Politics Opinion

Albanese Government should let Djokovic play in 2023 Australian Open

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PM Albanese has the chance to right one of the Morrison Government's many wrongs by reversing the decision on Novak Djokovic's visa (Image by Dan Jensen)

The Albanese Government must lift the three-year ban on Novak Djokovic entering Australia imposed earlier this year by the Morrison Government.

FORMER HOME AFFAIRS Minister Karen Andrews, who led the charge for Djokovic’s visa to be cancelled, says there is no reason for the ban to be lifted and that to do so would be a slap in the face of the Australian public.

This is Andrews trying to distract from the appalling way she handled the case.

The Djokovic saga began in November last year when the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) granted him and a number of other tennis players/officials who were in identical circumstances a visa to enter Australia.

DHA could have prevented the whole debacle by denying Djokovic a visa because he was not vaccinated and allegedly did not have a satisfactory medical exemption. There is more than sufficient authority in the health provisions of the Migration Act for that original visa application to have been refused.

Having granted the visa, DHA implicitly said Djokovic met the health provisions of the Migration Act. The answers DHA subsequently gave to Senate Estimates on this were completely misleading and designed to cover up the error in granting Djokovic a visa in the first place.

When Djokovic put out on social media that he had been given a visa and was coming to Australia, public furore broke out.

Scott Morrison’s initial response was to lay the blame on the Victorian Government for having granted Djokovic an exemption saying it was entirely a matter for the Victorian Government and that the Commonwealth accepts on face value any medical exemption granted by state governments.

This was an accurate reflection of the Australian Government’s policy at the time. There had been a number of tennis players/officials who had been allowed entry at Australian airports based on state government medical exemptions.

But in the 24 hours before Djokovic landed, Morrison Government policy was transformed. Australian Border Force (ABF) officials would no longer accept state government exemptions at face value but would go behind these to determine if they were valid.

Djokovic was the first person to whom the new policy was applied. On arrival at Melbourne Airport, Djokovic was extensively questioned and his visa was cancelled because he was viewed as representing a public health risk. He was taken into immigration detention at a hotel in Melbourne that was being used to detain certain asylum seekers who had arrived by boat.

Morrison quickly changed his tune and thundered rules are rules but without telling the Australian public that his Government had changed the rules just for Djokovic.

Djokovic successfully appealed that visa cancellation albeit on procedural fairness grounds rather than on the merits. He was released into the community and proceeded to prepare for the Open.

A few days later, the Morrison Government cancelled Djokovic’s visa a second time. This time, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke conceded Djokovic did not represent a public health risk but that there was a risk his presence in Australia would ‘incite anti-vaccination sentiment’.

Djokovic departed Australia with a three-year ban from re-entry.

The rationale for the second visa cancellation was entirely contrived. There were and still are more than enough prominent Australians who peddle anti-vaccination sentiment. Djokovic’s presence would have made no difference to these sentiments.

Australia’s rules on entry of international travellers no longer require people to be vaccinated so Djokovic’s vaccination status is now irrelevant. And if there is a concern Djokovic may incite ‘anti-vaccination sentiment’, the Government could require he sign up to make no public comment on anything related to vaccinations.

Lifting the three-year ban would be appropriate recompense for the Morrison Government’s appalling handling of the Djokovic case.

Dr Abul Rizvi is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration. You can follow Abul on Twitter @RizviAbul.

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