Transcripts have been released detailing the moments Novak Djokovic was detained by the Australian Border Force and told he was being deported.
Djokovic had been held at an immigration facility in Melbourne since Thursday morning, after his visa was cancelled following scrutiny of the medical exemption for the Covid vaccine he had secured to travel to the Australian Open. The 34-year-old was released on Monday following a lengthy hearing after winning his appeal against deportation.
The series of interviews by ABF, which begin at 12.21am on Thursday and end at 7.45am, capture an initial questioning of Djokovic, who was first held at a Melbourne airport, where he revealed: “I am not vaccinated,” and explained that he had tested positive for Covid-19 in December and had blood test results proving he carried the antibodies required to enter Australia.
“I had Covid twice,” Djokovic explains. “I had Covid in June 2020 and I had Covid recently in – I was tested positive – PCR –16th of December 2021.”
He later adds: “I sent the blood analysis for my antibodies and had a sufficient amount and I was granted the access to Australia and I received the documentation that supported my medical exemption and the travel declaration coming from the federal government.”
In the second part of the interviews, beginning at 3.35am, Djokovic argues his case, explaining that he has followed the guidelines set out by Tennis Australia and the Victorian government before travelling to Melbourne. “I wouldn’t be here sitting in front of you if I if I wasn’t complying 10 to all the rules and regulations set by your government,” Djokovic tells them. “So I just – I don’t know what I I mean – to me it is a little bit shocking that you are have... that you are going to give me the notice to cancel my visa based on what?”
At one point he is given 20 minutes by the interviewer to “provide us reasons why we shouldn’t cancel the visa”.
Djokovic responds: “I mean, I am really failing to understand what else do you want me to provide to you. I have provided all the documents that Tennis Australia and Victorian government has asked me to do in the last three/four weeks, this is what we have been doing ... they have allowed to have the medical exemption for the Covid vaccination. I applied, they approved, I just really don’t know what else do you want me to say. What – I just – I have nothing else – I arrived here because of these documents otherwise I wouldn’t have been allowed to come in. I just really don’t understand what is the reason you don’t allow me to enter your country – just I mean, I have been waiting four hours and I still fail to, to understand what’s the main reason – like – lack of what papers? Lack of what information do you need?”
Clearly getting exasperated with the situation, Djokovic adds: “You’re giving me legally 20 minutes to try to provide additional information that I don’t have? At 4 o clock in the morning? I mean you kind of put me in a very awkward position where at 4 in the morning I can’t call director of Tennis Australia, I can’t engage with anybody from the Victorian state government through Tennis Australia. I just you put me in a very uncomfortable position. I don’t know what else can I tell you. I mean I-I-I-I everything that that they -- I was asked to do is here.”
In the final section of the interviews it is now 7.38am, and Djokovic is told he is being detained and sent to a holding hotel before being deported. Entering the room, the detaining officer seems to recognise the 20-time Grand Slam champion, saying “Is that...?” before the interviewer says “Yeah”.
Djokovic now appears most concerned with how he will fly home, and whether he will be able to pay for a ticket himself. “Which airline are you... because I, do I have any, decision in where I’m gonna go or... travel?” Djokovic asks. “Because I can buy my own ticket to go back.”
The Serbian’s legal team filed papers to appeal against border control’s original decision confirming that Djokovic tested positive for Covid last month and recovered. He used that as grounds in applying for a medical exemption to Australia’s strict vaccination rules. On Monday, Judge Anthony Kelly quashed the visa cancellation and ordered the Australian Government to pay legal costs and release Djokovic from detention within half an hour.
Djokovic now has the chance to defend his Australian Open title, although government counsel Christopher Tran notified the court that the minister for immigration, Alex Hawke will now consider whether to exercise a “personal power of cancellation” of Djokovic’s visa that could ultimately see him banned from Australia for three years.
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