When rules aren’t just rules


From the “Le Quotidien” newsletter: A big take on current affairs, from the team that brings you “The Daily” podcast. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

It was a dry sentence: “The rules are the rules,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after his government revoked Novak Djokovic’s visa ahead of the Australian Open.

But Australia’s pandemic rules aren’t just rules. It is a legal regime, constructed in crisis, that expresses something deeper about national character – what is valued, what is controlled and what is worthy of contempt.

In Australia, the contempt for the foreign, the unknown, success and expansion has long influenced national politics. The country’s pandemic policing, among the toughest in the world, is a consequence of its short-sightedness and insularity, according to Damien Cave, Australian bureau chief of The New York Times.

Covid-19 has served to bolster anti-immigrant sentiment – ​​and one of the toughest border policing systems of any developed country. While the regulations of a regional police state may seem as parochial as the policies of the country, the influence of these decisions reverberates far beyond Australia’s borders. Here’s how:

The modern state of Australia was born just before the oldest person in the world, populated by seafaring immigrants who decreed the systematic extermination of the native population of the country. But over Australia’s relatively short national history, the government has insisted on controlling the same migration that was essential to its founding.

For most of the last century, the so-called White Australia policy has restricted non-white immigration – and the sentiment behind this policy persists in the current government. Over the past decade, Australia has insisted on a zero-tolerance approach to asylum seekers, spending $15 million on advertising campaigns with slogans like “No way: You will not make Australia home” in thick red text over photos of dark waves.

Asylum seekers are often sent away from Australia’s borders, held indefinitely in Papua New Guinea or Nauru. Some self-immolate. Those who make it to the mainland are held indefinitely in Australian hotels, often without access to sunlight or fresh air. Some attempt suicide. Australians are largely comfortable with this immigration system, and many want it to be even stricter.

Before the pandemic, the majority of Australian poll respondents thought immigration was a burden on social welfare, and half wanted to see immigration levels reduced. The pandemic has only intensified these views.

In 2020, Australia locked down its borders and the population of the country has decreased for the first time in 100 years. As Australia considered reopening its borders, 58% of voters said they supported restarting migration at a lower level than before the coronavirus. The pandemic has also shifted Border Patrol targets.

Instead of focusing on deterring immigrants, the government began to criminalize the movement of Australian citizens, often at the expense of personal freedom. At the start of the pandemic, Australians were prohibited from leaving the country without special government exemptions or vaccinations, restrictions that 81% of Australians supported.

And last year some Australians were banned from returning home – and citizens trying to return from India faced $66,600 fine or five years in prison. Those who were allowed into the country faced costly and arduous quarantines at remote facilities.

Australia’s immigration policies have been an inspiration to governments around the world, influencing the closing of global borders. Britain is reportedly investigating the detention of its own asylum seekers in offshore detention centers, and former President Donald Trump, a friend of Prime Minister Morrison, hailed Australia’s approach to immigration before declaring a state of emergency to build a border wall.

A report 2016 revealed that Australian policies “have consciously cultivated or indirectly fostered negative developments in low-income states” such as Indonesia, Kenya and Jordan, which collectively host more than one million refugees.

australia history mass visa cancellation, a practice made public by the Djokovic case, could also have ripple effects. Britain recently introduced a controversial Nationality and Borders Bill, which will no longer require officials to inform people before their citizenship is withdrawn. The UK government has also recently extended its power to impose visa penalties on countries that refuse to comply with its deportation policies.

These are all rules, as Mr. Morrison said. But these are rules that also inspire other rules, those that influence and control relations between countries and their citizens.

These rules govern a world in which tennis stars can become the source of collective national outrage, asylum seekers are detained overseas and movement is challenged not just between countries but within these.


This week we begin a new series in which we ask The Daily’s editors and producers to take us behind the scenes of their favorite episode of the show they worked on.

First in this journey through the Daily’s archives is Anita Badejo, a London-based editor. She first joined the team in February 2021 from Pop-Up Magazine, where she served as Editor-in-Chief.

Anita’s pick is “How Did We Let People Die This Way”, an episode that first aired in November 2021 (you can listen to it here). We sat down with her to discuss the episode and the editing process.

Tell us a bit about “How did we let people die this way”?

It was an episode we did with Nick Casey, the Madrid bureau chief of The Times. He profiled a man, Martín Zamora, who carved out a very unique line of work, collecting the bodies of people who died at sea trying to migrate to Spain. He identifies who they are and then brings their bodies back to their families, mostly in North and West Africa.

How was the episode born?

The episode was pitched by Rachelle Bonja, who is one of our amazing producers who works a lot on international stories. [Read Rachelle’s producer profile here.] Rachelle spotted the story Nick wrote about Martín for the newspaper and brought it up during one of our daily morning meetings as a potential option for the show.

Is there a working moment on the episode that sticks in your mind?

Nick had already spent a lot of time with Martín during multiple interviews, which he had recorded but, of course, they were in Spanish. We took the initiative to have all the tapes professionally translated to ensure that we had a very good understanding of the content of the interviews.

Thanks to the translations, I was able to sit down and read about this man, his experiences and the impact this work had on him personally. What I remember most is when I read the transcript of what became the end of our episode – that moment where Martín and Nick are driving on the way to his funeral home, and Martín describes how many families he works with will send him videos of their loved ones. Often they are really full of life and hope and are so optimistic. Martín described in the interview that he sometimes watches these videos while the body of one of these people is lying in front of him on an embalming table. I remember reading this in the transcript and being really overwhelmed with what it must have sounded like.

Is this episode representative of the types of episodes you enjoy working on?

I love telling stories that are truly human and grounded in human experience. I’m always very excited when working on our episodes that have a source and a character at the center of them that can really bring a problem to life and help people understand the impact of something that can feel really big and unsolvable , such as global migration and the refugee crisis. I’m also drawn to stories that take a problem or problem in the world and present you with a story that you’re always going to associate with that problem.

When I read a headline about migration or a group of migrants or refugees who died at sea — which I often do because I’m based in the UK and we hear a lot about people trying to cross the Channel “I can” Don’t think about Nick’s story. I think about who’s on the other side and who has to interact with that person’s body and that family, what kind of toll it takes on them. I heard that from a lot of people who listened to this episode. It opened up a facet of this problem that I had never even considered before. I won’t forget it.


Tuesday: An investigation of the civilian casualties of American air wars and why the death toll is so high.

Wednesday: Inside, President Biden and the Democrats’ latest push to pass Senate bills that would protect the right to vote.

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