SYDNEY, Australia — Novak Djokovic received the bad news at 7:42 am on Thursday, his visa to enter Australia has been revoked, and he has been detained despite arriving with a medical exemption from the country’s vaccination duty for international visitors.
At 08:56 PM, Prime Minister Scott Morrison jumped on Twitter to announce the tennis superstar’s coming.
“Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders,” Mr. Morrison wrote. “No one is above these rules.”
At first, the visa cancellation of a famous rival of Covid vaccines must have seemed like an obvious political winner. Australians are vaccinated compulsory voting. Mr. Djokovic is not always a sympathetic character. And with an election by May, Mr. Morrison was returning to a well-tested tactic: mobilizing voter support with calls for tough border enforcement.
But now Mr. Djokovic has been released and visa renewed – Monday after a hard trial in front of a federal judge – Mr. Morrison’s show enthusiasm for him as one of Australia’s egalitarian ideals in a way that violates arrogant, began to appear as a non-mandatory error.
A country preoccupied with a surge of Omicron infections and a lack of Covid testing that has crippled its economy in recent weeks is now debating the justice and competence of its government and questioning the priorities of its top leader. The sudden turn has twisted Mr. Morrison’s conservative supporters in knots and angered critics who already see him as a smug opportunist who prefers performance to substance and has trouble taking responsibility.
Prime Minister now faced with a difficult choice: either you or Mr. Djokovic’s doubles, which will begin on Monday, allow it to run in the 10th to win the Australian Open championship.
The law allows the Australian immigration minister to deport Mr Djokovic or any visa holder for even the smallest violations: a slight risk to public health, a misrepresentation on immigration forms, or a perceived lack of character. Alex Hawke, 44, an avid partygoer who took over his immigration portfolio nearly a year ago, said Monday night that he was considering whether to revoke the tennis star’s visa a second time.
On Tuesday, immigration authorities said they were investigating whether Djokovic could be charged with a crime for apparently falsely stating on an entry form that he had not traveled internationally in the 14 days prior to his flight from Spain via Dubai to Australia. (Social media showed he was celebrating Christmas in his native Serbia.)
Mr Djokovic had told government officials that Tennis Australia had filled out the form for him, but it was unclear whether this would save him.
His opponent in this case – Mr. Morrison – is a political fighter who came to power during Donald J. Trump’s presidency and enjoyed their friendship. Allowing Mr. Djokovic to stay in the country does not mean merely admitting legal defeat for the prime minister; it also means going against one’s own past and political leanings.
When Mr. Morrison served as immigration minister in 2013 and 2014, he was in charge of a military-led campaign. Operation Sovereign BordersIt has taken a zero-tolerance approach to any asylum seeker trying to reach the Australian shores by boat.
Even as human rights activists condemn what they call an inhumane approach to immigration, thousands have been turned away or detained. Many of these refugees are still detained in Australia’s offshore detention centres. About two dozen are at the Park Hotel in Melbourne, where Mr Djokovic is being held until Monday’s hearing.
This connection was immediately made by immigration advocates, many of whom camped outside the hotel, carrying signs reminding voters of the harsh policies that Mr. Morrison supported.
Elaine Pearson, Australia’s director of Human Rights Watch, said Mr Djokovic mistakenly shed “a much needed light on Australia’s brutal, inhumane forced detention system”. He added that perhaps the world and average Australians are questioning Australia’s propensity to detain first and ask questions later.
This is exactly the choice that Monday’s hearing, which includes Mr. Djokovic, has confirmed. The judge stated that he believed the famous athlete did everything he could to comply with the rules. It was government officials who did not act fairly and unreasonably,” he said.
Mr. Djokovic had documents proving that he had received a medical exemption from tournament organizers Tennis Australia. The exemption, based on what Mr Djokovic said he had a Covid infection in December, was approved by a doctor and an independent panel from the state of Victoria where the Open was held.
After being questioned for hours by border agents, Mr. Djokovic, after calling his representative and organizers from Tennis Australia, repeatedly offered to call anything the government needed later that morning.
The minutes of this airport interaction, shared by the court after Mr. Djokovic’s release, were more revealing than the judge’s.
The document shows that just after midnight, the border official who met with Mr. Djokovic sounded conciliatory.
“We want to give you every opportunity to provide as much information as possible,” the official said.
A few hours later, after the agent had left the room—probably to talk to the bosses—and came back, his tone had changed. Mr Djokovic has been informed that the process of revoking his visa has begun.
Australia vs Novak Djokovic
“I really don’t understand why you wouldn’t let me into your country,” he said. “I just mean, I’ve been waiting for four hours and I still can’t figure out what the main reason is – for example – which papers are missing? What information do you need to lack?”
Eventually, the officer agreed to allow Mr. Djokovic to have more time to call his agent after 8am. Then, around 7:30 a.m., the government “backed”, as Judge Anthony Kelly said.
Judge Kelly concluded that if the rules were the rules, the rules of procedure were not being followed.
Whether this will change voters’ views of Mr. Morrison may depend on where the “Djokovic thing” goes next.
Sean Kelly, a former Labor adviser and author of a recent Morrison biography,The game”said the prime minister, who had a habit of exaggerating trifles and being passive in the face of greater challenges.
Throughout the epidemic, he tried to put the blame on the states. This is part of what makes Mr. Djokovic, a complex figure known for his outbursts and promotion of trivial science, appear more like a political victim. Mr. Morrison’s government gave Tennis Australia mixed messages about whether vaccine exemptions are being handled at the state or federal level, and Mr. Djokovic seemed to have done everything he could to get vaccinated.
Mr Kelly said it was difficult to see any political benefit in prolonging the drama as an imminent election approaches.
“If in the next few weeks Australians feel like the pandemic is getting out of control,” he said, “it’s kind of like when the government chooses to make a show out of the Djokovic issue, then it starts playing badly.”
Mr. Morrison’s some allies still arguing that based on specific vaccines and quarantine queue for Australians to be deported Djokovic is calling, so he should do. However, he is often faced with warnings from the quiet corner.
John Alexander, a member of Mr Morrison’s centre-right Liberal Party and a former professional tennis player, broke ranks Monday night and said it was in the “national interest” to let Mr Djokovic stay.
The immigration minister’s “personal powers to revoke visas” are designed to prevent criminals from otherwise walking our streets, or to prevent an infectious person from roaming our streets. “They are not designed to deal with a potential political issue of the day.”