Djokovic jets off after court visa loss

Hannah Ryan |

Novak Djokovic is “extremely disappointed” with a court decision that will see him miss the Australian Open, as airport footage emerged of the tennis champion preparing to leave the country.

A three-judge panel of the Federal Court on Sunday ruled unanimously against the world No.1 in his bid to have his visa reinstated. 

The judges did not provide reasons for the decision, but said they would do so in coming days.

A photo of 34-year-old Serb at Melbourne Airport emerged on social media ahead of his expected departure on a flight bound for Dubai.  

Djokovic had been set to launch the defence of his Australian Open title in the competition’s opening round on Monday.

The superstar athlete may also face a three-year ban on re-entering the country and has been ordered to pay the federal government’s legal costs.

Djokovic said in a statement that he was extremely disappointed with the court’s decision to dismiss his application but that he respected its ruling.

“I will cooperate with the relevant authorities in relation to my departure from the country,” he said.

He vowed to take time to rest and recuperate before making further comments.

The ruling brings to an end an extraordinary saga that saw the court sit for five hours on Sunday during its summer holiday, a highly unusual event that reflected the urgency and high stakes of the case.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked the court for its prompt attention to the matter and welcomed the decision.

“This cancellation decision was made on health, safety and good order grounds, on the basis that it was in the public interest to do so,” he said in a statement.

“Strong borders are fundamental to the Australian way of life as is the rule of law.”

Djokovic brought the case after his visa was cancelled for a second time on Friday afternoon.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke cited a risk to public health and the chance that the unvaccinated Djokovic’s presence in Australia could excite anti-vaccination sentiment.

Djokovic’s visa had earlier been cancelled on the basis that he didn’t have an exemption from the requirement to be vaccinated. That decision was revoked and the visa reinstated on Monday. 

Lawyers for Djokovic and the federal government on Sunday duelled over his potential impact on anti-vaccination sentiment in Australia.

Djokovic’s lawyers argued that Mr Hawke failed to consider the way anti-vaxxers would be energised by a government to decision to deport Djokovic, and had been too fixated on the risks posed by his ongoing presence. 

More than 85,000 people watched as the case was broadcast on YouTube. 

Mr Hawke said he assumed Djokovic had recently been infected with COVID-19 and was a “negligible” risk of transmitting the disease to anybody else.

Instead, the immigration minister cited Djokovic’s high profile and previous statements against vaccination that meant others might refuse to be vaccinated and could even lead to civil unrest.

Legal experts had considered that Djokovic faced an uphill battle given the broad power Mr Hawke has under the Migration Act to cancel the visa.

Chief Justice James Allsop noted the international interest in the case, including in Djokovic’s home country, before delivering the ruling on Sunday evening.

He explained that the decision did not involve an appeal against the decision of the Australian government.

Instead it was a judicial review hearing focused on whether the government’s decision was irrational or unreasonable in a way that made it unlawful, he explained.

“It is not part of the function of the court to decide upon the merits or wisdom of the decision,” Chief Justice Allsop said.