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Judges didn’t consider ‘wisdom’ of deporting Novak Djokovic

Published:Friday | January 21, 2022 | 12:11 AM
Novak Djokovic prepares to take his seat on a plane to Belgrade, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, after he was deported from Australia on Monday.
Novak Djokovic prepares to take his seat on a plane to Belgrade, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, after he was deported from Australia on Monday.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP):

Three Australian Federal Court judges revealed their reasons for backing a government order to deport tennis star Novak Djokovic yesterday, explaining they did not consider the “merits or wisdom of the decision”.

The judges on Sunday unanimously endorsed Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s decision to deport the 34-year-old Serb following an urgent court challenge on the eve of what was to be Djokovic’s first match in defence of his Australian Open title. Djokovic accepted the verdict and flew from Melbourne to the United Arab Emirates hours later.

Chief Justice James Allsop and Justices James Besanko and David O’Callaghan on Thursday released a 27-page explanation of why they rejected Djokovic’s challenge.

“The court does not consider the merits or wisdom of the decision,” the judges said. “The task of the court is to rule upon the lawfulness or legality of the decision.”

“Another person in the position of the minister may have not cancelled Mr Djokovic’s visa. The minister did,” they added.

Djokovic had his visa revoked at Melbourne’s airport on January 6 hours after arriving because he wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19. A judge later found that the border officer’s decision to cancel the visa was legally unreasonable and restored it.

Immigration

But Hawke used his sweeping discretion under the Immigration Act to cancel the visa again on Friday on the broad ground of public interest.

Djokovic was a “high profile unvaccinated individual” whose presence in Melbourne “may foster anti-vaccination sentiment” and increase pressure on the health system, Hawke said in his 10-page decision to revoke the visa.

Hawke had rejected Djokovic’s arguments that his deportation would appear to be “politically motivated decision-making” that could jeopardise Australia’s role as hosts of the first Grand Slam of the year.

Many argue the government deported Djokovic in response to public anger that an unvaccinated athlete had been allowed into the country without undergoing quarantine, even as the omicron variant strains hospitals, home COVID-19 tests are in short supply and Australians’ relatives overseas are barred from visiting because authorities don’t recognise their types of vaccines.

The judges rejected Djokovic’s three grounds of appeal. The first was that the decision was illogical, irrational or unreasonable. The second was that the minister could not find that Djokovic’s presence in Australia may be a risk to health or good order. The third was that the minister could not find Djokovic had a well-known stance opposed to vaccination.