Novak Djokovic has had his Australian visa cancelled by immigration minister Alex Hawke “on health and good order grounds”, and now faces deportation from the country only three days before the start of the Australian Open.
The decision comes after the 34-year-old Serbian had successfully challenged an earlier attempt by Australia to revoke his visa. Djokovic’s lawyers called the latest decision “patently irrational” and immediately launched an appeal, which is expected to be heard on Sunday. Djokovic is set to be detained from early Saturday after meeting immigration officials in Melbourne early Saturday morning local time.
In a statement on Friday, Hawke said: “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 added that the government “is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic” and that he had “carefully considered” the Djokovic case.
Under this part of the Migration Act, Djokovic faces a three year ban from Australia, unless he can indicate compelling circumstances that are in Australia’s interests.
The world No 1 travelled to Melbourne last week to defend his title in the upcoming tournament. Although he is not vaccinated, his exemption from the country’s Covid vaccination requirement was approved by the state of Victoria and Tennis Australia prior to his flight.
However, the Australian Border Force rejected his exemption when he landed in the country, leading him to spend four nights in hotel detention before the decision was quashed.
Citing a government document with more details on the reasons behind the latest cancellation of Djokovic’s visa, the tennis player’s lawyer, Nicholas Wood, said it was not because he is a danger to the public, but because “he will excite anti-vax sentiment”.
Mr Wood added that the minister had chosen to “remove a man of good standing” from Australia and “impair” his career. Although Djokovic has publicly opposed compulsory vaccination, he has not campaigned against vaccination in general.
The defending Australian Open champion, who was hoping to secure a record 21st grand slam title at this year’s tournament, was included in the draw on Thursday. He is scheduled to play fellow Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic in the first round on Monday.
The saga has led to widespread anger in Australia, a country which has endured some of the world’s longest lockdowns and toughest border policies. Some 83 per cent of Australians backed the government’s attempts to deport the tennis player, according to a recent poll by the News Corp media group.
“Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected,” the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said in a statement in the wake of the latest decision.
The furore over Djokovic intensified when it emerged that an error had been made on his travel declaration. The world No 1 had claimed he had not travelled in the two weeks before his flight to Australia, but social media pictures appeared to show otherwise.
Djokovic also admitted that he attended an interview with L’Equipe magazine in full knowledge that he had tested positive for Covid-19 the previous day.
Last week his family celebrated his successful court appeal against deportation in a press conference beamed around the world.
His mother denounced the “torture” her son had faced at the hands of Australian border officials while his father hailed the court victory as a win for supporters of “free speech and free behaviour”.
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