JOHN HOWARD: Well the Government, through the Foreign Minister, has written to the organisation, Cricket Australia, instructing that the tour not go ahead. [..]
BARRIE CASSIDY: What is the legal basis for this? How can you put out that instruction?
JOHN HOWARD: Well in the end, we don't want to have to do this. In the end we can prevent people taking part in such a tour, we'd rather that not be the case but we are making it very plain to Cricket Australia, and I think they will understand the import. There have been discussions, and those discussions have employed, have I'm sorry included the Players' Association.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Yes, but what's the legal basis though, the legal basis for being able to do this?
JOHN HOWARD: Well you do have power over people's passports.
BARRIE CASSIDY: Right, and you'd be prepared to exercise that power?
JOHN HOWARD: Well, we have made our position very clear, and we've written to Cricket Australia. I think Cricket Australia does understand the position. The discussions have been very constructive, and they've been amiable.
- (source, transcript, Insiders, ABC-TV, 13.5.07)
Today, for the first time in Australia's history, a sporting team has been directed by the Government not to visit another country. Though almost everyone in Australia agrees that the national cricket team should not tour Zimbabwe in September, this is not an occasion for anyone to feel happy about.
There have been other occasions when Australian sporting teams have pulled out of overseas tours, but either voluntarily or for non-political reasons. Even in 1980, when Malcolm Fraser tried to orchestrate an Australian boycott of the Moscow Olympics, all he could do was cajole individual sports and individual athletes into staying home, with the result that about half the Olympic team still went to Moscow (and still won two gold medals). Fraser could not legally stop the team from going, although plenty of hounding went on.
The question at the moment is: what legal avenues have the Government taken to instruct Cricket Australia not to tour. As can be seen from the transcript of John Howard's announcement of the ban, during a TV interview this morning, he evaded the question, before making a broad generality about passports. Quite typical Howardspeak, in fact, when he either doesn't want to give a straight answer or doesn't know.
A subsequent press release from the Prime Minister's office gives no further clues as to the legal basis for "directing" Cricket Australia not to tour.
We are told that the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, has sent a letter to Cricket Australia containing the written direction not to tour. As at Sunday evening the content of this letter has not been made public. There has been one press release issued by Downer's office today Sunday - a churlish number chiding his opposite number. No announcement yet on the Cricket Australia website - maybe we'll hear from them on Monday morning.
I wrote yesterday of some of the legal options that I believe the Government could use. Howard alluded this morning to the revocation of passports for the duration of the tour. Apart from the precedent that such an ad hoc revocation would set, it could also create some very awkward situations for the players, remembering that a passport-holder can not be outside the country at all if his passport is suspended.
The exact dates for the Zimbabwe tour had not been set, but it appears that the three one-day matches would have been held just after the Twenty20 World Championships in South Africa (scheduled for September 11-24), and before they head off to India to play seven ODIs in October.
So it's likely that they would have had a hypothetical itinerary of Australia -> South Africa -> Zimbabwe -> India -> Australia. Some of the Australia Twenty20 squad will most likely be coming straight from county cricket in England to play in the World Championships. For them the itinerary in September-October would be UK -> South Africa -> Zimbabwe -> India -> Australia.
How does one have one's passport suspended for five or six days in the middle of a busy multi-country overseas trip?
A possibility floated today is that Australia may yet play the three-ODI series against Zimbabwe, but on neutral soil. John Howard appears cold on the idea, but let's not forget that Australia is already set down to play Zimbabwe on neutral soil in September, at Newlands, Cape Town, in the Twenty20 World Championship on September 12.
Whilst not being anything approaching a legal expert, I believe that the Australian Government should be looking at imposing targeted bilateral trade sanctions againzt Zimbabwe specifically banning trading activity surrounding professional sporting competitions. I'll leave the nuts and bolts of that discussion to another post.
One thing that is clear, and that is that the Australian Government has to issue Cricket Australia with an ironclad, legally enforceable order not to proceed with the tour of Zimbabwe. Any holes in that order may result in Cricket Australia still being liable to shell out two million US dollars.