Diary

Gadfly
Currying favour

If there’s one thing our prime minister loves at the same level that he loves Pentecostal evangelism, it’s Indian food. In fact, I might even wager Scott Morrison loves a curry more than he loves Jesus, given how much more he talks about curries. Over the years, he’s found more uses for curry than MacGyver would have, from an image softener on LinkedIn to a metaphor for multiculturalism in a speech to the armed forces. The man’s never met a pinch of garam masala that he didn’t love.

However, it seems his love of curries doesn’t extend to the people from whom those recipes originate. It turns out his respect for Indian Australians is as weak as a pappadum. With more than 8000 Australians in India wanting to return home, the federal government that once attacked Queensland for risking the country’s “humanity” by closing its border, declared that having a sense of humanity was widely overrated.

Late last week, the government made the unprecedented announcement that any Australians returning from India would be jailed for up to five years. This was backed by Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who said the travel ban was “designed to keep Australians safe”. Except, it seems, for Indian Australians. It’s the kind of admission people usually make inside their heads, quietly, instead of outside their heads, with their mouths.

The move by the government to declare its own citizens too great a burden to care for came as a shock to everyone who hadn’t been paying attention at all for the past few years. As it turns out, giving the Home Affairs minister the power to strip someone of their citizenship and dump them on a country they’ve almost never been to sets a bad precedent. It was an extension of the same philosophy that says we won’t grant citizenship to families where anyone might have a chronic illness or a disability. You’re only an Australian, it seems, if you’re not going to cost any money.

Those must be the “everyday Australians” that Peter Dutton fantasises about so much. “Everyday Australians” are Australians who never fall sick, and never require help from their fellow Australians. Unlike Dutton, who himself caught Covid-19 at the start of 2020, and needed to be quarantined and given medical care at a cost to the taxpayer.

Who smelt it, dealt it

Many commentators have pointed out that excluding Indian Australians from the basic rights of citizenship, yet somehow never enacting the same punishment on British or American Australians at the height of their pandemic crisis, reeks of that thing we Australians hate being accused of yet love practising at every opportunity – racism. Even Andrew Bolt wrote in his column that the travel ban “stinks of racism”.

Let’s repeat that: Even Andrew Bolt wrote in his column that the travel ban “stinks of racism”.

And once again: Even Andrew Bolt wrote in his column that the travel ban “stinks of racism”.

That’s right. Scott Morrison is now too racist for even Andrew Bolt. The man who moved out of Melbourne because he said it was getting too multicultural. The man who argued “multiculturalism has weakened Victoria, leaving it more likely to get smashed by a pandemic”. The man who said the virus most affects places with “big foreign-born communities … housing commission towers or businesses with many immigrants”. The man who lost a court case after he tried to decide whether a specific list of Aboriginal people were black enough for him.

Okay, one last time: Even Andrew Bolt wrote in his column that the travel ban “stinks of racism”.

That is so utterly unprecedented and bewildering, the whole nation needs to lie down for an hour in silence to process it all. No wonder Bill and Melinda Gates decided their marriage means nothing anymore. The old order is dead. A new world awaits us.

Cowed into submission

The prime minister defended his decision against the accusations of racism at a press conference held to address the travel ban and allay the fears of the many Indian Australians watching nervously for updates. However, this latest press conference was delivered at the Beef 2021 festival, with cows mooing about their inevitable deaths in the background.

Cows are, of course, considered sacred by India’s majority Hindu population. In Morrison’s defence, he has finally outdone the standard previously set by him when he delivered a speech at a women’s day event about how women shouldn’t seek to succeed if it threatens the success of men.

These are the kinds of choices that make it really hard for his defenders to keep up their defence of him. Peter Hartcher, political and international editor for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and apparent expert on what is and isn’t racism, wrote a column defending Morrison. It was an article so tone deaf, it even included the sentence, “The Morrison government is not racist, but…”, which is known in communities of colour as the sign of someone being definitely racist.

Sky News host Chris Kenny attempted a complicated justification for why the travel ban isn’t racist, coining the new phrase “unintentional discrimination”, thus unintentionally revealing himself to be intentionally devoid of intelligence.

Hostage situation

At this point, the prime minister’s choices can’t be described as bungles or snafus, but rather as an obvious cry for help. Scott Morrison is making these obviously horrific decisions not because he’s monumentally callous and stupid at the same time or because he’s as irredeemably racist as he is misogynistic. No, he’s doing this because he’s being held hostage, and this is the only way for him to communicate to us that he needs to be freed.

Why else would he alienate the entire Indian–Australian community, which predominantly votes along conservative lines? It even explains his choices in the months before this, from the failure to take an alleged rape in Parliament House seriously to admitting to trying magic hand powers on unsuspecting strangers. He’s trapped and needs to be freed.

At his next press conference, which will probably be addressing Muslim and Jewish diplomats while at a bacon festival, watch how many times he blinks for Morse code messages. It’s the only explanation that makes sense. Because the alternative is that he just fundamentally devalued our passport, sent a clear message to anyone of Indian origin that they’re never going to be seen as Australian enough to bother protecting, and did it all to draw further attention to how badly vaccinations and quarantine have been handled by his government. And no one can be that bad at their job. 

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 8, 2021 as "Gadfly: Currying favour".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

Sami Shah is a multi-award-winning comedian, writer and journalist.