The Australian government has cancelled Novak Djokovic’s visa again, just days before the start of the Australian Open tennis tournament, which the world’s top-ranked men’s player has won nine times.
Alex Hawke, immigration minister and a close ally of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, 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.”
Hawke was expected to move to deport Djokovic, who is appealing against the visa cancellation. At a late night court hearing the tennis star was ordered to return to a detention facility on Saturday ahead of his appeal hearing on Sunday.
Djokovic entered the country as an unvaccinated non-resident last week having been granted a medical exemption to play in the Grand Slam event after contracting Covid-19 in December. But the Australian Border Force argued that he had not complied with the country’s strict policies.
After five days of deliberation, Hawke said on Friday: “The Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Morrison later said: “Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected. This is what the minister is doing in taking this action today.”
Djokovic, the defending Australian Open champion, is vying to become the most successful men’s player in the sport’s modern era. But the timing of the decision, announced on Friday evening, has given his lawyers little time to file an appeal ahead of the Grand Slam event, which starts on Monday.
If the appeal is successful he would be free to play in the tournament. Djokovic’s lawyers have not commented on the second visa revocation.
The player’s first appeal was expedited so that it was heard within four days of his visa being cancelled. With the schedule for the tournament yet to be published, Djokovic could yet play in the opening round, in which he is set to face fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic.
Simon Jeans, an immigration lawyer, told the ABC that there was still a chance that Djokovic, who has publicly opposed mandatory vaccinations, could prevail in an appeal against the decision despite Hawke using his personal powers to cancel the visa. “There is a risk there is an error of law and they quash this decision,” he said.
Djokovic won his first appeal in the federal court on Monday against the initial decision by the country’s border force to cancel his visa on procedural grounds. Anthony Kelly, the judge who quashed the visa cancellation based on the behaviour of Australian Border Force officials, will probably hear the second appeal as well.
However, documents that the Serbian player filed to win that appeal have drawn greater scrutiny over his actions and the credibility of his vaccination exemption used to enter Australia.
Djokovic admitted on Wednesday that his agent had incorrectly filled out a travel declaration form and that he had attended an interview and photo shoot in Serbia despite testing positive for Covid.
A poll conducted by News Corp of 61,000 people this week revealed that 84 per cent of respondents backed the tennis player’s deportation.
The controversy has nonetheless stoked criticism of Morrison in an election year. His government is already battling to contain a Covid outbreak and ease supply chain problems caused by the pandemic, which have led to empty shelves in supermarkets.
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