What do you say about someone who allegedly left his Covid-affected wife in Sydney and gallivanted around NSW, while also allegedly not using any QR codes at all?
Zoran Radovanovic, of Sydney's Rose Bay, has been charged with breaching NSW public health orders. He was served a future court attendance notice while in Lismore Base Hospital, and will appear in Lismore Local Court on Monday, September 13. We will wait to see what the magistrate says. In the meantime, he has strict bail conditions.
I totally get that. I mean, who likes hanging around hospitals? I also hate being locked down. Yet here we all are again.
While all that was going on, the High Court rejected an application from a Biloela family to hear their appeal. You will recall the Murugappan family. The parents, Nades and Priya, came to Australia by boat. They met here. Married here. Had their two little munchkins, Kopika, now six, and Tharnicaa, four. They lived in Biloela. They loved Biloela, and Biloela loved them back.
They got shipped to Christmas Island. Eventually they ended up in Perth, because the youngest was too sick to ever recover on that government-forsaken place. Because they came by boat, all the legal processes up to the High Court have found the parents don't have refugee status. The good news is that three of the family were granted bridging visas. Now the decision as to whether they can stay is in the hands of Alex Hawke, the current Immigration Minister.
Carina Ford, lawyer for the Murugappans, tells me the High Court decision has not assessed the validity of Tharnicaa's protection claims. In fact, Tharnicaa has never had her protection claims assessed.
But as Ford puts it now, "We have reached the end of the road with the High Court. It is now in the hands of the minister, as it has been since February."
In other words, the fate of this family is up to Alex Hawke.
Australia's government has a lot of discretion about who gets to stay in this country of ours. Who is good enough? Who should be returned to their country of origin? [A major shoutout here to whoever let my parents arrive. By boat.]
But as Ford says, this is a family which has done nothing wrong, other than the parents arriving by boat. For that, the family have spent three years in immigration detention, including Christmas Island.
"They have overwhelming community support. If you look at this objectively, you would have to say this family should be allowed to stay," she says.
And, as Ford points out, in Australia we give people the benefit of the doubt.
"There is discretion, and discretion exists because the law is not a black-and-white answer," she says.
"Sometimes there can be exceptions, such as in character cases. This is the exact purpose of the minister holding these powers."
Which brings me back to Mr Radovanovic.
He has an interesting past. He arrived in Australia on a visitor's visa, which he outstayed. He then married an Australian citizen. When he applied for permanent residence on spouse grounds, it was rejected. Obviously he did not want to return to Yugoslavia, because by then war had broken out in the Balkans. Radovanovic appealed and was successful.
The 2000 decision from the Administrative Appeals Tribunal found it was not in dispute that his marriage was genuine. It also accepted that his wife, "would suffer considerable hardship in the event of the applicant having to leave Australia."
This was extremely thoughtful of the deputy president of the tribunal, B. M. Forrest. This is what discretion is about.
As he wrote at the time, "In my view, if granted permission to work, the applicant has not only the opportunity to relieve the aimlessness of his present lifestyle but to demonstrate his capacity to make a contribution to Australia. He has a good command of English, youth, people around him prepared to give him the chance to demonstrate his commitment to Australia and a spouse who would assist his rehabilitation."
So why was it initially rejected? Well, apart from overstaying his visa, there were a few other problems.
Cannabis offences, burglary, theft. Lots of trouble, but not murder. Still, B. M. Forrest was clear.
"I am not satisfied that he passes the character test. The criminal conduct comprises the convictions in 1992 and 1998 as discussed. The general conduct is the breach of Australia's immigration laws in overstaying for an extended period after the expiry of his visa, misleading immigration officers in the performance of their duties and his behaviour in relation to the charges awaiting resolution, although, in relation to this last episode of general conduct, I think it unsafe to attach considerable weight to it because of the present status of these charges."
So then it comes back to our old mate, discretion.
"I have come to the conclusion that the balance falls ever so slightly on the side of an exercise of discretion in favour of the grant of a visa."
Since then there have been three kids, all under 18, two of whom we understand have Covid. Mrs Radovanovic is recovering from Covid. There have also been some other, more recent offences.
And who knows, after this, Mr Radovanovic may have one of those lightbulb moments, where he becomes the citizen B. M. Forrest thought he could be. His children, no doubt, will be adornments to our nation. As are the little family from Biloela via Sri Lanka.
Everyone has a story of why they did what they did and, mostly, people deserve understanding. Discretion.
As Denis Muller, senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne's Centre for Advancing Journalism, says, the character of individuals is absolutely relevant in the present circumstances, and of course any breaches of public health orders are matters of high public interest. Is it wrong, I asked, to bring up matters of the past? He reminds me of the dangers of naming and shaming, but is also clear about public interest.
Muller, whose new book Journalism and the Future of Democracy is released this week, says: "The right to be forgotten from the events of 20 years ago is outweighed by public interest."
Mostly people deserve understanding. Mostly. And let's hope that when the Minister for Immigration considers the case of the Muragappans, he extends to them the same understanding Australia has extended to others.
- Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist.