If you thought Novak Djokovic had a God complex, he’s got nothing on Australia’s immigration minister.
After the government suffered the ignominy of wounding, not killing, Djokovic on his arrival in Melbourne for the Australian Open a week ago, the immigration minister Alex Hawke was determined to stop the GOAT.
Armed with the almost bullet-proof section 133C(3) of the Migration Act, which gives the minister the power to cancel a person’s visa if satisfied it is in the public interest to do so, Hawke proceeded with the nuclear option of booting the world No 1 tennis player out of the country.
The law is clear – the rules of natural justice don’t apply.
Sunday’s federal court hearing did not need to consider the merits or wisdom of Hawke’s decision – just whether it was “irrational or legally unreasonable”. In a unanimous decision, the court found it was not, dismissing Djokovic’s appeal and ordering he pay costs.
It was a messy week for the government, but the outcome proves once more that Australia’s immigration laws are as harsh in design as they are in execution. (Just ask Mehdi Ali, who has spent nine years in detention as a result of Australia’s border policies.)
In the court hearing, the government had argued Djokovic was “perceived by some as a talisman of a community of anti-vaccine sentiment” and allowing him to stay in the country could undermine the government’s public health messaging.
In essence, Djokovic had become a poster boy for anti-vax views – it was likened to a sponsorship deal – and his very presence would serve as a country-wide advertisement for others to follow suit.
Australia’s new hardline no-dickhead approach was accepted by the court and Djokovic’s fate was sealed. He won’t be missed by most, with the tennis world’s most unsympathetic protagonist doing little for his cause by confirming he defied health advice for a photo opportunity after testing positive to Covid, and then incorrectly filled in his immigration paperwork.
Even among the tennis community he has received little sympathy, with the saga (triggered, let’s not forget, by Djokovic’s decision not to get vaccinated) overshadowing the Australian Open, where other vaccinated players just want to get on with the tennis.
But if being arrogant, anti-science and an all-round jerk is grounds for the government to push the button on its extraordinary deportation powers, then perhaps we can look forward to the government doing more about similar characters domestically.
Has Alex Hawke chewed the fat with Alex Antic or George Christensen in the Coalition party room lately? They make Djokovic look like a veritable quiet Australian, what with their calls for civil unrest, and suggestions state health departments are involved in grand cover-up conspiracies.
Queensland LNP senator Gerard Rennick is publicly questioning the safety of booster shots and has suggested the health department of having a “callous attitude towards the safety of Australians”, while Nationals senator Matt Canavan has continually downplayed the threat of the virus compared to the threat to personal liberty.
The poor old Therapeutic Goods Administration has been pulling its hair out in frustration over the well-funded Clive Palmer misinformation campaign, which gets met with an official shrugging of shoulders when asked if the government can do anything about it. If only Palmer and Craig Kelly were non-citizens!
Government ministers themselves have been keen to dog-whistle to anti-vax sentiment, distancing themselves from controversial vaccine mandates when politically expedient to do so, and tacitly supporting freedom rallies that have targeted health restrictions.
The handling of the Djokovic case has been a rolling administrative shambles, and Australians who have done the right thing and got vaccinated – many who would have preferred not to – overwhelmingly think the Joker should go home.
But anyone who suggests the government is being driven by its fervent belief in good health and public order, and not by a desire for a much-needed political win in its strong suit of border control, has not been paying attention.