Why Australia is paralyzed over deporting Novak Djokovic – POLITICO

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SYDNEY – “Rules are rules,” according to to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison – but if you’re the best tennis player in the world, the rules do not necessarily apply.

The world has been waiting impatiently for Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke to reveal whether he will use his personal power to deport Novak Djokovic and ban him from Australia for three years, or allow world No. 1 to stay in Melbourne to fight for , what could be his 10th Australian Open title.

In the days since a judge ordered Djokovic’s release from prison after Australia tried to deport the COVID vaccine skeptic on his arrival in Melbourne, Djokovic has admitted to violating Serbian isolation rules and in fact admitting that he lied on his Australian travel declaration form.

Although on paper it should make deportation an indifferent matter, here’s what weighs Hawke’s mind when considering whether to intervene…

‘Pub test’

Morrison Government strategy to win elections has a name: “the pub test.” Think of Britain’s “man on the Clapham Omnibus”, but three beers in, and constantly being asked what he thinks of the Prime Minister.

And with a federal election likely just months away, Morrison’s center-right Liberal Party is hyper-aware of anything that could upset the average Australian.

The rules for traveling to Australia right now are clear: You must have a visa, a recent negative COVID test, be fully vaccinated and truthfully fill out your travel declaration. Djokovic is unvaccinated, and his form incorrectly specified he had not traveled in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia.

While Djokovic was detained in hotel jail and challenged the cancellation of his visa, the Australian Prime Minister and his colleagues were too eager to highlight his mistake.

“Rules are rules, and there are no special cases,” Morrison proclaimed in one press conference on January 6th. Australia’s border force’s task is to “apply the rules to everyone – and the Morrison Government will always support them to do so,” Home Secretary Karen Andrews added last week. “It’s the only way we can ensure a fair go for everyone – especially those Australians and their families who have sacrificed themselves over the last two years to comply with various pandemic rules.”

But the ruling by Federal Circuit Court Judge Anthony Kelly turned the situation into a headache for the government. While Kelly ordered Djokovic released, he did so for administrative reasons – not because the tennis champion’s visa was valid, but because the government was forced to admit he had not had enough time to react to the cancellation.

At the time, Morrison and co. could have withdrawn, claiming the case was out of their hands and letting Djokovic play. But instead, the government sought to save face by noting that Hawke still had the personal power to intervene and kick Djokovic out of the country.

Three days later, with the Australian Open draw now over and Djokovic in it and the tournament set to begin on Monday, Hawke’s passivity is unbearable.

If he retires on Friday and allows Djokovic to stay, the government looks weak; voters remember that rules do not matter if you are rich and famous; and Morrison’s hard stance on immigration is being undermined at the worst possible time.

So why is Djokovic not on the next flight home?

The family story Biloela

One likely reason Hawke is reluctant to use his power to intervene personally is the so-called Biloela family case. A family of Tamil asylum seekers – Murugappans – have been fighting for years to be allowed to return to the city of Biloela in the Australian state of Queensland after the federal government rejected their application for asylum on the grounds that the parents had traveled to Australia by boat and ordered them to return to Sri Lanka.

That The Biloela community has rallied around the family and waged a passionate campaign for Hawke to intervene, using his personal power to get the family back to the city. So far, Hawke has largely abstained from voting despite the family terrible situation.

Now is the Djokovic case brings renewed attention to Murugappans – and if Hawke chooses to intervene, even if it is to deport the tennis star, he highlights the fact that he could easily do so in Biloela case too.

And there’s another big reason Hawke might be hesitant.

Australian Opens fate

The Melbourne Grand Slam is among Australia’s most treasured sporting events, attracting thousands of visitors and contributing more than A $ 380 million (around € 242 million) to the Victorian pre-pandemic 2020 economy.

Djokovic is the world’s best tennis player for men, a man some fans love and others love to hate. If the Australian Open loses its headliner in 2022, competition for the trophy is likely to be between Rafael Nadal, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev (the latter of whom is being investigated for accusations of domestic abuse). Definitely less exciting.

(Side note: If Zverev is convicted of a domestic violence offense or is subject to a domestic violence order, he would technically not the grade requirement for an Australian visa in the future.)

And more generally, the Djokovic saga lands at a complex time for the Australian Open. While the Grand Slam is entered into a contract to be held in Melbourne Park for the foreseeable future, the tournament’s director, Craig Tiley, has repeatedly warned that its future is not necessarily guaranteed, especially as a result of the pandemic. He said last year: “Even though we have a contract for 2039 for the government, it does not mean that if … another country puts a lot of money into a big event that is easy to play at,” the top players would continue to come to Melbourne.

“The only reason we get the players here is because we offer a lot of prize money and we spend a lot of time pursuing them in the future,” he added.

So what happens to a Grand Slam when the world’s best player is excluded from it for three years?

It seems Hawke is scared to find out.


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