokovic case, Morrison drew attention to an unvaccinated tennis player and portrayed him as a national threat. Morrison instrumentalized Australians’ fear to leverage voter turnout through vaccine mandates.On top of that, Djokovic’s detention shed light on human rights violations against migrants and refugees.

Park Hotel in Melbourne has been used as an immigration detention centre and most asylum seekers barely survive under poor conditions. As of 30 September 2021, the average period of time for people held in detention facilities was 689 days. Some refugees in Australia have been detained for over a decade, like Mehdi Ali who fled Iran when he was 15 but has been locked up in Park hotel ever since.