It is hard to believe we have closed the borders to Australian citizens. It has gone on now for months and months. Even though we are a wealthy country with acres of space, we have ignored the pleas of thousands of citizens and permanent residents. We have abandoned them. Few flights, massively expensive, some arbitrary cap on arrivals, those caps rise and fall with no care for those overseas, what they hold dear. Families broken apart, mothers and fathers trapped, for God's sake, three-year-olds separated from their mothers. From their mothers.
Who are we?
Now we have turned our backs on Australians in India. Their crime? India's pandemic has only worsened and its government seems singularly unable or uninterested in stemming the tide of chaos, confusion and COVID. We are safe here in Australia. We have so much good fortune. Compassion is what we should be about. Very little COVID, economy returning and jobs with it, yet our government shows not one iota of compassion.
Which is weird because just a week ago, the Prime Minister was telling the Australian Christian Churches conference on the Gold Coast last week what a deeply compassionate guy he is and how much he valued community.
He said: "You know, you cancel out one human being and you cancel community, because community is just human beings that God loves and intended to connect us one to another.
"It's so important that we continue to reach out and let each and every Australian know that they are important ... that they are significant."
Right. Unless they happen to be overseas and particularly if they are in India or China. I can't think of a more obvious form of cancelling human beings than rejecting them from their home. Did we cancel the Brits? The Yanks? Do we only want white people now?
We are tampering with one of the core rights of citizenship and we are creating a second class citizen.Luara Ferracioli
As political philosophy academic Luara Ferracioli puts it: "There is an issue of justice here. The rights that come with citizenship such as the right to vote, to stand for office, the right to be in the territory of your state and the right to return. That is why we have citizenship and that is what makes it worth protecting."
She's blunt: "We are tampering with one of the core rights of citizenship and we are creating a second class citizen."
Morrison has decided that citizens overseas are less entitled to one of the core rights of citizenship.
But Ferracioli, from the University of Sydney, says the impacts are wider than those Australians stuck abroad. She is a dual national, born in Brazil but came to Australia for a job. She met the Australian bloke of her dreams and then produced two little Australians. Her beloved mother is in Brazil as is the rest of her family. What would happen if she had to travel back to Brazil to look after her mum? Ferracioli has come to a bitter realisation.
"I have no confidence that the Australian government would take my needs into account. They don't see us as equal citizens now. I never questioned before if I was an equal citizen but this crisis has made me very sceptical and question whether dual citizens are really equal citizens."
Ferracioli is not just speaking from her heart. She says it is important to engage in political debate in good faith, to assess policies on their own merits.
"But I'm perplexed, I don't like assuming there are bad motivations but I can understand if some people feel as if these decisions are racist."
I just can't see it any other way. We allow all kinds of fancy travel to and from for celebrities and businessmen and I get why we do that. But the people left behind do not wield the power of celebrity or commerce. As venerable ANU emeritus professor John Warhurst says, we haven't been compassionate in any context. There appear to be inconsistencies between the way we treat Australians in China and India and the way we treat those in the UK and the US and says we've been told that it is on this advice or that advice but it is neither transparent, clear nor consistent. Worse, our compassion is missing in action.
"We have put ourselves first and everyone else second. We have not tried very hard to look at other ways of bringing people home, at other forms of quarantine. We are not creative and we have taken the easy option," says Warhurst.
I ask Warhurst, an expert in the relationship between religion and politics, why a prime minister who professes to be a Christian is doing what looks pretty unChristian to me.
"There is no evidence that Christians are more compassionate," he says.
"We have a history of leaders who pledge compassion and talk about values but are hardnosed and non-compassionate when dealing with the vulnerable. Their Christianity has no impact."
Former Uniting Church minister and researcher into the connection between religion and politics Elenie Poulos believes the response by the Prime Minister is a combination of panic and political posturing.
"The government has done so badly with the vaccine rollout, the decision to close the borders to India is about demonstrating control any way it can."
As Poulos points out, less than a week ago the PM was all about espousing a sense of community in front of a Christian conference. Now he is turning his back on those in his own community, the community of Australians. Apparently we can all manage well. Given the will, we can find the way.
"If you are not managing well in society then you need to make changes and what that does is mitigate against any attempt to repair the systems and the structures that lead to injustice and perpetuate them."
Poulos says some branches of Pentacostalism are linked to neoliberalism, every soul for themselves.
The "good" ones will get saved. The rest of us not so much. Morrison said last week we should reach out and let every Australian know they are important ... that they are significant. We've just discovered some of us are very insignificant.
- Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist.