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Concerns over 'media circus' as Djokovic takes fight against deportation to Australian Federal Court

The tennis star is seeking to defend his Australian Open title.

Djokovic practicing yesterday in Melbourne.
Djokovic practicing yesterday in Melbourne.
Image: AP/PA Images

Updated Fri 12:40 PM

NOVAK DJOKOVIC’S EFFORTS to avoid deportation from Australia are to be transferred to the country’s Federal Court as his immigration case took a further legal twist. 

The tennis star will spend the night in a residential accommodation but will be detained again tomorrow morning Australian time. 

The move comes after Australia’s Immigration Minister earlier today cancelled Djokovic’s visa, putting his participation in the Australian Open at risk. 

His bid to avoid deportation will be heard by Australia’s Federal Court at 10:15 am tomorrow local-time (11.15 pm tonight Irish time).

Djokovic has been in a legal limbo in Melbourne following issues with his visa since he arrived in the country on 5 January.

Djokovic does not have a Covid-19 vaccination and had sought an exemption from Australian entry requirements on the grounds of a positive PCR test result from 16 December. His lawyers say that he has a medical reason for not being vaccinated. 

After a number of errors were discovered in his visa application by border officials, his visa approval was quashed and he was not allowed to enter the country. Djokovic was sent to a Melbourne detention centre where he spent four nights.

He subsequently won a legal appeal to the visa decision but his case was reviewed by Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Alex Hawke who today used his powers to cancel the visa “on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”. 

In a court hearing following the minister’s decision, Judge Anthony Kelly was told that Djokovic was not currently being detained and that he was staying “in a residential address”. 

The judge said that Djokovic was to present himself to immigration officials for an interview at 8am tomorrow local-time (9pm tonight Irish time) after which he will be placed in detention. 

Lawyers for the tennis world number one raised concerns about a potential “media circus” if Djokovic was to attend tomorrow’s interview in the downtown offices of the immigration department.

It was therefore agreed that the interview would take place “at another location agreed between the parties”. 

“The one thing you can be guaranteed of is that I will not be a party to and I will not be in any way somehow inveigled into the very real possibility of a media circus if that is what the parties anticipate,” Judge Kelly told the hearing. 

Lawyers for Djokovic are seeking an injunction on the minister’s decision, with a hearing on that matter set for Sunday 9am local-time. Djokovic is to be in his lawyer’s offices for the duration of the hearing where he will be supervised by border officials. 

Djokovic will also be permitted to be at his lawyers’ offices tomorrow afternoon to prepare for the court hearing. 

Lawyers representing Australia’s Minister for Immigration told the court they would not seek to remove Djokovic from the country while the legal appeals process was ongoing. 

During the court hearing, lawyers for Djokovic expressed concerned about the “chewing up of time” and said that Djokovic was in “extraordinary circumstances” as he was due to play either on Monday night or Tuesday night. 

Lawyers for Djokovic also outlined a summary of what their appeal to the minister’s decision would be, arguing that the minister’s reasons were “in stark contrast” to the reasons offered by border officials when Djokovic landed in Melbourne. 

His legal team said that the minister himself accepts that Djokovic “poses only a negligible risk to others by virtue of effects having natural immunity from recent infection”. 

In his decision, the minister raised the potential that Djokovic’s continued presence in Australia had the potential of “exciting anti-vaxx sentiment”. 

In a brief oral argument, Djokovic’s lawyers said the minister did not consider the effect on anti-vaxx sentiment should Djokovic be force to miss the tennis tournament: 

The binary alternative of forcibly removing this high-profile, legally compliant, negligible-risk, medical contraindication player, precluding or impairing his ability to come back to Australia for three years and prejudicing his career on the basis of two statements made in 2020 and the possible perception of those statements by others, the minister gives no consideration whatsoever to what effect that may have on anti-vaxx sentiment, and indeed, on public order. 

Ministerial decision

In his statement this morning, the minister said that he had “exercised my power under section 133C (3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.

Hawke continued: 

This decision followed orders by the Federal Circuit and Family Court on 10 January 2022, quashing a prior cancellation decision on procedural fairness grounds. In making this decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr Djokovic. The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I thank the officers of the Department of Home Affairs and the Australian Border Force who work every day to serve Australia’s interests in increasingly challenging operational environments.”

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The decision means that Djokovic effectively faces deportation from the country and if so he would not be able to play in the Australian Open, which begins in three days. 

It also means the world’s number one male tennis player would be barred from obtaining a new Australian visa for three years, except under certain circumstances.

The three-year bar on a new Australian visa for Djokovic could be waived if it was deemed to be in the public interest. 

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is facing a general election in May, has released a statement backing his minister’s decision on Djokovic’s visa. 

“I understand that following careful consideration, action has been taken by the Minister to cancel Mr Djokovic’s visa held on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so,” Morrison said.

This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for every Australian but we have stuck together and saved lives and livelihoods. Together we have achieved one of the lowest death rates, strongest economies and highest vaccination rates, in the world. Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected. This is what the Minister is doing in taking this action today.  

Djokovic is the defending champion, top seed and record holder of Australian Open titles. He is also the joint record holder for the number of male grand slam titles, needing to win one more to surpass Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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