Novak Djokovic’s Australian visa has again been cancelled days before the start of the Australian Open on the basis his presence could “excite anti-vaccination sentiment”.
On Friday, the Australian immigration minister, Alex Hawke, exercised a personal power to cancel Djokovic’s visa, likely to result in the world No 1’s deportation and putting him out of contention for the grand slam tournament barring an against-the-odds court victory. Djokovic is due to have an appeal heard in the Federal Court in Sunday.
The decision means that Djokovic could be effectively barred from re-entering Australia for three years unless he can show in future bids that compelling circumstances exist, such as compassionate or Australian national interest grounds.
In a statement Hawke said he cancelled the visa “on health and good order grounds, [and] on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so”.
At an urgent court directions hearing on Friday evening, Djokovic’s counsel, Nicholas Wood, expressed concern at his safety and a potential “media circus” when he is taken into detention after an 8am Saturday interview with immigration officials.
Wood proposed a hearing to consider overturning the cancellation on Sunday, arguing that every minute before the start of the Australian Open is “precious” to his client.
Wood revealed that the basis for Hawke’s decision was the potential for Djokovic to “excite anti-vax sentiment”, noting this was “radically different” from the reason for the first cancellation and arguing there was was “no rational basis” for the conclusion.
Wood noted the minister was prepared to assume facts in Djokovic’s favour including that he has complied with the law, poses only a negligible risk to others, is of good standing and has a medical reason not to be vaccinated.
The government’s counsel, Stephen Lloyd, said the minister proposed that Djokovic would be taken into detention after interview on Saturday.
Judge Anthony Kelly made a series of orders including that Djokovic could be taken into detention after interview, and escorted by Border Force officials to his lawyers officers from 10am to 2pm on Saturday and again from 9am on Sunday. The judge transferred the matter to the Federal Court.
Earlier, Hawke brushed off the Australian government’s loss in court on Monday, indicating Djokovic had his visa restored only on “procedural fairness grounds”.
Hawke said he had “carefully considered information provided” by Djokovic, his department, and the Australian Border Force.
“The Morrison government is firmly committed to protecting Australia’s borders, particularly in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The fresh decision to cancel the visa would leave the Australian Open without one of its biggest stars and Djokovic – who was seeking a record-breaking 21st grand slam triumph – unable to defend the title he has won nine times.
The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said that Australians had “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.” Morrison said he would not comment further “due to the expected ongoing legal proceedings”.
On Thursday, Morrison had said he expects authorities to apply the policies of the government that non-citizen non-residents must be double vaccinated or have an acceptable medical exemption.
Djokovic arrived in Australia on the evening of 5 January. He believed that a visa granted on 18 November and an exemption approved by Tennis Australia’s chief medical officer and a Victorian government independent expert panel would be sufficient to enter Australia.
After late-night questioning at Melbourne airport, Djokovic’s visa was initially cancelled by a delegate of the home affairs minister last Thursday, on the basis a recent Covid infection by itself was not sufficient for an exemption from Australia’s strict vaccination requirements.
The delegate concluded that, since he was unvaccinated, Djokovic posed a risk to public health.
But on Monday, a federal circuit court judge restored Djokovic’s visa, concluding it was unreasonable for the Australian Border Force to renege on a deal to give him more time at the airport to address the exemption issue.
Government lawyers immediately put the world No 1 on notice that the immigration minister could still exercise a personal power to again cancel the visa.
Djokovic faced a nervous wait, with questions about his travel in the fortnight before arriving in Australia and attendance at events after his positive Covid diagnosis of 16 December. Der Spiegel also claimed anomalies suggested the positive result could have been negative or dated 26 December.
On Wednesday, Djokovic conceded his agent made an “administrative mistake” when declaring he had not travelled in the two weeks before his flight to Australia and acknowledged an “error of judgment” by not isolating after he tested positive for Covid.