Novak Djokovic faces deportation after Federal Court throws out visa challenge

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Novak Djokovic has lost a bid to stay in Australia after the Federal Court upheld the government’s decision to cancel the tennis star’s visa.

To be honest, I am very happy about this decision. Why should a famous non-vaccinated tennis player be allowed in Australia when people like me, fully vaccinated (3 jabs !) cannot visit their family over there ?? Rules must be respected.

A judicial review of Alex Hawke’s decision to cancel the tennis star’s visa was heard by the full bench of the Federal Court today.

In a short hearing just before 6pm AEDT, the court ruled against Djokovic. It was a unanimous decision of the three judges.

The Serbian star, who now faces deportation, released a statement shortly after the decision saying he was “extremely disappointed” with the ruling.

Key points:

  • Novak Djokovic now faces deportation after the full bench of the Federal Court decided in favour of the Immigration Minister
  • The tennis star said he was “extremely disappointed” but would cooperate with authorities
  • Djokovic was listed to play at the Australian Open on Monday

“I respect the court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” he said.

“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love. I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.”

Chief Justice James Allsop stressed the court was ruling on the lawfulness and legality of the decision, not whether it was the right decision.

“It is no part of the function of the court to decide upon the merits or wisdom of the decision,” the judge said.

He said the court would not be in a position to deliver its reasons today.

Djokovic has been ordered to pay costs.

He was listed to play fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic on Rod Laver Arena tomorrow.

He will now be replaced by a so-called “lucky loser”, randomly drawn from the four highest ranked players who lost in the final round of qualifying.

There will be no change to seeds or the rest of the playing schedule.

Arguments pinned on anti-vax sentiment

Today’s decision is the culmination of a weeks-long saga over the Serb’s visa.

The men’s world number one arrived in Australia just before midnight on January 5, had his visa cancelled by Border Force officials shortly after, then had it reinstated by a Federal Circuit Court judge in a hearing last Monday.

Late on Friday, the minister cancelled Djokovic’s visa for a second time, citing “health and good order grounds”.

Djokovic’s lawyer’s disputed that decision, taking it to court for judicial review.

In the Federal Court today, Djokovic’s lawyers accused the minister of producing no evidence to back his claim that Djokovic’s presence in Australia would incite anti-vaccination sentiment. They also argued it was irrational, illogical or unreasonable for the minister not to consider that deporting Djokovic could whip up the same sentiment.

Djokovic’s lawyer Nick Wood said Mr Hawke had misinterpreted media reports about Djokovic’s views on vaccination, and the level of support he receives from anti-vaccination groups.

He was particularly critical of the minister’s reliance on a BBC article as evidence Djokovic opposed vaccines. He argued the article was written before vaccines were available, and it actually showed Djokovic had an open mind and did not believe himself to be an expert. He criticised the minister’s failure to ask Djokovic himself about his views.

But the minister’s legal team argued there was ample evidence of Djokovic’s “well-known stance” on vaccination — including the fact he had refused to get vaccinated himself – and that the minister had no obligation to ask Djokovic about his views.

They said Djokovic could not prove the minister had not considered the possibility that deporting him could also stir up anti-vaccination sentiment, and even if he did not consider that outcome, that would not amount to an error on his part.

“Our government has always understood this and has been prepared to take the decisions and actions necessary to protect the integrity of our borders.”

But the opposition said the drawn-out saga was preventable and embarrassing.

“Scott Morrison has made himself a laughing stock on the world stage through a litany of failures,” Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally said. 

“He and his government mishandled Novak Djokovic’s case, undermined Australia’s border security settings, and provided a lightning rod for the anti-vaccination movement.  

As the decision was delivered, Djokovic fans huddled outside the Federal Court to watch on via YouTube.

One fan said he felt “very sad” at the decision to dismiss the player’s appeal.

“Novak come here to play tennis. I can’t understand what kind of threat Novak [is] to this country,” he said.

Key dates in the Djokovic saga

  • On November 18, Djokovic is granted a temporary activity (subclass 408) visa. Temporary activity visas enable people to work in Australia on a short-term basis, and subclass 408 covers sporting activities.
  • On November 29, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt writes to Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley, saying players wishing to enter Australia quarantine-free must be fully vaccinated and cannot count a previous infection as a reason for exemption.
  • On December 16, Djokovic undertakes both PCR and rapid antigen COVID tests, according to a statement put out by the tennis star.
  • On December 17, Djokovic participates in events having not yet received a positive COVID test result.
  • On December 18, Djokovic takes part in a media interview despite having received a positive result on the PCR test.
  • On December 30, Djokovic receives a letter from the Chief Medical Officer of Tennis Australia stating he has been granted a “medical exemption from COVID vaccination” on the grounds that he had recently recovered from COVID-19.
  • On January 1, Djokovic receives an automated online confirmation via the Australian Travel Declaration website/app that he met the requirements for a “quarantine-free arrival into Australia where permitted by the jurisdiction of your arrival”.
  • Just before midnight on January 5, Djokovic arrives in Melbourne on a flight from Dubai and is detained at the airport.
  • In the early hours of January 6, Djokovic is interviewed by Border Force officials before his visa is cancelled and he is transferred to a Melbourne immigration detention hotel.
  • Later that day, his lawyers file a challenge against the cancellation of his visa. An injunction is granted to allow Djokovic to remain in the country until January 10, the same day a hearing is scheduled in the Federal Circuit Court.
  • On January 10, the court finds Djokovic’s visa was unreasonably cancelled and orders his release from detention. After his release, the tennis star publicly states his intention to stay in the country and compete at the Australian Open.
  • On January 13, the Australian Open draw takes place and a match between Djokovic and compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic is scheduled for the first round of the tournament.
  • On January 14, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke uses his ministerial powers to cancel Djokovic’s visa on “health and good order grounds”. Later that day, Djokovic’s lawyers lodge an application at the Federal Circuit Court to appeal against the cancellation.
  • On January 15, the Federal Court confirms it will hear Djokovic’s application before a full bench. Djokovic is taken back to immigration detention.
  • On January 16, the Federal Court dismisses the Djokovic’s application before a full bench. 

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