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Voices: Scott Morrison has foolishly made a martyr out of Novak Djokovic

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“Rules are rules,” the prime minister of Australia, Scott Morrison, declared the other day, with all the bluff determination of a politician who knows he is presiding over a godawful mess of global proportions.

He seems a proud man – more important, he is a man behind in the opinion polls with a general election to win – and he is anxious to show how tough he can be, even with international sporting megastars from small European nations. “No special cases,” says Morrison, but it is apparent to everyone now that Novak Djokovic, because of his fame, is the one receiving especially unfavourable treatment. So unfair, indeed, that a judge has set him free.

Now there are rumours that Djokovic is to be arrested and, presumably, deported – an act that seems highly arbitrary, and lacking in due process and natural justice. It shouldn’t be meted out to anyone, celebrity or not. There must be a colourful Australian expression for such a blooming muddle. The rest of the world looks on, dismayed.

Morrison and his government, not for the first time, are behaving disgracefully towards an incomer to Australia, because they think their folk like that sort of thing. But surely they like competence in their federal administration even more? Isn’t the Australian border supposed to be under the control of its government, rather than some tennis-club committee?

Like the ball in a particularly hard-fought tennis match, the blame for what must now be called the “Djokovic affair” is flying all over the place. Even now, with the eyes of the world on the Australian Open – and for all the wrong reasons – it isn’t clear who issued Novak Djokovic with his visa; and what, if anything, constituted his “exemption” from the vaccination rules.

As soon as the federal government got wind back in November that this high-profile anti-vaxxer was due to visit the country, they should have refused him a visa on whatever grounds available, even including public safety grounds, and made it clearer to the authorities in the state of Victoria, the health agencies, and the tennis organisers that the bloke would not be welcome. For whatever reason, that message was not communicated with sufficient force.

So we are where we are, the whole pantomime culminating in the bizarre sight of Nigel Farage making a mercy dash to the Djokovic family home in Serbia and generally acting like a cross between Mother Teresa and Henry Kissinger. Perhaps Nigel couldn’t get a visa to get into Australia. No doubt he’ll be looking for “The Interview with Novak” on GB News, a place where illegal migrants rarely get a chance to plead their case.

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What does all of this teach us? Only that if you are going to be tough on those who refuse to be vaccinated – a policy very much in the public interest – then you should make very few exceptions to the rules, which should be simple, and should be administered centrally. If nothing else, it looks very much as though Djokovic didn’t break any rules – certainly not intentionally – but was guided by the tennis authorities, who he assumed were, as usual, sorting everything out for him nicely. Seems not.

As someone who cares little for tennis, and has no time for Djokovic’s toxic views on vaccines, even I can see that the guy hasn’t had a fair go. That is not, as I understand it, the Australian way of doing things.

Somehow Morrison is turning an anti-vaxxer into a hero, a martyr even. So even if he never gets to swing his racquet, Djokovic will return from Australia a winner.

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