Novak Djokovic to be deported after losing court battle over visa

Angie Raphael and Ellen RansleyNCA NewsWire
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Camera IconNot Supplied Credit: News Corp Australia

World number one tennis champion Novak Djokovic will not be able to play at the Australian Open and is likely to be deported soon after losing his visa battle in the Federal Court.

The unanimous decision of the three judges was handed down on Sunday evening, but their reasons will not be available until a later date.

They ruled the Serbian’s application to have his visa cancellation overturned should be “dismissed with costs.”

In a statement, Djokovic said he was “extremely disappointed” with the ruling to dismiss his application for judicial review of the decision to cancel his visa.

“I respect the court’s ruling and I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” he said.

“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and tournament I love.

“I would like to wish the players, tournament officials, staff, volunteers and fans all the best for the tournament.

“Finally, I would like to thank my family, friends, team, supporters, fans and my fellow Serbians for your continued support. You have all been a great source of strength to me.”

After the verdict, Prime Minister Scott Morrison welcomed the decision "to keep our borders strong”.

“The Full Federal Court of Australia unanimously decided to dismiss Mr Novak Djokovic’s application for judicial review which sought to challenge the Minister for Immigration’s decision to cancel his visa,” the Prime Minister said.

“This cancellation decision was made on health, safety and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so.

“I welcome the decision to keep our borders strong and keep Australians safe.

“As I said on Friday, Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected.

“Over the pandemic, together we have achieved one of the lowest death rates, strongest economies and highest vaccination rates, in the world.

“Strong borders are fundamental to the Australian way of life as is the rule of law.

“Our Government has always understood this and has been prepared to take the decisions and actions necessary to protect the integrity of our borders.

“I thank the Court for their prompt attention to these issues and the patience of all involved as we have worked to resolve this issue.

“It’s now time to get on with the Australian Open and get back to enjoying tennis over the summer.”

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had overturned Djokovic’s visa late last week.

On Sunday, Djokovic’s lawyer Nicholas Wood said the federal government’s argument that Djokovic was anti-vaccination relied heavily on a quote the tennis player had given in April 2020, as reported in a BBC article published after he had arrived in Australia.

Djokovic had been approved for a visa on the grounds he was exempt from vaccination due to having already had Covid-19, but when he arrived in Australia he was told that was not a valid excuse and had his visa cancelled.

The tennis star fought his deportation in the Federal Circuit Court last week, a case which he won.

That decision was overturned by Mr Hawke on Friday on “health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday that Australia’s “strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe, prior to Covid and now during the pandemic”.

The BBC article, titled ‘What has Novak Djokovic actually said about vaccines’, published on January 6 is the “sole actual … evidentiary foundation” of the minister’s case against the tennis star, Mr Wood told the court.

Mr Wood said the government had quoted from the article “selectively”.

In that article, a comment made by Djokovic in April 2020 is referenced, namely that at that time he said he was “opposed to vaccination”.

But Djokovic went on to say that he was “no expert” and would keep an “open mind” but wanted to have “an option to choose what’s best for my body”.

Mr Wood said the Minister had failed to acknowledge this part of Djokovic’s quote when making reference to the article as Attachment H in the government’s submissions.

Mr Wood said Mr Hawke’s argument relied heavily on the notion that allowing Djokovic to stay in the country would foster anti-vaccination sentiment.

In his submissions, Mr Hawke argued that it was “clearly open” to him to concede that Djokovic is personally opposed to vaccination, and that there was “ample evidence” that Djokovic’s presence may foster anti-vaccination sentiment.

Mr Wood said the only evidence tying Djokovic to anti-vaccination support was the BBC article, and that it was “inexplicable” that Mr Hawke hadn’t sought the present views of the Serbian tennis sensation on vaccinations.

“Those statements are from a long time ago,” Mr Wood said.

“Not a single line of evidence in the material before the Minister provided any specific, logical or probative foundation of the proposition that the mere presence of Djokovic himself – not the cancellation of his visa and expulsion – may somehow foster anti-vaccination sentiment.”

Camera IconCraig Kelly, who has been vocal about his anti-vaccination beliefs, was at a protest supporting Novak Djokovic. David Swift Credit: News Corp Australia

Barrister Stephen Lloyd, speaking on behalf of Mr Hawke, said the government did not just rely on the statement made by Djokovic.

“It’s not just the applicant’s public statements that he is opposed to vaccination, it is the fact of his ongoing non-vaccinated status ... at this stage of the pandemic,” Mr Lloyd said.

“It is open to infer that a person in the applicant’s position could have been vaccinated if he had wanted to be.”

Circling back to the BBC report, Mr Lloyd said those quotes had served to strengthen the government’s view that Djokovic was anti-vaccination.

“Even before vaccinations were available, his prima facie position was to be against them,” Mr Lloyd said.

“Sure, he left open the possibility that he might change his mind. But nevertheless his publicly stated position was that he was not in favour of taking vaccines.”

Mr Wood went on to argue that the Minister should have considered the consequences of deporting Djokovic on anti-vaccination sentiment.

He added that there had been no evidence that Djokovic’s presence could be linked to anti-vax protests.

“It was irrational, your honour, for the Minister to only contemplate the prospect of the fostering of anti-vax sentiment that might accrue from Mr Djokovic playing tennis, in other words being present, and yet not consider the binary alternative, which was the prospect of anti-vax sentiment being fostered by … coercive state action,” Mr Wood said.

Mr Lloyd argued the Minister had made a risk assessment before firming up his decision.

“(Djokovic’s) widely understood views about vaccination have come to the fore, so they’re right in people’s minds at the moment,” Mr Lloyd said.

“The Minister has to make a decision about risk, having regard to what has just happened recently and how he (Djokovic) has now become an icon for the anti-vaccination groups.

“Rightly or wrongly, he’s perceived to endorse an anti-vaccination view.”

Mr Lloyd argued people who were undecided could become anti-vaxxers as a result of Djokovic’s influence.

“If that happens, that’s what leads to the healthcare consequences,” he said.

Mr Lloyd further argued there was sufficient evidence to draw the inference as Mr Hawke had done.

“People of Mr Djokovic’s status are able to influence people who look up to him,” Mr Lloyd said.

“That seems to be, one might have thought, common sense and uncontroversial in having regard to how celebrities engage.”

Originally published as Novak Djokovic to be deported after losing court battle over visa

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