Image: Tom Red/Private Media

Are Indian-Australians guilty, in Scott Morrison’s eyes, of identity politics? Of allowing themselves to be defined not as individuals but, as Morrison has put it, by their group rather than by God. Have they got lost in that group and in doing so, lost their humanity?

If not their humanity, at least, then their rights as citizens — the right to return to their country, Australia. And their freedom, with five years in jail if they try to return to do so.

Or are they, contrarily, doing exactly what Scott Morrison wants us all to do, to be a community, to pair their rights with responsibilities to one another, to avoid what Rabbi Jonathan Sacks lamented when he complained “our rights used to be how we were protected from the state. And now, it’s what we expect from it. What we once expected from family and community, now we contract this to the state and to the market”.

Against those fine words quoted by Morrison last week, we can place the words of Greg Hunt from Saturday: “Failure to comply with an emergency determination under the Biosecurity Act 2015 may incur a civil penalty of 300 penalty units, five years’ imprisonment, or both. The temporary pause will be reconsidered on 15 May by the government following advice from the chief medical officer (CMO).”

So, Indian-Australians who want to care for loved ones facing an extraordinary wave of COVID-19 — who seem a lot more like the kind of people of whom Sacks would approve than the subhuman, godless identitariat — will now be jailed if they attempt to return home.

As for Australians in India who have been trying to get home for a year and who are now condemned to remain there, it looks a lot like it is the Australian government that has defined itself by a group — white Australians — and lost its humanity by abandoning them.

The example illustrates how deeply confused Scott Morrison’s professed ideology of individualism, community and morality — and against what he sees as “identity politics” — is in practise, and how arbitrary it is. I build communities. You contract rights to the state. They practise identity politics.

Your actions to provide basic rights to your family rather than rely on the state to provide them — something Morrison holds up as a treasured act of responsibility lost in our reliance on governments and markets — will now exclude you from our community.

Is it that Morrison’s philosophy applies only to white Christians, and not people of other races? No, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said yesterday. “The decision which has been made under the Biosecurity Act on the basis of the advice of the chief medical officer is a temporary pause on returns.”

Except, the CMO says he gave no such advice about criminalising efforts to return to Australia from India. It was the government itself that decided that criminalisation of travelling here — something regarded as unnecessary for the United States, unnecessary for the UK, or for Europe, in the midst of their worst waves of COVID — is necessary for Indian-Australians and Australians in India. Another falsehood from a government that has made lying to Australians a core part of its political arsenal.

Does it matter that Morrison’s actions are at odds with what he claims is his central belief system? Not particularly — hypocrisy is the grease in the wheels of politics, after all — except that it has been Morrison who had made a point of advertising his religious beliefs, and who has chosen to talk about such matters in public. He has drawn our attention to what he believes, as if it matters.

Maybe it doesn’t matter, at least not to what he does in his day job. Or maybe it matters, but his beliefs are so confused that he can pick and choose from among them to justify anything. Even a racist exclusion policy for non-white Australians. Wonder what Rabbi Sacks would have made of that.

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