The Australian Open drama that has transfixed the sporting world reached its anticipated climax on Friday, with immigration minister Alex Hawke cancelling Novak Djokovic’s visa.
The move comes mere days before the champion was set to embark on his campaign for a record 21st grand slam title.
He will now be detained, most likely at the same hotel where he was billeted after arriving in Melbourne
And because deportation has been ordered he will become ineligible to re-enter Australia for three years.
The unvaccinated tennis star, who was on Thursday drawn in a first-round match for next week’s Australian Open, landed a week ago only to be detained by border officials.
Minister Hawke used his discretionary powers to cancel the visa after considering evidence provided by Djokovic’s lawyers on the matter.
“Today I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so,” he said in a statement on Friday.
Under Australian law, following an adverse decision under section 133C(3), an affected person would not be able to be granted a visa while offshore for a period of three years, except in certain circumstances.
The exception could include compelling circumstances that affect the interests of Australia or compassionate or compelling circumstances affecting the interests of an Australian citizen, permanent resident or eligible New Zealand citizen.
Australia’s pandemic response has included an insistence a visa holder must be double-vaccinated or show acceptable proof they cannot be vaccinated to enter quarantine-free.
At an urgent directions hearing on the visa cancellation in the Federal Circuit Court on Friday night, the tennis star’s lawyers asked for an injunction preventing his removal.
The court ordered that Djokovic meet with immigration officials on Saturday morning, where he will be detained until another hearing in the Federal Court on Sunday.
The tennis star was spared detention on Friday night, but will likely be held at the same immigration hotel he was detained at last week.
Djokovic’s team are considering a number of grounds of challenge to the visa cancellation in a formal application to be filed on Saturday
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the visa cancellation was carried out on the basis of public interest.
PM weighs in
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” he said in a statement.
“That is what the (immigration) minister is doing in taking this action today.
“Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe, prior to COVID and now during the pandemic.”
On Thursday, Djokovic drew fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic for his first-round match.
Australian Border Force officials cancelled the world No.1’s visa for entering the country while unvaccinated, only for the cancellation to be later quashed by a federal court.
Djokovic’s lawyers, who are likely to challenge the latest cancellation in court, had provided lengthy submissions and supporting documentation to the minister.
Officials looked into potential discrepancies on Djokovic’s declaration form, which stated he did not travel out of the country in the two weeks before his flight to Australia.
Djokovic was filmed playing tennis in Serbia on Christmas Day and was later seen training in Spain on December 31, both in the two-week window.
No intent to mislead
However, Djokovic has denied he was trying to mislead the government on the form, stating an agent had made an “administrative mistake” while filling out the form.
In a statement posted to social media, the Serbian player also admitted to attending a media interview in Belgrade when he knew he had COVID.
After carrying out a PCR test on December 16, Djokovic attended the interview two days later.
He said he had social distanced and wore a mask except when his photograph was being taken.
While he went home after the interview to isolate for the required period, Djokovic admitted this was an error of judgement.
Since he was freed from immigration detention on Monday, Djokovic has been training at Melbourne Park.
The 34-year-old is looking to win a record 21st grand slam title when the Australian Open begins on Monday.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said it was important that travellers to Australia followed the rules.
“They have never answered the question of how is it that that visa was granted in the first place if he wasn’t eligible because he wasn’t fully vaccinated.”