Australia

Novak Djokovic’s visa cancelled, throwing Australian Open draw into chaos

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Novak Djokovic faces being banned from Australia for three years after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his personal power to cancel the Serbian tennis star’s visa, as his lawyers prepare to challenge the decision.

The move has thrown the tennis world No.1’s quest for a 10th Australian Open into turmoil with the tournament to begin on Monday.

Alex Hawke has cancelled Novak Djokovic’s visa.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen, Getty Images

The Federal Circuit Court announced on Friday night that a directions hearing would be conducted at 8.45pm before Judge Anthony Kelly.

Djokovic had earlier been asked to present himself for an interview with immigration officials on Saturday.

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It is not clear when immigration officials plan to move him into immigration detention or force him to board a plane home.

His team were served documents at 6.03pm, after the decision was announced by Mr Hawke at 5.53pm.

His lawyers were verbally informed at 5.35pm, about 20 minutes before the public announcement.

Mr Hawke said he had power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Djokovic “on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”.

“This decision followed orders by the Federal Circuit and Family Court on 10 January 2022, quashing a prior cancellation decision on procedural fairness grounds,” he said.

“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.”

The personal powers granted to the Immigration Minister to cancel visas are extremely broad.

If Djokovic doesn’t successfully appeal the decision, the laws dictate he would be banned from being granted another visa for three years – however this can be waived on “compassionate grounds” if he applies for another visa.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Mr Hawke had made the decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa on the basis that it was in the public interest.

“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,” Mr Morrison said.

“Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe, prior to COVID and now during the pandemic. Due to the expected ongoing legal proceedings, I will be not be providing any further comment.”

Mr Hawke took four days to make the decision after the Federal Circuit Court ordered the unvaccinated Djokovic’s visa be reinstated over concerns he was not afforded enough time to get a lawyer when he arrived in Australia last week.

The decision comes after the Serbian tennis star’s position became increasingly untenable when he apologised for taking part in a media interview while knowingly positive with COVID-19.

A source close to the Australian Open defending champion, speaking anonymously to detail private planning, on Thursday said his legal team would immediately take an adverse decision by the Immigration Minister to court. Lawyers believe the hearing could be fast-tracked by minimising the length of written submissions and verbal evidence.

With the case to go to back to court, the 20-time grand slam winner’s legal team hope the matter can be heard in full over the weekend and finalised by Sunday, allowing him to play a match early next week if he beats the government for a second time.

The case will go back to Judge Kelly for a hearing, but he then may refer it upstairs to the Federal Court. Sources earlier in the week confirmed there was a justice on standby to hear the case.

While Djokovic may be forced back into detention, a judge could order the minister to grant him a bridging visa while the case is heard.

The chief government whip, Bert van Manen, sent Coalition MPs a note on Friday night asking them not to comment on the case.

“Following the decision by the Minister for Immigration regarding Mr Djokovic, the PMO has asked colleagues refrain from any public comments as immigration decisions are sometimes preceded and followed by legal action,” he said.

“The PMO has asked that no public comment be made on today’s decision – only the Minister for Immigration Minister and Prime Minister will comment as required.”

Djokovic came to the country on the basis that he contracted COVID-19 in December, arguing prior infection of the virus in the past six months was a valid exemption for being unvaccinated.

But the federal government always disputed his arguments, saying Tennis Australia was warned players in his position would not be allowed into the country.

Djokovic on Wednesday apologised for an error of judgment for taking part in a media interview a day after receiving a positive test result and admitted that his Australian Travel Declaration form incorrectly stated he had not travelled in the 14 days prior to arriving in Australia despite being in Spain.

In a lengthy post on Instagram, Djokovic said he received a positive result on the night of December 17 after submitting the test the day before. But in his sworn court affidavit Djokovic said he was “tested and diagnosed” on December 16.

Djokovic said he “felt obliged” to go ahead and conduct an interview with French media organisation L’Equipe on December 18 because he “didn’t want to let the journalist down, but did ensure I socially distanced and wore a mask except when my photograph was being taken”.

“While I went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, on reflection, this was an error of judgement [sic] and I accept that I should have rescheduled this commitment,” he said.

Djokovic said he was making the social media post to address the “continuing misinformation about my activities and attendance at events in December in the lead up to my positive PCR COVID test result”.

In recent days, the Department of Home Affairs’ investigation into the tennis star widened to include his breach of isolation requirements in Serbia, the incorrect statements on his travel entry form and inconsistencies on the date of his COVID-19 test.

The opposition earlier on Friday accused the Morrison government of drawing out the process to distract from its other problems.

Labor’s shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers accused the government of “using this Novak Djokovic saga as a distraction from the shortages in our supermarkets, the shortages in our chemists, the shortages of workers”.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Djokovic should never have been given a visa in November and it should “never have come to this”.

“Novak Djokovic and his participation in the Australian Open has been the number one sports story in the world for months,” he said.

“Everyone knows he’s the number one player in the world. He’s won the Australian Open nine times, shooting for 10, shooting for his 21st grand slam to be the greatest champion of all time.”

Anthony Galloway is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.Connect via Twitter or email.

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