Djokovic made mistakes and he declined the Covid-19 vaccine, but that is not why he was deported. Australia’s Immigration Minister sent Novak home for thinking the wrong things about mandatory vaccination. It is a frightful precedent for the government to set.
Margaret Court. Israel Folau. And now Novak Djokovic. Once famous for its love of sport, Australia is these days better known for publicly shaming its most beloved sporting heroes when they err into wrongthink.
Reigning world tennis champ Novak Djokovic was deported over the weekend, ending any hope of defending his Australian Open title. Djokovic is now banned from entering Australia for three years. It is likely the last we will ever see of him.
Vaccination Status Not the Reason for Deportation
Despite intense media scrutiny of an interview Novak conducted in Serbia while covid-positive, and his failure to declare a recent trip to Spain on his visa application, these were not the reason the world number one was kicked out of Australia.
Djokovic acknowledged both as mindless errors, and they were not a focus for Immigration Minister Alex Hawke. According to The Guardian, “Hawke said these were not significant factors in his decision to cancel Djokovic’s visa, and he accepted Djokovic’s explanations.”
He wasn’t even deported for being unvaccinated. Hawke acknowledged that Djokovic’s recent Covid-19 infection meant he was a “negligible risk to those around him”.
For further evidence that Djokovic was not deported for his vaccination status, consider that the Australian Government granted Djokovic a visa while knowing he was unvaccinated; Tennis Australia gave him a medical exemption to compete in the tournament; and when Border Force tried to kick him out the first time for being vaccine free, a Federal judge ruled in Novak’s favour.
No, Australia’s once-favourite Serbian was deported because of his views on vaccination — views that the Australian Government considers a threat in a nation over 92 per cent vaccinated.
Ridding Australia of “An Icon of Free Choice”
During the hearing that sealed Novak’s fate, the Australian Government’s lawyer argued that if Djokovic remained in the country, he may become “an icon of free choice”. God forbid Australians prize free choice.
More concerning were the words of Alex Hawke, whose decision was upheld by a full bench of Federal judges:
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 which may themselves be a source of community transmission.
Hawke added that due to Novak’s high profile, “his publicly stated views, as well as his unvaccinated status,” the tennis player’s “ongoing presence in Australia may encourage other people to disregard or act inconsistently with public health advice and policies in Australia.”
The weekend’s decision should send a chill down every spine. In Australia, you are not only required to be vaccinated to feed your family, cross borders and participate in daily life — you are required to like it.
The lesson of the Djokovic affair is that you are a threat to Australia if you do not agree with its government. Once a hallmark of totalitarian regimes, this mindset is now entrenched in our country’s bureaucracy.
What does this mean for other visa holders? Every year, tens of thousands of people apply for permanent residency and citizenship in Australia. Is holding pro-mandatory vaccination views now a de facto citizenship test?
The Thoughtcrimes of Novak Djokovic
Thanks to the corporate press, impressionable Australians have an image of Novak Djokovic as an evangelist for anti-vaxx views. In fact, Djokovic has not sought the spotlight on this topic and has said very little about it in public.
Alex Hawke and the government’s lawyers relied on statements made by the tennis star all the way back in April 2020, at a time when it was sexy for even U.S. Democrats to be vaccine-hesitant.
“Personally, I am opposed to vaccination and I wouldn’t want to be forced by someone to take a vaccine in order to be able to travel,” Djokovic told fellow Serbian athletes on a livestream event at the time.
“I do want to have an option to chose what’s best for my body,” he also said. “I am keeping an open mind, and I’ll continue to research on this topic because it is important and it will affect all of us.”
To deduce Novak’s views since then, Hawke’s legal team could only connect dots and assume motives. Djokovic made the personal choice to decline vaccination — a decision that may have been dictated by his prior infection with the virus. And he broke several covid protocols — a sin that millions of people have committed these last two years, including countless politicians.
(Evidently, Hawke’s lawyers ignored a statement Djokovic made to the New York Times in August 2020, clarifying that he’s not against vaccines per se).
So to clarify, Djokovic was removed from Australia because of what the Immigration Minister and his lawyers think Novak thinks about vaccines.
Farewell Novak, Farewell Freedom of Thought
Greg Barns SC is a barrister experienced in migration cases. Speaking on behalf of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Barns told The Age that the extraordinary powers used to deport Djokovic — section 133C(3) of Australia’s Migration Act — were designed for terrorists, not tennis players. Barns warns that:
One of the most dangerous aspects of the Djokovic matter is the preparedness of the federal government to deem someone to be a risk to public order simply on the basis of what it perceives that person’s views might be. This is Orwellian and it is deeply troubling in a society supposedly committed to freedom of speech and freedom of thought.
Having subjected the Australian populace to some of the most draconian Covid-19 measures on the planet, the government rode a wave of public resentment towards a tennis celebrity who dared to think for himself.
They have now struck the deathblow to Novak and ensured a lacklustre Australian Open.
Whether the Morrison Government scored any political points in the process remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: they have created a martyr and fuelled the very fire they were trying to put out.
Image by AFP via The Statesman.