Immigration Minister Alex Hawke cancels Novak Djokovic’s visa ahead of Australian Open

Novak Djokovic is expected to be detained again by Australian immigration authorities on Saturday as his lawyers urgently prepare to fight the cancellation of his visa for the second time.

Djokovic was ordered to attend an interview with immigration officials in Melbourne on Saturday morning, after which he will be formally detained, following a hearing on Friday evening.

The Federal Circuit Court hearing was convened on an emergency basis after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision to revoke Djokovic’s visa on “reasons of health and good order” on Friday evening.

The minister had been considering canceling the visa since Monday, after Djokovic successfully challenged an earlier decision by Border Force officials to cancel it when he arrived in Melbourne unvaccinated.

Continued uncertainty over Djokovic’s visa sparked protests in Melbourne and Belgrade, and prompted Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabić to guarantee Djokovic would abide by local rules if allowed to play at the Australian Open , where he aimed to defend his title and achieve a record. 21st Grand Slam.

His legal team told the Federal Circuit Court that the reasons given by the minister for canceling the visa were “grossly irrational” and “contrasted sharply” with the reasons given when he first canceled his visa.

Djokovic’s lawyer, Nick Wood, said Mr Hawke canceled the visa on the grounds that allowing Djokovic to stay in Australia would spark “anti-vax sentiment” in the community.

Mr Wood said the minister’s reasons were “grossly irrational” and did not consider that deporting Mr Djokovic might also stoke anti-vax sentiment.

“The minister’s reasons contrast sharply with the reasons why the [Australian Border Force] airport delegate was saying,” Mr Wood told the court.

He said the minister had in fact concluded that Mr Djokovic had complied with the law, was a person of good character and posed only a “negligible” risk to the Australian community.

The case has been moved to Federal Court, where another hearing is scheduled for 10:15 a.m. Saturday.

Visa canceled ‘in the public interest’

Mr Hawke said he had canceled the 34-year-old’s visa for the second time for ‘reasons of health and good order, on the grounds that it was in the public interest to do so’.

“In making this decision I have carefully considered the information provided to me by the Home Office, the Australian Border Force and Mr Djokovic,” he said.

“The Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Mr Djokovic had requested a medical exemption to enter Australia as he was not vaccinated. In his initial request, he argued that he should be granted the vaccination exemption as he had tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-December.

Although he had obtained exemption from two different independent health commissions – one hired by Tennis Australia, the other by the Victorian government – ​​when he arrived in Melbourne late on January 5, he was detained by officials of the Australian Border Force.

A few hours later, his visa was canceled on the grounds that he did not meet the federal entry requirement to be doubly vaccinated.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the move was a way to protect the sacrifices Australians have made during the pandemic.

“This pandemic has been incredibly difficult for all Australians, but we have stood together and saved lives and livelihoods,” he said.

“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the outcome of those sacrifices to be protected.

“That is what the minister is doing by taking this step today.

“Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe, before COVID and now during the pandemic.”

Mr Morrison said he would not make any further statement given the “expected ongoing legal proceedings”.

Mr Hawke’s decision also cast doubt on the Australian Open, which is due to start next week in Melbourne.

The world number one in men’s tennis was included in the draw for the Australian Open on Thursday and was due to face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round of the tournament on Monday.

Since his victory in court on Monday, questions had also been raised about whether the 34-year-old had lied on a border entry form about his journey in the two weeks before arriving in Australia .

In a statement on Instagram, he said his team had filed the document and the error was “human error”, and that he had provided additional information to the government for the minister to review.

“High-flying act of the government”

A former immigration department undersecretary, Abul Rizvi, said he was surprised by last night’s visa cancellation, describing it as a “high-flying act by the government”.

“What’s at stake is Australia’s international reputation. What’s at stake is the government’s reputation if they lose this case,” Mr Rizvi told ABC Radio Melbourne.

Mr Rizvi said Australian law required Mr Djokovic to be taken into custody.

“The Minister can, if he wishes, release Mr. Djokovic on a relay visa, if he deems it appropriate in the circumstances, it is not impossible.

“But, given that the government is determined to show that it is strong on borders and tough on these issues, that may not be a choice the minister will make.”

Mr Rizvi said the key words for him in Mr Hawke’s statement were that the decision was based on “public interest” grounds.

“That’s the test the court will apply,” he said.

“Was it in the public interest for the Minister to cancel this visa?

He said any legal proceedings would inevitably become “obscure and complex” because what Australian law defines as the public interest is a difficult question.

Mr. Rizvi also said there was a possibility that Mr. Djokovic could apply for a bridging visa and the minister would grant it.

However, he said, it was more likely that Mr Djokovic’s lawyers would ask the court to order the minister to grant the Serbian star a bridging visa that would allow him to play at the Australian Open while a court hears his appeal.

“Unless he leaves the country voluntarily, which seems unlikely, I suspect the appeal may take some time.”

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