On March 19, 2020, the Australian government closed its borders to non-resident international travellers, to slow the importation of coronavirus into the country. Except in Victoria, this has largely been a successful strategy, and some states have managed to remain completely free of the disease.
It has become fashionable, in some circles, to criticise Australia’s quarantine rules in a blanket fashion. But that does a disservice to the very real, very deserving cases that should be our focus. Complaining holiday-makers are doing their best to make the story about them, rather than truly deserving cases.
Far be it from us to draw specific attention to the individuals airing their gripes on Facebook and Twitter, but social media is awash with them. Some have even spoken to mainstream media, such one non-resident who left Australia for a holiday in Brazil in mid-March, before applying multiple times to re-enter, despite rules clearly prohibiting it. The ABC apparently felt her case so deserving that they made her the focus of an article.
Similarly, the Daily Mail has chosen to highlight the case of another woman who was planning to join her boyfriend in Australia. Despite the fact he flew here in January, she didn’t get her act together to jump on a flight before borders were closed. Presumably, the spread of coronavirus didn’t accomodate her original travel schedule. Does she really think this inconvenience, for which she has only herself to blame, should offset the risk of a child losing a father, a mother or a grandparent to this deadly disease?
Indeed, these stories are so undeserving compared to some of the others that one is left to wonder whether the press has elevated their cases merely because they are good looking young women. The Daily Mail even included a picture of our would-be immigrant in her bikini. Super relevant!
Now, all this coverage directly translates to a virulent movement against any quarantine system in Australia. Social media is awash would-be visitors calling Australia a nanny-state because they cannot practically visit for a holiday. And these media narratives are allowing selfish crybabies to make the quarantine debate about them. Because plenty of reasonable people don’t have much sympathy for this unfortunate but self-inflicted inconveniences, this risks hardening support for quarantine, and inflicting further heartbreak on the genuine cases of faultless stranding.
And heartbreaking cases certainly exist.
In one case, parents travelled to Europe to pick up their surrogate children, fulfilling an arrangement put in place prior to any knowledge of coronavirus. This is a clear case of zero fault, as they clearly had no choice but to go and get their newborns. Meantime, their young children stayed at home with their grandparents. But of course, they miss their mother, and reportedly one tries desperately to hug her through video chat before crying himself to sleep.
Fixing this situation should, in my view, be a priority for our immigration system. Part of our humanity is to try to ensure children are not crying themselves to sleep for missing their mothers or fathers. Fixing these situations — not returning holidaymakers — should be our priority.
A common theme amongst the holiday makers or lifestyle immigrants is to make 4, 7 or even 10 applications for entry. I’m not sure about the workings of the bureaucracy, but I doubt this is helping the system find and accept those deserving family reunification cases. Australia must do something to dis-incentivise frivolous non-resident applications for entry and prioritise family reunification, especially where it involves dependents.
Or else the vocal will drown out the deserving.