Tennis champion Novak Djokovic, who has been described as a risk of ‘civil unrest’ and a ‘talisman of anti-vaccination sentiment’, may never get a chance to defend his Australian Open title, facing a three-year ban from the country ahead of a final legal challenge to stay.
Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has personally revoked the unvaccinated world number 1’s visa, arguing his presence in Australia could incite “civil unrest” and encourage others to avoid vaccination against Covid-19.
Djokovic faces a hearing in federal court on Sunday morning Australian time that will determine whether the minister acted unreasonably in canceling his visa.
Documents filed in court reveal the reasons that the minister sent to Djokovic to justify the cancellation of his visa.
Hawke said he accepted Djokovic’s recent Covid-19 infection meant he posed a “negligible risk to those around him”, but was “perceived by some as the talisman of a community of anti-vaccine sentiments”.
“I consider that the continued presence of Mr Djokovic in Australia may lead to an increase in anti-vaccination sentiment generated in the Australian community, potentially leading to an increase in civil unrest of the type that has been experienced previously in Australia. with gatherings and demonstrations which can themselves be a source of community transmission.
“Mr. Djokovic is… a person of influence and status.
“Given…the conduct of Mr Djokovic after testing positive for Covid-19, his publicly stated views, as well as his unvaccinated status, I consider his continued presence in Australia may encourage others to ignore or act inconsistently with public health advice. and policies in Australia.
Djokovic’s visa was canceled under the extraordinary and sweeping powers given to the Australian Minister for Immigration under section 133C(3) of the Australian Migration Act, introduced in 2014 when Scott Morrison, the current Prime Minister, was Minister of Immigration.
After a visa has been canceled under this section, a person is not entitled to return to Australia for three years, except in extraordinary circumstances “which affect the interests of Australia or compassionate or compelling circumstances affecting the interests of an Australian citizen”.
Hawke said the consequences of revoking Djokovic’s visa were “significant”.
“Mr. Djokovic regularly travels to Australia to participate in tennis tournaments…this visa cancellation…may affect his ability to obtain a visa to enter Australia in the future.”
If the three-year ban is upheld against Djokovic, he would be 37 or 38 before being allowed to return to Australia, to compete in a tournament he has won nine times.
Djokovic’s legal team argued that the Minister failed to consider that Djokovic’s government detention and possible forced deportation from Australia could also spark anti-vaccination sentiment.
In court documents, Djokovic’s lawyers argued that the minister took an “illogical, irrational, [and] unreasonable approach to…the issue of public interest” and his own exercise of ministerial discretion.
“The Minister cited no evidence to support his conclusion that Mr Djokovic’s presence in Australia could ‘foster anti-vaccination sentiment’, and it was not open to the Minister to make that conclusion. “
Migration experts have questioned why, if the Australian government feared Djokovic would inspire anti-vaccination sentiment in Australia, this was not considered in the initial decision to grant him a visa on November 18, or when his visa was canceled for the first time at the airport.
Djokovic’s treatment has drawn strong reactions in Serbia, where the Belgrade-born player is a national hero.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić took to social media to decry ‘harassment’ and a ‘political witch hunt’ targeting ‘the best tennis player in the world’, while the Foreign Ministry said it had been “drawn to Australia to be humiliated”.
The Djokovic visa saga has now spanned 10 days, a distraction from rising cases of Omicron variants across Australia, a lack of testing, shortages of food and other essentials, and a public health system under acute pressure.
Djokovic arrived in Australia on the evening of January 5. He believed a visa granted on November 18 and an exemption approved by Tennis Australia’s chief medical officer and a group of independent experts from the Victorian government would be sufficient to enter Australia.
After a nighttime interrogation at Melbourne airport, Djokovic’s visa was initially canceled by a Home Secretary’s delegate last Thursday, on the grounds that a recent Covid infection in and of itself was not sufficient to an exemption from Australia’s stringent vaccination requirements.
The delegate concluded that, since he was not vaccinated, Djokovic presented a risk to public health.
But on Monday, a federal circuit court judge reinstated Djokovic’s visa, finding it was unreasonable for the Australian Border Force to renege on an agreement to give him more time at the airport to contact his legal team. and settle the exemption.
Government lawyers immediately warned the Australian Open No.1 seed that the Immigration Minister would consider exercising his personal power to revoke the visa again.
Djokovic faced a nervous wait, with questions about his trip in the fortnight before arriving in Australia and his attendance at events following his positive Covid diagnosis on December 16.
On Wednesday, Djokovic admitted his agent had made an “administrative error” in saying he had not traveled in the two weeks before his flight to Australia and admitted an “error in judgment” by not isolating himself not after testing positive for Covid. Hawke said those factors were not important in his decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa, and he accepted Djokovic’s explanations.
Djokovic is currently in immigration detention in Melbourne. His case will be heard in federal court on Sunday morning Australian time. If he loses, he risks being expelled from Australia.
The Australian Open starts on Monday.