Novak Djokovic’s prank exposes Australia’s contradictory response to Covid

The Djokovic saga is the personification of the confusion and contradiction of Australia’s response to Covid, writes Joe Hildebrand.

Novak Djokovic’s nickname is The Joker, but when it comes to pranking his entry into Australia, the truth is the joke is on us.

Indeed, Djokovic perfectly personifies how confused, contradictory and twisted our response to Covid has been over the past two years.

Just consider this individual case. First, we have three different levels of bureaucracy – the Federal Government, the Victorian Government, and Tennis Australia – all accused, besides accusing each other, of shit.

Plus, none of them seem to be able to explain what the dud really was. Did Djokovic have the right visa but the wrong exemption? Or the wrong visa but the right exemption? Or no exemption at all?

And since when did state governments and sports organizations think they could issue visas or exemptions in the first place? And what about other players or visitors who would have received exemptions and apparently walked through?

And here’s another question: How on earth did the Federal and Victorian governments not see this coming?

Djokovic’s anti-vax views are a matter of global infamy and his arrival at the Australian Open was so anticipated that there were feverish reports of him training with official AO balls. Yet the final decision did not come until he found himself face to face with a poor customs official at Tullamarine airport?

Frankly, it all stinks of the same rank populism that has driven so much of Australia’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. When everyone was excited for the world number one to come and grab a record open crown, there was apparently a wink and a nod to give him a nod. And when the inevitable backlash happened, it was nobody’s idea and everyone’s fault.

Once again, the old cliché comes to life: success has several fathers and failure is an orphan. And nothing more emblematic of our response to Covid-19.

Indeed, the deadliest failure of the entire pandemic – the chaos of the Victorian hotel quarantine system – is the ultimate example. Who was responsible? Well, no one really knew that. Apparently it just sort of… happened. (I invite anyone to read the official investigation report into the matter – and the flowcharts it contains – and challenge them to find any sign of intelligent life.)

And when the epidemic ravaged nursing homes, killing hundreds, the usual feuds between federal states erupted over who was to blame. (Answer: both – the state to let him out and the federal government to let him in.)

Likewise, implementing East German-style curfews during one of Melbourne’s multiple lockdowns was precisely nobody’s idea. Neither the Prime Minister, nor the police, nor the Chief Medical Officer of Health. It’s also just sort of… happened.

And so it’s no wonder that Djokovic’s snafu also happened. Who was responsible? Everyone and no one.

This is Australia’s story when it comes to managing Covid-19. Yes, we were lucky, but only in the Donald Horne sense – we were lucky despite our collective leadership, not because of him.

Indeed, “collective leadership” itself is the wrong term. We do not have a single unified body making good or bad decisions like bipartisan war cabinets traditionally did in the past.

Instead, we came up with the fig leaf of a “national cabinet” that made so-called united decisions only to have its members go out and do eight different things for eight different political goals.

The most heinous of these has been the closure of schools in the three most populous states, which had no scientific basis and was contrary to the opinion of the Chief Medical Officer.

Never forget the laudable decision of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk to keep schools open, nor the Luddite backflip a few days later after the teachers’ union was formed.

Meanwhile, an NSW Teachers Federation investigation learned that after the first lockdown in 2020, more than 3,000 children simply disappeared from the school system in that state alone. God knows where they are now or how many have followed since.

They are the most vulnerable victims of lockdowns and closures but their fate will never be recorded in Covid statistics and their stories will never be told. It is our great national shame.

Yet even now, after months of speculation about living with the virus, there is still a reactive panic in the community fueled by a reactionary panic from commentators who somehow have the nerve to call themselves progressives.

So yeah, the joke is on us. The only problem is, it’s not that funny.

Originally posted as Novak Djokovic’s prank proves the sad joke is about Australia


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