The Guardian • Issue #1992

Djokovic, Hillsong reveal COVID contradictions

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #1992

“No Rapid Antigen Tests available” – the now ubiquitous message can be found in just about every supermarket and chemist in the country. Supplies of Rapid Antigen Tests for COVID-19 (RATs) are drastically low, leading PCR testing facilities to be so overwhelmed that samples are routinely expiring before they can be tested, meaning hundreds of potentially sick people don’t know if they’re positive. 

Unsurprisingly, cases are skyrocketing throughout the country. Businesses are operating at reduced hours (if at all) due to staffing shortages, and supermarkets such as Woolworths have released public statements apologising for chronic supply line shortages. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking the virus is at a crisis point. Scott Morrison insists we won’t be going back to lockdowns, and perhaps full-scale lockdowns have outgrown their effectiveness. However, clearly some measures are needed to keep the virus under control. 

Many states have now reintroduced pandemic controls measures like mask mandates and density requirements. Public events have been limited or cancelled. Many people are choosing to limit their exposure by staying home when they can. 

But as usual, there is one set of rules for the rich and another for the working class. Members of the Pentecostal megachurch Hillsong – with which Scott Morrison is affiliated – were captured on video, singing and dancing maskless during a “youth camp” event that looked more like a music festival than a church gathering.

This came as Australia recorded its highest 7-day rolling average since the beginning of the pandemic, 107,000 cases. The church attempted to skirt COVID-19 regulations in NSW, which prohibit large public gatherings but do not prohibit religious services.

While NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the gathering was “clearly in breach of both the spirit and intent of the [COVID-19 regulations],” Hillsong has its defenders. The Church argues that the gathering videoed was only a “small part” of the service. Singer-songwriter Holly Rankin has accused the pandemic measures of “discrimination” against the recording industry.

Baseless accusations of discrimination have been a theme in the media this past week as Novak Djokovic had his visa cancelled on the ground that his presence in Australia may “foster anti-vaccination sentiment.”

Djokovic was detained in the Park Hotel in Carlton while his case was heard, the same hotel where refugees have been held since 2020. Djokovic’s father was quick to get on his soapbox about “discrimination” against his son, even comparing Novak’s treatment to Jesus Christ.

Djokovic has many supporters in the Australian public, who have not been quiet about “free speech” “rights” and “freedoms.” Unfortunately, most of these people are not using their voices to call for justice for the refugees who have been detained by the Australian government for up to eight years.

On Monday 17th January, the Federal Court upheld the government’s decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa, and the tennis star was deported from Australia. The PM is already hinting that Djokovic’s three-year ban may be ended early but is noticeably silent on the fate of the refugees still imprisoned in the Park Hotel.

The law consistently carves out concessions for the ruling class and special interests, which promote and reproduce the capitalist mode of production and its ideological foundations. Even though Djokovic was eventually deported, his case challenged the government and generated public discourse around vaccination and human rights. This same discourse is not being had around refugees. Regardless of the outcome, the law plays a clear ideological role.

When a poor middle eastern refugee is detained and tortured by our government, the law drags its feet through years of appeals. Meanwhile, these men live in limbo. But when the detainee is a European tennis star, the case is heard in less than a week. And, as with Hillsong, people spring to the defence of the economy, rights and religious freedoms. 

The ruling class thinks the rules don’t apply to them – and unfortunately, they often don’t, at least not in the same way as they apply to the rest of us. There is an old idea that the law is both a sword and a shield. This is true. It is used to oppress the marginalised and the working class, while it protects those in power. Make no mistake, it is designed to work this way.

Tags COVID-19
The Guardian can also be viewed/downloaded in PDF format. View More