Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Novak Djokovic ruling: Strategic surrender or an embarrassing loss?

As a survivor of Covid, he had natural immunity so was no danger to others. Vaccination would have added nothing

Legal cases are rarely dramatic. But the federal government’s total capitulation on Monday in its case against Novak Djokovic was about as dramatic as you could imagine.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews consented to the Federal Circuit Court quashing the decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa and to paying his legal costs. All up, the legal costs for the taxpayer (without including court time), will likely be more than $250,000.

Djokovic didn’t technically win his case, he just forced the government to give up its defence. But in some ways, forcing your opponent to yield to you and surrender is better than a win. It’s certainly more embarrassing for the loser.

People might not understand how an unvaccinated person – tennis player or not – can come into this country, especially after Australians overseas have had difficulty getting home for the two years of the pandemic. Add to that the fact that Melbourne has endured substantial lockdowns and the unvaccinated have been subject to strict controls on their movements.

Djokovic would say he is entitled to an exemption from getting vaccinated because he recently contracted Covid and given that it might not be safe to get the vaccine. He seems to have ATAGI on his side on that. The government would say that is not a good enough reason and he’s been ­allowed in because Border Force made technical mistakes in processing the decision to cancel his visa.

With a clearly annoyed judge Anthony Kelly, the government not only agreed to the reinstatement of Djokovic’s visa, it agreed to the court finding the process that the government – through Border Force – engaged in was unreasonable.

The big question is whether the government will now try to ­remake the decision but this time with a proper process.

On one view it’s possible the capitulation was a strategic one. There’s a saying in the law about “taking the temperature of the bench”. The bench is where the judge sits, and so this refers to trying to guess from the judge’s comments or demeanour which way they’re going to decide.

Taking the temperature of the bench on Monday told me his Honour was red hot in favour of finding for Djokovic. Not only did his Honour seem to think the process was unreasonable – as the government agreed to his Honour including in the court orders made by consent – but his Honour appears to have had a tentative view in favour of Djokovic on a far more important point.

Earlier in the hearing – when the live feed was not active – his Honour said he found it difficult to understand how Djokovic’s medical exemption – based on his December positive test and signed by a professor of immunology, a physician with expertise in disease and endorsed by a state government ­independent panel – was rejected by Border Force. A finding by his Honour that Djokovic was medically exempt would have tied the government’s hands in future.

So it is possible it surrendered in order to limit the loss it was about to suffer by agreeing to ­essentially start the whole process again.

The big question at the end of Monday’s hearing was what will the government do now? The court was told at the end of the case that the government was still considering cancelling Djokovic’s visa. The judge seemed unimpressed, although thankful he had been told and not blindsided later.


Migration ‘benefits’ not backed up by facts

There was barely a week last year when some lobby group or other wasn’t out there spruiking the case for an immediate and substantial increase in the migrant intake.

If it wasn’t about meeting skill shortages, it was about supporting the higher education sector by allowing in international students. If it wasn’t about boosting the economy, it was about migrants paying off the enormous government debt that has been accumulated.

The fact that repeated surveys have pointed to a lack of support among ordinary Australians for a return to high rates of immigration is quickly overlooked. That the decade ending in 2019 was associated with substantial migrant intakes, particularly of temporary migrants, and essentially stagnant per capita (and household) incomes is similarly ignored.

If this were not depressing enough, a number of state governments and the federal government appear to be only too willing to seek to turbocharge the number of migrants able to enter the country.

In October last year, it was revealed that the NSW government was being advised to support a massive surge in migrant numbers that would involve bringing in an additional two million people in five years. (The pre-pandemic annual average was about 240,000 net overseas migration – the difference between long-term arrivals and long-term departures.)

Evidently, we need a “national dialogue on an aggressive resumption of immigration levels as a key means of economic recovery and post-pandemic growth”. Sadly, it would seem that NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet finds this sort of advice very appealing, although other events have distracted him since taking office.

Most media outlets provide balanced accounts of the immigration debate, giving ample scope for Big Australia advocates to make their case but cover the various concerns arising from high migrant intakes. When it comes to The Australian Financial Review, by contrast, it is Big Australia all the way. (This may reflect its largely business readership.)

In an editorial published last year, it was argued that “migration is often miscast as a Ponzi scheme, lazy growth in which migrants service other migrants to produce headline GDP gain that is neither sustainable nor worthwhile. That’s a fundamental misreading of the character of Australia. Unlike most of its developed peers, Australia is still a frontier economy with untapped resources, and its biggest days in front of it.”

The idea that Australia is a frontier economy is, of course, bizarre. As a country with one of the highest per capita income levels, albeit one that has been slipping, in the world, it is a ludicrous proposition to label us a frontier economy. And the issue about the Ponzi scheme is that the migrant intake must be increased in relation to the size of the population in order to secure the same proportional boost to GDP (but not GDP per head).

This is, in fact, acknowledged in the latest Intergenerational Report released last year by the Treasury. The modelling there involves both a static NOM (around 240,000 per year) and a proportional NOM (increasing with the population), with preference given to the latter.

