Novak Djokovic has been included in the Australian Open draw – but he’s still waiting to hear if he can stay in the country. All eyes are now on Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who must decide whether to deport the tennis star, effectively overruling a judge who said Djokovic could stay in Australia despite questions about his exemption from vaccination rules COVID-19.
It is a decision that has legal, political, sporting and diplomatic consequences.
HOW DID WE GET HERE? Australia has strict rules requiring the coronavirus vaccination to enter the country. Djokovic’s case is whether he had a valid exemption to these rules. His lawyers have argued that since he had COVID-19 in December, he has. The Victorian state government and Tennis Australia, the tournament organizer, approved the exemption, apparently allowing him to receive a visa to travel.
But federal government lawyers have argued that an infection is only grounds for exemption in cases where the coronavirus has caused serious illness. It is unclear why he got a visa if that is the case. Tennis Australia have complained that bye guidelines are confusing and change frequently.
Australian Border Force revoked Djokovic’s visa upon arrival. They placed him in a migrant detention hotel and intended to deport him. But when the case went to a judge, he ruled in Djokovic’s favor – on procedural grounds, saying the tennis player hadn’t had enough time to consult with his lawyers at the border.
___ WHAT HAPPENS NOW? Hawke’s office will review the initial decision to grant Djokovic a visa.
He will also take into account that Djokovic’s travel declaration form contains errors. The tennis player admitted on social media on Wednesday that the form incorrectly stated that he had not traveled for 14 days before arriving in Australia.
Djokovic blamed ‘human error’ on his support team and said it wasn’t deliberate. The immigration minister has significant discretion in the matter and can again revoke Djokovic’s visa and deport him on grounds of public health, character and a variety of other reasons.
During his deliberations on the Djokovic case, Hawke reportedly separated his office from other parts of the government to avoid any perception of political interference.
___ WHAT HAPPENS IF AUSTRALIA REVOKS ITS VISA AGAIN? Djokovic’s lawyers should immediately seek an injunction. This would send the case back to the Federal Court, and it could take some time to unfold. That could mean he’s in a position to make the Australian Open in the meantime – chasing a record 21st Grand Slam title. Tournament organizers included him in the draw on Thursday, and he is set to face fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic next week.
But Djokovic may also have to return to a detention center during the legal proceedings.
If he is ultimately deported, he may not be able to reapply for an Australian visa for three years. Djokovic is 34 and such a hiatus could mean he won’t have another shot at winning the Australian title.
___ WHAT IS THAT HE DOESN’T ISOLATE AFTER BEING INFECTED? It’s unclear if this would affect his Australian visa, but Djokovic was out in public after his positive coronavirus test. In his statement on Wednesday, Djokovic acknowledged he had stuck to a December interview date with French newspaper L’Equipe after learning he tested positive – saying he was keeping his distance from reporters and was masked, except during a photo shoot. The writer who interviewed him said he had since tested negative; he did not mention the photographer. Djokovic said he went ahead with the interview because he “didn’t want to let the reporter down”, but acknowledged it was an “error in judgement”. After the interview, he said he followed the isolation rules. At the time, Serbia required people infected with COVID-19 to self-isolate for at least 14 days. But Djokovic was seen just over a week after his positive test on the streets of Belgrade, although he said he tested negative in between.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic has indicated that his government will take a stand once it gets the full facts about Djokovic’s whereabouts during the isolation period, but has yet to publicly respond.
___ WHAT DO AUSTALIANS THINK ABOUT THIS? Public support seems to have fluctuated for Djokovic during the drama.
The initial decision to grant the unvaccinated star an exemption sparked an outcry. Many felt Djokovic was getting special treatment as Australians faced nearly two years of tight border controls during the pandemic.
Some also looked warily at the idea of allowing a prominent vaccine skeptic to cross the border into a country in which 91.3% of the eligible population is vaccinated.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce summed up this dissatisfaction.
“The vast majority of Australians…didn’t like the idea that another individual, be it a tennis player or…the King of Spain or the Queen of England, could come here and have a different set of rules to what everyone has to deal with,” he said.
But this drama had many twists and turns.
Public sympathy turned a bit in Djokovic’s favor when he was held for four days in a migrant detention hotel. And when the Federal Circuit Court ruled in her favour, there were concerns about the mishandling of the visa cancellation that painted Australia in a bad light.
More recent revelations about Djokovic’s behavior after he tested positive may have swung the pendulum against him again.
Back in his native Serbia, many rallied to Djokovic’s side, especially the country’s politicians.
___ WHAT IS THE POLICY OF THIS? When news broke last week that Djokovic had been detained at the border and his visa canceled, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was quick to accept the decision.
Morrison’s government had been under pressure when the omicron variant swept through Australia, raising questions about its recent strategy to ease restrictions. He may have sensed a political victory in a decision that made him tough on immigration. He has had less to say since the court overturned the cancellation of Djokovic’s visa, allowing the legal process to proceed.
But Anthony Albanese, leader of the opposition Labor Party, was scathing in his criticism of the government. “It’s been devilish for Australia’s reputation, just in terms of skill here and it’s extraordinary that as we speak we still don’t know what the decision will be,” Albanese said. “The decision should have been made before he got a visa. Either he was eligible or he wasn’t.”
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)