Bring out the dogwhistle

An unfortunate fact of life in Australian politics since the early 1800s has been the racist dogwhistle. Consider the evidence of mass executions of first nations peoples that lived in Australia for thousands of years before Dirk Hartog (the first European to leave an artefact on the Australian continent in 1616) to the ‘White Australia Policy’ and Coalition Prime Minister John Howard’s 2001 election speech where he claimedBut we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.” and continuing today with the policy of both major political parties of not allowing refugees to settle in Australia (but only if they came by boat — not a plane), we really are racist.

Current Coalition Prime Minister Morrison has become an adept player of the racist dogwhistle when there is a perceived need to increase his ratings in the political polls. Morrison is the one that proudly shows off the ‘I stopped these’ fishing boat trophy in his office.

Morrison’s latest demonstration of dog whistling is his apparent refusal to accept travellers from India due to the horrific numbers of people diagnosed with COVID19 and the subsequent death toll. Not only did Morrison shut the gate on people from India (regardless if they are Australian citizens or not), the announcement was apparently the first mention on the penalties for breaching the relevant legislation — despite the legislation being in place for 14 months. Morrison’s claim was the numbers of people with the virus in India was probably under-reported — apparently true — and the infection rate and death toll was horrific — again apparently true — leading to potential quarantine breaches in Australia should travellers from India be quarantined in Australia — certainly a potential outcome.

When the UK and Europe were undergoing a new wave of COVID19 infections (from a version of the virus that is highly contagious), did Morrison slam the borders shut to those from the UK and Europe? Nope. Neither has he introduced a travel ban for those from South Africa where a different and highly infectious version of COVID 19 has been identified, or Brazil or the US. As The New Daily observes
The US has had more than 590,000 deaths from the coronavirus — the highest in the world and more than double that of India.
But even as wave after wave of fresh cases ravaged the country, the Morrison government never stopped people flying here from the US.
Quite the opposite.
During the pandemic, Australia emerged as a top destination for American celebrities seeking to escape coronavirus restrictions at home.
Among others, Zac Efron and Melissa McCarthy have been spotted in Byron Bay, while Natalie Portman and Idris Elba have spent time in Sydney.
To give Karl Stefanovic from Channel 9’s Today Show his due, he questioned Morrison on the policy to fine and imprison Australians returning from India (but not from the US or UK) on Tuesday 4 May — the day after the policy was announced
“Jailing and fining returning Aussies, I mean, as a sitting prime minister, it is incredibly heartless,” Stefanovic said.
Mr Morrison said the likelihood of those penalties was “pretty much zero”.
“You’re saying no one will go to jail or be fined, is that right?” Stefanovic clarified.
“I think it’s highly unlikely,” Mr Morrison said.
The backdown had started — or as Crikey elegantly put it ‘Panicked PM tries to reverse a dog whistle amid quarantine incompetence’ (paywalled). Don’t believe that the claims of racism are only made by the ‘woke lefties’ who write on this blog site, “Even Andrew Bolt wrote in his column that the travel ban “stinks of racism.”

Which brings us to the two issues here. Racism and quarantine management.

Morrison didn’t impose a ‘no arrival’ policy on the US or UK during the middle and latter half of 2020, while he did criticise Queensland and Western Australia repeatedly (both ALP state governments who were scheduled to face elections) for closing borders in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID19. Morrison did put out a press release and ‘do the media’ when imposing a ‘no arrival’ policy on people planning to return to Australia from India in May 2021. While the infection and death tolls in India were horrific, they were less than the same tolls in the UK and US. The only real difference in the process here is the colour of people’s skin — and making a decision on that basis is racism.

As Morrison was quick to point out when state governments closed borders, it does interrupt trade and society. While Morrison’s attitude to Tasmania and South Australia closing borders was ‘nothing to see here’ (probably due to being Coalition state governments), he was highly critical of Queensland and Western Australia. However it seems that quarantine is an effective form of management of a viral health crisis which is accepted (if not appreciated) by communities that are ‘protected’ by the measure. For evidence look at the recent state elections around Australia — those that implemented effective controls seem to have been repaid with another term in office.

Despite quarantine being a federal issue, Morrison was quick to handball it to the states in March 2020. The states introduced a number of variations on the theme — some more successful than others and some states chose not to participate at all. Katherine Murphy noted recently in The Guardian
As the former bureaucrat Jane Halton noted months ago in a review of hotel quarantine, “pressure to increase travel to and from Australia is growing”. Furthermore: “Existing models of quarantine are unlikely to be able to expand significantly above current levels and new approaches that manage risk are needed — an ability to add scale through surge capacity should be considered.”
Both Queensland and Victoria even offered to assist in the construction of additional secure quarantine facilities, only to be rebuffed by the Morrison’s Government.

So after months of criticising states for quarantining rather than ‘tracking and tracing’, Morrison is now committing the same ‘crime’ by closing the border selectively. Rather than improving the quarantine system and assisting Australians back into their own country, Morrison is looking for others to blame for his lack of management — he had Jane Halton’s report months ago.

Like his actions on so many other issues, Morrison is sniffing the breeze and working out which way he should jump (after all he has to win an election in the next 12 months to retain power). It seems fence sitting and blaming others is far easier than accepting responsibility or making a decision. And it seems he is convinced that blowing the racist dogwhistle regularly doesn’t seem to hurt.

What do you think?

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