Australia cancels Novak Djokovic’s visa again

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic practices at Melbourne Park
Tennis star Novak Djokovic practices at Melbourne Park ahead of the Australian Open on January 14, 2022.  AAP Image / Diego Fedele via REUTERS

Tennis star Novak Djokovic faces deportation again after the Australian government revoked his visa for a second time. Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said Friday he used his ministerial discretion to revoke the 34-year-old Serb’s visa, three days before the Australian Open is to begin.

The world’s top-ranked tennis player is the Open’s defending champion and is seeking a men’s record 21st Grand Slam singles title.

Despite the uncertainty hanging over Djokovic, Open organizers included the tournament’s top seed in the draw. He’s slated to play fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic, who’s ranked No. 78 in the world, in the opening round and has been practicing, including a session a few hours before the decision was announced.

Djokovic’s lawyers are expected to appeal the cancelation in the Federal Circuit and Family Court, as they successfully did after the first cancellation.

According to Australian newspaper The AgeDjokovic was to remain out of detention pending an interview on Saturday with immigration officials. The paper said the tennis star’s lawyers were talking to the government. 

Hawke said he canceled Djokovic’s visa on “health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.”

“The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hawke said in a statement, referring to Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Morrison welcomed Djokovic’s pending deportation, saying Australia had achieved one of the lowest pandemic 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,” Morrison said in a statement. “This is what the minister is doing in taking this action today.”

Deportations usually come with a three-year-ban on returning to Australia.

It was the second time Djokovic’s visa has been canceled since he arrived in Melbourne last week to defend his Australian Open title.

His exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination requirement to compete – he hasn’t been vaccinated — was approved by the Victoria state government and Tennis Australia, the tournament organizer. That apparently allowed him to receive a visa to travel.

But the Australian Border Force rejected the exemption and canceled his visa upon arrival in Melbourne. Djokovic spent four nights in an immigration detention hotel before a judge on Monday overturned that decision.

Melbourne-based immigration lawyer Kian Bone said Djokovic’s lawyers faced an “extremely difficult” task to get court orders over the weekend to allow their client to play next week.

“For Djokovic to get the outcomes he needs to play would be extremely difficult to obtain over the weekend,” Bone said.

Hawke’s delay in reaching a decision bordered on punitive, Bone said.

“If you left it any later than he has done now, I think from a strategic standpoint he’s (Hawke’s) really hamstringing Djokovic’s legal team, in terms of what sort of options or remedies he could obtain,” Bone said hours before the decision was announced.

The lawyers would need to go before a duty judge of the Federal Circuit and Family Court or a higher judge of the Federal Court to get two urgent orders.

One order would be an injunction preventing his deportation, like the order he gained last week. The second would order Hawke to grant Djokovic a visa to play.

“That second order is almost not precedented,” Bone said. “Very rarely do the courts order a member of the executive government to grant a visa.”

Hawke’s decision was the latest twist in a saga over whether the athlete should be allowed stay in Australia despite not being vaccinated – itself part of a larger, worldwide debate over the rights of the unvaccinated.

Morrison is running for re-election and his government’s handling of the Djokovic visa situation has, in some quarters, tarnished what had been general praise for its tough stand on border security during – and before the pandemic.

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