Australian federal court adjourns Djokovic case to consider verdict

World

Novak Djokovic’s appeal against deportation has been adjourned, with judges saying a decision is expected before the Australian Open begins on Monday.

Judges hearing the case at the Federal Court building in Melbourne said that an update would be given during the afternoon local time.

Chief Justice James Allsop said the court would reconvene with a ruling anytime “this afternoon or perhaps tomorrow morning (Monday morning local time)”.

He said: “We would hope to be in a position to identify to the parties later in the afternoon what the course is that we propose.”

Djokovic, world tennis number one and nine-time Australian Open champion, has had a chaotic 10 days – he was detained by immigration authorities on his arrival in Australia, released, then detained again.

His visa was cancelled shortly after his arrival, but that decision was set aside by a judge, before immigration minister Alex Hawke decided it should be cancelled after all.

It is against Mr Hawke’s decision that Djokovic is appealing.

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‘A talisman of a community of anti-vaccine sentiment’

Mr Hawke had said that, while Djokovic’s recent COVID-19 infection meant he was a “negligible risk to those around him”, he was also “perceived by some as a talisman of a community of anti-vaccine sentiment”.

Mr Hawke said the 34-year-old Serbian’s presence in Australia “may lead to an increase in anti-vaccination sentiment generated in the Australian community, potentially leading to an increase in civil unrest of the kind previously experienced in Australia with rallies and protests which may themselves be a source of community transmission”.

The minister cited comments Djokovic made in April 2020 saying he was “opposed to vaccination” and wouldn’t want to have to be vaccinated to compete.

But the tennis player’s lawyer, Nick Wood, said the minister was relying on “historic views” and that Djokovic’s current views had not been sought.

Mr Wood said: “This implies the minister contemplated doing so but decided not to. But it also implies that the minister, therefore, doesn’t know” what Djokovic’s views currently are.”

Mr Wood said the statements attributed to the tennis player in news articles were made before COVID-19 vaccines were developed.

He also said that anti-vax sentiment would be just as likely to be prompted by the decision to cancel the tennis player’s visa as it would by allowing him to stay and play.

Novak Djokovic. File pic by Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports
Image:
Novak Djokovic is a nine-time Australian Open champion. Pic: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

The minister was ‘entitled to assume’ it was Djokovic’s choice not to be vaccinated

Representing the immigration minister, Stephen Lloyd said the material supplied to Mr Hawke had “permitted him to assume” that Djokovic had a temporary reason not to have been vaccinated: he had been infected with the virus in mid-December.

But Mr Lloyd said this did not explain why Djokovic had not been vaccinated before that, adding that the minister was “entitled to assume it was his choice (not to be vaccinated)”.

“That choice,” he said, “makes a broader inference as to his views on vaccinations against COVID-19.”

Mr Lloyd added that the minister’s primary concern was that Djokovic’s “presence would encourage people to emulate his position and that would put the health of Australians at risk”.

“His connection to a cause – whether he wants it or not – is still present.”

The hearing was done via video and Djokovic was present at his lawyer’s office but did not appear on camera.

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