To welcome in the new year we learnt that KPMG had leapt on the Big Australia wagon and is advocating ramping up migration levels to 350,000 per year. Evidently, this will be needed to make up for the “lost” migrants during the pandemic.

But according to its chief economist, Brendan Rynne, the boost to migration will boost the economy by $120bn and increase GDP by 4.4 per cent by the end of the decade.

(I tried to find more details of the KPMG study but was unable to find any more, including the sponsor of the study. Mind you, the KPMG website resembles a booklet you would expect the Greens to produce – all climate change, human rights, environmental/social/governance responsibilities and the like.)

According to Dr Rynne, “I am absolutely a supporter of increasing migration to Australia and at levels above what is in the Population Statement to ensure not only that we get the economic benefits, (but also) the social and cultural benefits you get from opening your borders and allowing a truly multicultural society.” He clearly regards there being no social or cultural downsides to having high migrant intakes. He also fails to mention congestion, additional demand on services and pressure on infrastructure.

He acknowledges that immigration can moderate wages but “the second-round benefits, particularly from skilled workers who bring greater productivity, is that this productivity improvement is the thing that generates sustainable long-term wage rises”.

The problem with this analysis is that it is simply not supported by the facts. Productivity in the high migration decade ending 2019 was extremely sluggish. Moreover, the evidence is clear that many skilled migrants are not particularly skilled and do not hold skilled jobs.

One of the angles pushed by big Australia advocates is that migrants provide a fiscal dividend by generating more in tax revenue than they cost (think here education, health and aged care, transfer payments). According to Treasury modelling, skilled primary migrants have a positive lifetime fiscal impact of $319,000 per migrant. (Bear in mind here that only the costs incurred by the federal government are included. The costs borne by the states, including of additional infrastructure, are not counted.)

The problem here is that all the other migrant groups, including skilled secondary (who have a right to accompany skilled primary migrants), have negative fiscal lifetime impacts. Family migrants, who remain a substantial part of the permanent migrant intake, generate a lifetime fiscal impact of negative $137,000 per migrant.

Of course, it is simply not possible to attract skilled migrants without allowing them to be accompanied by their spouse/partner. Many also seek to bring in other family members, including elderly parents (often on temporary visas).

It is also interesting to ponder whether the observed large positive lifetime fiscal impact of skilled primary migrants is skewed by a few highly paid occupations, particularly doctors. It is well known that our health system continues to rely on the steady inflow of foreign-trained doctors.

It seems passing strange when so many of our young folk aspire to be doctors but are rejected because of the limited number of university places, but we regard bringing in doctors from overseas (who would be highly valued in their own countries) as acceptable. The solution is obvious: train more of our own.

When it comes to the immigration debate, I say: bring it on. But watch out for the motives of those pressing for Big Australia, in particular. What is portrayed as being in the national interest is often just a thin disguise for the pursuit of self-interest.


Singing and dancing banned at NSW festivals, but at church? No worries

With Omicron cases exploding across NSW in recent weeks, the state government pulled a lever it has previously reached for during the pandemic: imposing restrictions on the live music industry by public health order.

New rules announced by NSW Health last Friday stated that singing and dancing was not permitted indoors at “a hospitality venue, entertainment facility, nightclub, or major recreation facility”.

Exceptions apply to wedding services or a gathering immediately following a wedding; a performer who is performing or rehearsing, or a person who is instructing, or being instructed, in singing or dancing.

Late on Monday, NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant signed an amendment to the Public Health Act which came into effect on Tuesday, January 11.

In an explanatory note attached to the amendment, the object of the order was “to prohibit singing and dancing by persons attending music festivals”.

It will have devastating consequences for businesses and individuals operating in this sector.

After hanging on during the long wait of getting national vaccination rates high enough to reopen venues and again hold events, many live music workers thought 2022 would offer the chance to safely resume after two years of pain and interruptions.

Yet there’s another form of venue where it appears to be perfectly fine for music fans to stand, sing and sway together before a live band: Hillsong Church.

On Sunday morning, NSW state pastor Nathanael Wood led a service at the church’s Hills Convention Centre in Norwest, 35km northwest of central Sydney.

The 50-minute live-streamed service – which has received more than 10,000 views on YouTube – concluded with an extended performance by Hillsong Worship, the church’s ARIA chart-topping and Grammy Award-winning devotional rock ‘n’ roll band.

With five singers and four instrumentalists, the group ran through an extended version of its song That’s The Power before a masked congregation on its feet with arms raised.

To all intents and purposes, it looked much like a rock concert you might find at a venue anywhere across NSW – except singing and dancing at those concerts is banned by public health order until January 27.

Asked by The Australian about this apparent double standard, NSW Health did not address the question.

“Face masks are required for all indoor premises, subject to exemptions,” said a spokesperson on Monday afternoon. “NSW Health encourages people to avoid large gatherings at the current time. Anyone attending a gathering should consider taking a rapid antigen test beforehand and should maintain physical distance from others as much as possible.”

