The Politics    Monday, September 14, 2020

Border farce

By Paddy Manning

Border farce
Weaponising a Brisbane funeral was a bad idea

It did not take long for the prime minister’s clumsy attempt to weaponise the story of Canberra woman Sarah Caisip, who was unable to attend her father’s funeral in Brisbane last week, to blow up in his face. Scott Morrison, who was looking to use Caisip’s story against Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, dialled up the rhetoric on Thursday while talking to Ray Hadley on 2GB. Asked whether Australia was in danger of “losing our humanity”, Morrison replied: “The way these decisions are being made, we are in danger of that.” First, that’s a bit rich coming from the former immigration minister who enforced Australia’s inhumane policy of indefinitely detaining asylum seekers (as ABC commentator Annabel Crabb tweeted, the PM hadn’t always “prioritised the sanctity of funerals over border protection”). Second, Morrison’s comment raised plenty of awkward questions for the federal government, which is currently putting thousands of Australians through equally distressing situations due to international border restrictions (Insiders host David Speers confronted Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton with a few of those conundrums yesterday). Finally, in this morning’s Nine newspapers, Caisip’s stepsister, Alexandra Prendergast, lashed out at Morrison for “politicising” her family’s tragedy, saying that a “very private moment has been made very public”. 

The Morrison government has shown no compassion for Australians wanting to visit dying relatives overseas, nor for those 25,000 Australians stranded overseas and trying to return home. At a press conference yesterday, shadow home affairs minister Kristina Keneally ripped into Dutton, accusing him of a double standard: “Peter Dutton has spent the best part of the week pretending that he cares about a family in grief separated by the Queensland–New South Wales border. But why doesn’t Peter Dutton care about the families who are suffering because they’re separated by the border that he’s in control of – our international borders?”

Former prime minister Tony Abbott was allowed out of the country when he was offered a trade job with the UK government, Keneally pointed out, and the Australian Border Force let Sydney businessmen Jost Stollmann go to Greece to pick up his new yacht. By contrast, Keneally raised the case of Astrid Magenau, who “promised her dying father that she would be by his side in Germany when he succumbed to stage-four melanoma ravaging his brain and his abdomen … She couldn’t honour that promise to her dying father because of the blanket travel bans the Australian government put in place. They robbed her of the final opportunity to say goodbye.” Likewise, Grant Cooper was unable to visit his dying brother in New Zealand. 

On Insiders yesterday, Dutton was broadly critical of those Australians stuck overseas for ignoring government advice against travel during the pandemic – an exercise in victim-blaming – and said that the cap on international arrivals of 4000 people per week was due to state and territory limits on beds in hotel quarantine. Keneally kept up her attack on RN Breakfast this morning, arguing there was plenty that the federal government could do to get Australians home: 

Labor has put a plan to the Senate and when we return to parliament, it will be voted on by the Senate. That plan includes lifting the cap on international arrivals, stopping the price-gouging that is occurring with airlines that are flying to Australia, using charter flights if necessary to bring people home from places like the UK, Lebanon, the Philippines and India, and going to this so-called national cabinet process, and using whatever other powers the Commonwealth has to ensure that there is capacity – both within our international arrivals and within our quarantine system – to allow the stranded Australians to come home. This is a Commonwealth government leadership failure.

There is plenty of tragedy going around during this pandemic. For Morrison, trying to turn one family’s tragedy into a political weapon against a Labor premier who is six weeks out from a state election is not just dumb, it’s dangerous. Today, we read of death threats against Queensland’s chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, who has been given police protection, while Palaszczuk – with her back to the wall – has declared she would rather lose the state election than bow to pressure to reopen the state’s borders. Morrison, who gleefully asked “How good is Queensland?” on the night he won the last election, needs to have a rethink about his partisan attacks.  

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“There are some parts of the bill that have merit but what’s proposed for South Australia is concerning. The way it’s designed seems to assume that every state has both regional and metro unis. We’re a small state – our regional kids come into the city to the three unis, which are all metro.”

Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie signals that the Centre Alliance could shift its position to support the federal government’s widely criticised university funding package if South Australia is looked after.

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The list

“Until we arrived in Hamburg, Germany’s largest port, on July 23, I had been stuck at sea for five months. Now I find myself in hotel quarantine in Sydney … The contrast between being confined to a ship and being confined in the Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel at Circular Quay for 14 days of quarantine could hardly be bigger.”

“The destroyed caves were, quite literally, priceless: their loss is immeasurable. But because their record of 46,000 years of human habitation was apparently worth absolutely nothing in dollar terms, the bean counters believed they could be blown up with impunity.”

“As Oxford University and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca announced they were pausing the promising trial of COVID-19 vaccine candidate AZD1222 to investigate a serious adverse event involving one recipient, politicians and officials purred public reassurance. This was routine, they said. It demonstrated safety and transparency. Things would likely be back on track, maybe even within days … But from within the vaccine research world, there’s another key message: the pause in phase three of human trials in the most advanced of the would-be vaccines must serve as a reality check.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.

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