The Australian government has said that while Novak Djokovic poses a “negligible” risk of spreading COVID-19, his mere presence could stoke “anti-vaccination sentiment,” court documents reveal.
Djokovic’s lawyers, meanwhile, have argued that the case against the tennis star was “illogical” and that Immigration Minister Alex Hawke’s reasoning was affected by the jurisdictional error identified last week.
The Serbian’s visa drama has dominated the build-up to the year’s first Australian Open grand slam, disrupting his attempt to defend his title.
In a 258-page affidavit outlining his reasons for cancelling Djokovic’s visa, the immigration minister conceded the unvaccinated tennis star only poses a “negligible risk” of transmitting the virus to the community.
However, Hawke argues that allowing Djokovic, who he said is a “high-profile unvaccinated individual,” could lead to other unvaccinated Australians “refusing to get the jab, anti-vaxxers having their views reinforced and a reduction in the uptake of booster doses.”
“Mr. Djokovic’s ongoing presence in Australia may lead to an increase in anti-vaccination sentiment in the Australian community, potentially leading to an increase in civil unrest of the kind previously experienced in Australia with rallies and protests which may themselves be a source of community transmission,” he said.
Referencing Djokovic’s self-described “error in judgement” to attend an interview last month after being informed of his positive COVID-19 result, Hawke said that may “foster similar disregard for the precautionary requirements following receipt of a positive COVID-19 test in Australia.”
This, in turn, could “lead to the transmission of the disease and serious risk to their health and others,” he wrote.
In response to the minister’s decision, Djokovic’s lawyers accused the government of failing to consider whether its own actions—in its first failed bid to block the top-ranked player from remaining in Australia—had stirred up anti-vaccination sentiment.
They also argued that Hawke “cited no evidence” that supported his finding that Djokovic’s presence in Australia may encourage others to disregard isolation rules.
“Cancelling Mr Djokovic’s visa and deporting him would plainly be adverse to the public interest, and respectfully, could only serve political interest,” documents said.
“That action would prejudice Australian economic interests, and jeorpadise the viability of Australia continuing to host this prestigious, international sporting event.”
“[It would] call into question Australia’s border security principles and policies—and indeed the rule of law in Australia generally.”
Justice O’Callaghan raised the possibility of convening a full court of three judges for Sunday’s hearing, scheduled for 9.30 a.m. AEDT, instead of a single judge.
It was supported by Djokovic’s representative Paul Holdenson QC, but opposed by the government on the grounds that it would prevent any means of appeal.
“Having the matter referred to the full court would remove any party’s right to appeal,” said Stephen Lloyd SC, representing Hawke.
A decision on whether a full court will sit is expected later in the day.