Novak Djokovic allowed to leave immigration detention facility during court hearings

The unvaccinated Djokovic had his visa sensationally cancelled by the federal government last week.

Novak Djokovic at the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 2, 2020.

Novak Djokovic at the 2020 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on February 2, 2020. Source: AAP

Men’s tennis world number one Novak Djokovic has been allowed to leave his immigration detention facility each day for the duration of the Australian Federal Circuit Court hearing into his visa debacle.

The 34-year-old Serbian, who is unvaccinated against COVID-19, had his visa sensationally cancelled by the federal government after flying into Melbourne last week for failing “to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia”.

He has been kept in immigration detention while awaiting Monday’s court hearing, which has garnered significant international attention and controversy.

Judge Anthony Kelly has allowed Djokovic to be taken to a confidential location specified by his solicitors and "to remain there until the conclusion of each hearing".

After his visa was cancelled last Thursday, Djokovic was taken to the Park Hotel in Carlton, an "alternative place of detention" housing dozens of asylum seekers.

Crowds of people have been protesting outside the Park Hotel to draw attention to the men inside, some of whom have been in Australia's immigration detention system for nearly a decade and have not been allowed to leave detention centres during legal battles.

A fire has broken out at the facility in recent weeks and detainees 

It's also been the site of a COVID-19 outbreak, where half of the detainees and around 20 staff became infected.

Camera crews surround a van as it leaves the Park Hotel on Monday 10 January 2022
Camera crews surround a van as it leaves the Park Hotel on Monday 10 January 2022 Source: AAP

‘What more could this man have done?’

There were farcical scenes amid opening arguments during Monday's online-only hearing, with the official livestream crashing on and off as proceedings stopped and restarted multiple times.

The hearing also began before the livestream’s technical issues were fixed, meaning onlookers and the significant contingent of international media were unable to listen. 

Australia's border rules currently ban non-double vaccinated people from overseas from entering the country unless they have a medical exemption from having the shots, which Djokovic believed he had.

According to court documents released on Saturday, Djokovic contracted COVID-19 on 16 December.

His lawyers argued on Monday he was denied procedural fairness during the decision to revoke his visa, that he met the criteria for a vaccine exemption, and he declared before his flight to Australia that he had a “medical contraindication”, which refers to specific medical reasons for not using a particular treatment.

They also said Djokovic received an exemption from Tennis Australia and correspondence from the Department of Home Affairs that he understood to mean he met the requirements for quarantine-free travel to Australia.

After hearing Djokovic’s lawyers’ arguments on Monday, Judge Kelly questioned what more he could have done to enter Australia. 

"A professor and an eminently qualified physician have produced and provided to the applicant a medical exemption. Further to that, that medical exemption and the basis on which it was given, was separately given by a further independent expert specialist panel established by the Victorian state government, Judge Kelly said.

"What more could this man have done?"

Djokovic lawyer Nick Wood SC also said the Serb was "utterly confused" by the situation when questioned by authorities at Melbourne Airport last week, as he thought he had done everything asked of him.

He also said Djokovic had asked border officials at the airport in the early hours of Thursday if he could contact Tennis Australia and his lawyers when they were "awake" later in the morning. His visa was ultimately cancelled before then, at 7:29am.

'Not the same'

The government will continue to outline its case on Monday afternoon.

In submissions to the Court, government lawyers say Djokovic was wrong to claim that previous COVID-19 infection is grounds for an exemption.

They say the medical advice is clear that past infection is not a contraindication for infection and instead a person can defer vaccination for six months after acute illness.

"There is no suggestion that the applicant had 'acute major medical illness' in December 2021," the documents say. "All he has said is that he tested positive for COVID-19. That is not the same."

Government lawyers also argued his Djokovic's unvaccinated status could be a threat to the health and safety of people in Australia. 

They have asked the judge to reject Djokovic's legal challenge and order he pay costs.

But should he win and the court order his immediate release, they want the judge to make it clear there's nothing stopping them from detaining him again.

"An order for immediate release does not prevent re-detention if there is power to detain," submissions on behalf of Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said.

The hearing continues.

With AAP.

5 min read
Published 10 January 2022 at 1:59pm
Source: SBS