Lawyer slams 'irrational' Novak Djokovic 'anti-vax' suggestion

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Novak Djokovic's legal team is fighting to have his deportation overturned. Pic: Getty
Novak Djokovic's legal team is fighting to have his deportation overturned. Pic: Getty

Novak Djokovic's legal team have hit out at Australia's Immigration Minister, with the tennis star detained by officials in Melbourne on Saturday as he fights a federal government decision to cancel his visa for a second time.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke used his discretionary powers late on Friday afternoon to cancel the World No.1's visa, after considering evidence from Djokovic's lawyers, along with advice from federal agencies.

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"I exercised my power under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act to cancel the visa held by Mr Novak Djokovic on health and good order grounds, on the basis that it was held in the public interest to do so," Mr Hawke said in a statement.

In an urgent directions hearing in the Federal Circuit Court on Friday night, Djokovic's lawyers sought an injunction against his deportation until a further hearing on Sunday.

As part of a court order made by Judge Anthony Kelly, Djokovic will be required to attend a meeting with immigration officials on Saturday, where he will be detained.

Djokovic's team are considering a number of grounds of challenge to the visa cancellation in a formal application to be filed on Saturday.

Despite the visa cancellation the tennis star was spared detention on Friday night. He will now likely be detained at the immigration hotel he was held at last week.

In a late-night hearing streamed by tens of thousands of people on Youtube, a lawyer for Djokovic claimed the Immigration Minister's decision to cancel his visa was based on an "irrational" premise that keeping him in Australia would stoke dangerous "anti-vax sentiment" from the Serb's supporters.

Djokovic’s lawyer, Nicholas Wood, SC, labelled Alex Hawke's decision as "patently irrational," and said the Immigration Minister had given "no consideration whatsoever" to what the effect deporting Djokovic may also have on anti-vaccination sentiment.

The case will be moved from the Federal Circuit Court to the Federal Court and will be heard on Sunday.

If Djokovic loses his case, he faces the prospect of being banned from travelling to Australia for three years unless the Immigration Minister decides to overturn that automatic ban due to “compelling circumstances”.

The unvaccinated Djokovic arrived in the country last Thursday for the Australian Open, when he was detained by border officials and his visa cancelled.

Australia's pandemic response has included an insistence a visa holder must be double-vaccinated or show acceptable proof they cannot be vaccinated to enter quarantine-free.

While that decision was later overturned by a federal court on fairness grounds, Djokovic was faced with uncertainty over his future in the grand slam with the possibility of a second visa cancellation from the immigration minister.

The Federal Government has announced the deportation of Novak Djokovic  after his visa debacle. (Getty Images)
The Federal Government has announced the deportation of Novak Djokovic after his visa debacle. (Getty Images)

Time running out before Australian Open begins

The Australian Open begins on Monday, with the world No.1 looking to secure his 10th title at the event.

Djokovic was named in the draw on Thursday, where he is slated to face Serbian compatriot Miomir Kecmanovic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Djokovic's visa cancellation was carried out because of public interest.

"Australians have made many sacrifices during this pandemic, and they rightly expect the result of those sacrifices to be protected," he said in a statement.

"That is what the (immigration) minister is doing in taking this action today.

"Our strong border protection policies have kept Australians safe, prior to COVID and now during the pandemic."

Officials looked into potential discrepancies on Djokovic's declaration form, which stated he did not travel out of the country in the two weeks before his flight to Australia.

Djokovic was filmed playing tennis in Serbia on Christmas Day and was later seen training in Spain on December 31, both in the two-week window.

However, Djokovic has denied he was trying to mislead the government on the form, stating an agent had made an "administrative mistake" while filling out the form.

In a statement posted to social media, the Serbian player also admitted to attending a media interview in Belgrade when he knew he had COVID-19.

with AAP

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