Asked again why churches and places of worship were excluded from the current restrictions on singing and dancing across the state, NSW Health responded on Tuesday afternoon.

“Singing and dancing in hospitality venues and nightclubs is deemed high risk due to increased movement and mingling within and across these venues, the influence of alcohol consumption, and the removal of masks in these settings to consume food and drink,” said a NSW Health spokesperson. “People attending religious services generally remain in fixed positions and masks are mandatory for these indoor gatherings.”

A spokesperson for Hillsong responded to a request from The Australian, but did not provide an interview or statement by time of publication.


Sydney Festival: Assertion Israel is a racist state is simply not true

This month, several editorials have been published and countless toxic comments made on ­social media calling on artists to boycott the Sydney Festival.

The reason? The Israeli ­Embassy in Sydney wanted financially to support the artists, musicians and community of Sydney, a gesture of goodwill and friendship that has been offered in past festivals by numerous other ­embassies and internationally ­affiliated companies and organisations.

As an Australian who has worked with some of the most well-known cultural, film and music acts in the world, I feel compelled to respond to this disturbing, divisive and hugely counter­productive call. A call that harms local artists, unfairly demonises and dehumanises Israelis and ultimately damages the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

My work as an entertainment lawyer has included representation of film directors, writers and actors from all over the Middle East including Egyptians, Iranians, Saudis, Palestinians as well as Israelis. At the request of the Film Festival in Beirut, I was invited to teach a masterclass to young Middle Eastern filmmakers and share my 38 years of experience in an effort to help the next generation learn about the industry. The week that I spent there was one of the most fulfilling chapters of my career. It included leading a discussion with representatives from around the Middle East on how bringing ­together people in the arts is a way of finding commonality – building bridges together, not pulling them down.

During my career I’ve witnessed the power of cultural experiences, like music, to unite people of different backgrounds and from diverse communities. And I’ve used my platform to stand in solidarity with others.

The calls to boycott Israel, Israeli artists and festivals like this one merely dampen the constructive forms of engagement needed to bring Israelis, Palestinians and the international community together. They make it more difficult to establish trust, mutual understanding and compromise. Artists and entertainers have the ability to effect positive change and the selective targeting of Israel for a cultural boycott not only does not bring the region any closer to peace, but also fails and silences artists in the process.

In the worst instances, these boycotts have led to death threats against cultural icons including Argentine footballer Lionel Messi and songwriter Paul McCartney for merely wishing to visit Israel to play a friendly soccer match and perform at a concert there.

Hamas, which is a member of the boycott movement’s central committee, just publicly declared its support for the entertainers who have pulled out. Hamas is an internationally designated terrorist organisation whose aim is the destruction of Israel.

There’s a curious talking point used by those in favour of boycotting Israel and it can be found on the website of the activists spearheading the boycott of the Sydney Festival. It states: “Israel has long used culture and the arts to cloak its atrocities against the Palestinian people.” There is an insidious logic to such a statement. Are Israelis allowed to support the arts without being accused of doing so for shadowy reasons? Is every Israeli action, regardless of how benign, philanthropic or altruistic, an attempt to “cloak” Israeli domestic policies? Would we levy the same accusations against Australia? If so, is the Sydney Festival itself some sort of PR stunt to cover up our own ­nation’s shortcomings? This is a fallacious argument at its core.

There is such a thing as objective truth. And the assertion that Israel is an inherently racist, colonialist, apartheid state is simply not true. The calls to boycott Israeli-affiliated events like the Sydney Festival, push concepts of “us versus them” and “good versus evil”, paint the current conflict as undeniably simple. And if you question its supposed simplicity, you only prove your guilt of ­“oppression”. Those calling for this boycott refuse to acknowledge the considerable complexity, ­nuance and legitimate obstacles to peace that exist. They refuse to acknowledge that Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel and that more than half of Israelis are Mizrahi or Sephardic Jews who never left the Middle East when Jews were dispersed around the world by invaders centuries ago.

Recognising this truth doesn’t prevent peace, but allows for a mature, robust dialogue of how to achieve it. And it does so without misleading slogans, incendiary accusations and heated boycotts.

Unfortunately, the calls to boycott the Sydney Festival misrepresent basic truths about the Israeli state and weaponise indigeneity, while unfairly pressuring local artists from performing.

Let’s elevate the conversation, commit to being partners in peace, honour the lived history of Jews in their indigenous homeland and support local artists who want to perform in theirs.

While art can reflect politics, and artists can choose to reflect their politics in their own art, art should never become subservient to politics and artists and cultural events should never be forced to be politicised. Ultimately, the boycott movement is an affront to Palestinian and Israeli moderates alike who are seeking to reach peace through compromise, exchange and mutual recognition


Also see my other blogs. Main ones below:

http://dissectleft.blogspot.com (DISSECTING LEFTISM -- daily)

http://antigreen.blogspot.com (GREENIE WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://snorphty.blogspot.com/ (TONGUE-TIED)


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