By STEVE McMORRAN
As Novak Djokovic awaits a final decision on whether his visa will be revoked, all eyes have turned to Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. He has to decide whether he will overturn the decision of a federal judge, who ruled Djokovic’s visa should be reinstated because he was unfairly treated by officials at the border. Hawke has discretion to revoke Djokovic’s visa but has taken longer than expected to reach a decision which has legal, political, sporting and diplomatic consequences.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
Whatever Hawke decides, it’s unlikely to be the last word. Djokovic’s lawyers are expected immediately to seek an injunction if the decision goes against the top-ranked tennis player. That would send the matter back to the Federal Court, and if the court can’t sit Friday it won’t be heard until next week when the Australian Open already is underway.
Despite the cloud hanging over Djokovic’s ability to compete, Australian Open organizers included the top seed in the draw. He is slated to play fellow Serb Miomir Kecmanovic, who is ranked world No. 78., in the opening round next week.
If Djokovic’s visa is revoked, Djokovic might have to return to a detention facility while legal proceedings play out.
If Djokovic is allowed to remain, he will attempt to win a 10th Australian Open singles title and a record 21st Grand Slam title. But if his visa is revoked and his legal challenge fails, he will deported and might not be able to reapply for an Australian visa for three years. Djokovic is 34 and a three-year hiatus might mean he won’t have another chance to win the Australian title.
WHAT MUST THE MINISTER CONSIDER?
The immigration minister has considerable discretion under Australia’s Migration Act to revoke visas. He can do so on public health grounds, character grounds and for a variety of other reasons.
While deliberating on the Djokovic case, Hawke is said to have separated his office from other parts of the government to avoid any impression of political interference.
Hawke’s office will consider the original decision to grant Djokovic a visa and an exemption on medical grounds from the rule that all travelers arriving in Australia must be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.
It will also likely consider whether Djokovic made misstatements on his incoming passenger card when he indicated he hadn’t traveled in 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia. It is now known he traveled to Spain.
Djokovic also attended public events and gave an interview to a French newspaper after his positive test. The Serbian and Spanish governments are reported to be investigating those issues.
WHAT DOES DJOKOVIC SAY?
Recent revelations of his travels and giving an interview after testing positive led to calls for Djokovic to be more forthcoming. British former world No. 1 Andy Murray welcomed Djokovic’s win in court but agreed he had questions to resolve.
“There are still a few questions that need to be answered about the isolation and … I’m sure we’ll hear from him in the next few days,” Murray said.
Djokovic addressed those questions in a lengthy Instagram post on Wednesday, when he blamed “human error” by his support team for failing to declare that he had traveled in the two-week period before entering Australia.
He said he went ahead with the interview “as I did not want to let the journalist down” but conceded he might have made an error of judgement.
WHAT DO PEOPLE SAY?
No definitive polls have been conducted to determine how Australians feel about Djokovic and his treatment by the government. But vox pops and self-selecting polls on some news websites suggest public support for Djokovic has ebbed and flowed since his visa was first canceled.
The initial decision to grant the unvaccinated tennis star a medical exemption to play at the Australian Open was polarizing. Australians have faced almost two years of strict border controls during the pandemic, which have limited their ability to travel overseas and prevented those overseas from returning.
The decision to allow a prominent vaccine skeptic an exemption to pass through the border was not warmly welcomed in a country in which 91.3% of the eligible population is vaccinated.
Tennis great Martina Navratilova put it succinctly.
“The bottom line is sometimes your personal beliefs have to be trumped by what’s good for the greater good,” Navratilova said Thursday. “Quite frankly, you have two choices: get vaccinated or don’t go play.”
Public sympathy turned a little in Djokovic’s favor when he was held for four days in an immigration detention hotel. And when the Federal Circuit Court found in his favor, there was concern mishandling of the visa cancellation painted Australia in a bad light.
More recent revelations of Djokovic’s behavior after he tested positive might again have turned public opinion against him.
WHAT DO POLITICIANS SAY?
When news broke last week that Djokovic had been detained at the border and his visa canceled, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was quick to embrace the decision.
Morrison’s government had been under pressure as the omicron variant swept across Australia, and he sensed a political win in a decision that made him look tough on immigration. He has had less to say since the court overturned the cancellation of Djokovic’s visa, allowing the legal process to play out.
But Anthony Albanese, leader of the opposition Labour Party, has been scathing in his criticism of the government.
“This has been diabolical for Australia’s reputation, just in terms of our competence here and it is extraordinary that as we are speaking we still don’t know what the decision will be,” Albanese said. “The decision should have been made before he was granted a visa. Either he was eligible or he wasn’t.”
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was equally blunt.
“The vast majority of Australians … didn’t like the idea that another individual, whether they’re a tennis player or … the king of Spain or the queen of England, can come up here and have a different set of rules to what everybody else has to deal with,” he said.
Djokovic “is still a child of God like the rest of us, isn’t he? So he has to abide by the laws.”
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