MELBOURNE, NSW, Australia - The reputation of Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city was in tatters on Friday night after the sensational decision to cancel Novak Djokovic's visa for a second time and deport him.
The decision was actually made by the Australian federal government, specifically by one of its ministers acting on a personal basis, as foreshadowed at a court hearing earlier this week.
On Monday Federal Circuit and Family Court Judge Anthony Kelly ordered the initial cancellation of the World's number one tennis player be quashed, and he be released from detention.
Djokovic had been detained in the Park Hotel in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton, a property housing refugees, and asylum seekers. He was freed within 30 minutes of the decision, on the judge's orders, which had been made with the consent of the Australian government. It was at this point counsel for the government advised the minister could still cancel the visa a second time, under sweeping immigration laws. The judge said this would be raising the stakes and told the government's lawyers the court should be informed if that step was taken.
Incredibly, it has taken Australia's Immigration Minister Alex Hawke four days to arrive at his decision, throwing the Australian Open, due to start on Monday, into turmoil. The tournament's major attraction is now facing immediate detention prior to being ejected from the country. Mr Hawke made it clear in his statement, Djokovic will not be allowed re-entry into Australia for 3 years.
In a further indication the decision was a political one, the media was informed well before Djokovic's lawyers were served with the legal notice and supporting documents. It is unclear whether Djokovic received any notification at all.
Mr Hawke in announcing his decision even referred to the government as 'the Morrison government", rather than the Australian government. The decision coming at around 6:00pm on Friday night local time appears to have been timed to optimize local and international media coverage. The decision will be popular in Australia it would appear from polls that indicated more than 80 percent of Australians wanted Djokovic deported. These polls have been conducted by News Corp which is known to be close to the Morrison government.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (pictured) who has played a heavy hand from the outset, intervening when Tennis Australia and the Victorian government had cleared Djokovic well prior to his arrival into Australia issued a stern statement Friday night backing the immigration minister's call. The heavy-handed treatment of the Australian Open's star attraction has attracted headlines around the world, however sources have told local media, the government, which faces a federal election in just a matter of months, was prepared to put up with international outrage as the decision would be hailed domestically.
At 8:45pm Friday night a directions hearing over the second cancellation began in Melbourne with Judge Kelly again presiding. This time though the judge's scope was limited due to the sweeping powers the immigration minister has. The hearing, which was adjourned a number of times was adjourned for the final time at 11:11pm on Friday night. Judge Kelly issued a series of orders and undertakings by the parties. Chief among them is the matter is to be transferred to the Federal Court of Australia. Djokovic will be required to go back into detention however as the location he was to be taken to had been leaked, it was agreed just prior to the final adjournment that whatever arrangements are made for the detention, it will be agreed between the parties. Djokovic's lawyers argued that as the media had become aware of the location there was a real question of security and of the potential for a media circus. The judge agreed however indicated he was limited in terms of powers and could not broker a new arrangement. He adjourned the court to allow the parties to come to an agreement, which he agreed would result in the orders being amended. Judge Kelly expressed the gratitude of the court to the parties in advancing the progress of the matter.
He said the case would be transferred to Justice OCallaghan in the Federal Court, with a hearing scheduled for Saturday at 10:15am. Djokovic will be allowed to attend at his lawyers' offices from 9:00am Saturday but he is to be accompanied by two Australian Border Force officers.
"Today 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 in the public interest to do so," Immigration Minister Alex Hawke (pictured) said in a statement early Friday night
"This decision followed orders by the Federal Circuit and Family Court on 10 January 2022, quashing a prior cancellation decision on procedural fairness grounds."
"In making this decision, I carefully considered information provided to me by the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Border Force and Mr Djokovic," Mr Hawke said.
"The Morrison Government is firmly committed to protecting Australia's borders, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic."
Caught up in the past week's volatile events has been Melbourne, the city that endured the longest lockdown of any in the world. Melbourne has built a reputation around the world for hosting international events including the Grand Prix and the Australian Open.
"As Australia's global events and sporting capital, we really want to be seen as competent and welcoming as we emerge from being one of the world's most locked-down jurisdictions in 2020 and 2021," CEO of the Committee for Melbourne, which comprises representatives of the city's major national and international events, Martine Letts said Friday.
"No matter who is right or wrong, the affair has shown a vindictive and intolerant face of Australia which we can ill afford as we seek to open up again to the world," she said.
"We cannot let the Australian Open debacle set the tone for the rest of this and future years and leave the door wide open for others to step in and take our events crown, which they will take every opportunity to do."
"The Djokovic visa and vaccination saga has reflected poorly on all those involved, which is a tragedy considering the excellence of our infrastructure and tournament planning," Letts said.