Djokovic presence may 'spur anti-vaxxers'

Novak Djokovic has been driven to Melbourne's Park Hotel ahead of his Sunday visa court hearing.
Novak Djokovic has been driven to Melbourne's Park Hotel ahead of his Sunday visa court hearing.

The Australian government says Novak Djokovic's mere presence during the Australian Open could stoke "anti-vaccination sentiment" and encourage others to shirk isolation rules.

In a 268-page affidavit released on Saturday by the Federal Court, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke's detailed reasons for cancelling Djokovic's visa a second time were outlined.

He conceded the unvaccinated tennis star poses a "negligible" risk of spreading COVID-19 to others, but argued allowing Djokovic to remain Down Under may jeopardise "the health of the Australian community".

"I have given consideration to the fact that Mr Djokovic is a high profile unvaccinated individual who has indicated publicly that he is opposed to becoming vaccinated against COVID-19," Mr Hawke wrote.

"In addition, I consider that Mr Djokovic's ongoing presence in Australia may lead to an increase in anti-vaccination sentiment generated in the Australian community, potentially leading to an increase in civil unrest of the kind previously experienced in Australia with rallies and protests."

This, the minister said, could also lead to unvaccinated Australians refusing to get the jab, anti-vaxxers having their views reinforced and a reduction in the uptake of booster doses.

Referencing Djokovic's self-described "error in judgement" to proceed with an interview with a French magazine journalist last month after being informed of his positive COVID-19 result, Mr Hawke said that may "foster similar disregard for the precautionary requirements following receipt of a positive COVID-19 test in Australia".

"His behaviour may encourage or influence others to emulate his prior conduct," he wrote, adding it could in turn prompt transmission of the virus.

The world No.1's Australian arrival declaration, which falsely suggested he had not travelled in the 14 days before landing in Melbourne, was not a factor in the decision after the player's agent provided a statutory declaration accepting responsibility for the "error".

The minister said he considered the likely "significant" inconvenience, emotional hardship and distress of cancelling Djokovic's visa, along with possible reputational damage and professional implications.

These included blocking the player's quest to claim a record 21st grand slam title at this year's Australian Open.

But ultimately Mr Hawke decided a long list of health, good order and public interest grounds outweighed the personal damage it could potentially cause the tennis legend.

"These matters go to the very preservation of life and health of many members of the general community and further are crucial to maintaining the health system in Australia, which is facing increasing strain in the current circumstances of the pandemic," he said.

In response, Djokovic's law firm Hall & Wilcox said the minister had not cited any evidence to back up his finding that the Serb's presence would "foster anti-vaccination sentiment".

"It was not open to the Minister to make that finding," their application reads.

There was no sign of Djokovic during Saturday's procedural hearing in the Federal Court but he was later driven from his lawyer's office to the Park Hotel in Melbourne's Carlton, which is being used as an immigration detention centre.

The 34-year-old was detained at the hotel for four nights when his visa was first cancelled.

Djokovic's hearing, a judicial review of Mr Hawke's decision, will be heard by a full court of the Federal Court of Australia, comprised of Chief Justice James Allsop, Justice Anthony Besanko and Justice David O'Callaghan at 9.30am on Sunday.

A full bench was earlier supported by Djokovic's representative, Paul Holdenson QC, but opposed by the government as it would remove both parties' right to appeal.

Australian Associated Press