‘So-called border vigilance’: PM’s tough guy act on Djokovic won’t distract from failed Covid response | Malcolm Farr

Novak Djokovic’s deportation has become a scarifying issue for Australian sport and the federal government, a political break point thanks to the inattention and ignorance of the prime minister, Scott Morrison.

Morrison was so busy struggling to extricate himself from the mess he had created over the provision of reasonably priced rapid Covid tests, he had no awareness of, or capacity to fully deal with, the controversy so obviously set to arrive with the Serbian tennis champion.

Djokovic is a science-resistant opponent of Covid vaccinations – he believes because he had the infection once, he can’t catch it again. And it was obvious a hemisphere away he was ready to drive his worldwide celebrity and remarkable sporting record through the resolve of Australian authorities.

No-vax Novak was confident he would be let through, or become a martyr.

In this objective he was helped, unwittingly, by the prime minister of Australia, who finally got around to doing his job.

“Rules are rules,” Scott Morrison eventually advised Djokovic, in an echo of a stern suburban dad scolding a child for staying out late.

But it’s difficult to be severe with the tennis champ because the prime minister didn’t know the rules, either.

On Wednesday, he duck-shoved responsibility for the world No 1 being allowed into Australia unvaccinated.

“Well, that is a matter for the Victorian government. They have provided him with an exemption to come to Australia, and so we then act in accordance with that decision,” he told reporters, clearly not knowing what he was talking about.

By Thursday, he had been educated on the matter and announced in muscular fashion it was a federal government matter, and the Serbian was out – one of the highest-profile figures ever to be punted from Australia.

“Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders,” Morrison said in that scolding statement. “No one is above the rules.”

And he ended the reprimand with a protective assurance: “… we are continuing to be vigilant.”

The home affairs minister, Karen Andrews, might have been Morrison’s educator on the matter, as she issued a statement – headed “Australia’s border rules apply to everyone” – contradicting the prime minister’s Wednesday press conference ramble.

“While the Victorian Government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth Government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border,” Andrews said in part of a statement.

Neither Morrison nor Andrews can now breathe easily. And nor can the foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne.

There remain stark questions about the so-called border vigilance Morrison was so hairy-chested about.

Djokovic had a visa to get to Australia. What happened when he got here is one thing, but clearly he boarded an aircraft with Australian-issue credentials saying he had a right to land here.

Payne will be pressed to explain where and how that visa was issued when there are so many restrictions on the travel of vaccinated Australians. Is there a tennis service, a net accord?

Answers on these matters won’t arrive in a rush, as Morrison will wring as much political gain as he imagines he can from this.

His keenness to be seen as the tough guy with Djokovic – once it was explained to him it unavoidably was his responsibility and not that of the Victorian premier, Dan Andrews – was the first sign that border protection would be ramped up.

His problem is that even insulting and exploiting the world’s best tennis player will not be sufficient distraction from the growing confusion over the response to Omicron as it overwhelms towns and cities.

Morrison’s admission that he gets rapid tests for free, while thunderously objecting to other Australians getting the same deal, quite simply stinks.

If it’s not the hypocrisy or the deliberate misleading, it’s the broad policy failure of the federal government’s Covid response.

There is only one tennis player being deported.

There are thousands of Australians every day discovering they have been infected by the virus, and many others unable to get tested but who know they are stricken.

None of them will feel safer because Novak Djokovic has been thrown out of town.

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