Australia issued Novak Djokovic with a cruel new threat overnight but there were awkward issues that stalled his court hearing.
Novak Djokovic will fight his visa cancellation in court today as he seeks to keep his Australian Open campaign alive.
The world’s top male tennis player thought he’d successfully received a vaccination exemption to enter the country but he was turned around by the Australian Border Force when he touched down in Melbourne last week.
Djokovic has since been holed up in a detention hotel as he waited for his lawyers to have the chance to argue his case to remain in Australia and chase his 10th title at Melbourne Park.
In an order released to the public on Sunday, Judge Anthony Kelly said the one-day case will go ahead as scheduled today, refusing a government request to adjourn until Wednesday.
The hearing was supposed to start at 10am AEDT but was delayed because of tech issues.
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‘Justice out the window’: Tech troubles plague Djokovic hearing
Tech dramas have plagued the start of the hearing.
Members of the public were supposed to be able to watch and listen to proceedings via a secure link but that was not working at 10am AEDT.
It was suggested on social media the amount of people wanting to watch via the link may have caused disruptions.
An old audio/visual link that was sent out previously was reportedly working, but those on the call could allegedly be heard because they were not muted.
Australian journalist Sarah Dankert tweeted: “While there’s a public broadcast, there’s an old teams link that is still working for the Djokovic case and the court official is gone after having trouble with mute all. We’ve had techno blasting, giggling, shouting and someone is just saying Nole repeatedly in a pained voice.”
The court is aware of the tech issues and is looking into it. The hearing was delayed before getting underway around 10.30am AEDT.
However, even once it started, the live link still wasn’t working — meaning nobody outside the court knew what was happening.
Team Novak takes exception to ‘typo’
Novak Djokovic’s lawyer Nick Wood SC is arguing the Notice of Intention to Consider Cancellation of his client’s Visa is “defective” because it included a typo.
Lawyers for the Department of Home Affairs acknowledged in court filings on Sunday that a typo existed in the document but that it was insignificant.
They said the “unfortunate typo” is “unfortunate but immaterial”.
But in court on Monday, Mr Wood said it mattered. “It is more than a typo. The notice was defective,” he said.
Hearing gets underway
Amid all the tech dramas proceedings finally got underway — though still not everyone could hear and see inside the courtroom.
Djokovic’s lawyer started by outlining his team’s arguments. They were complex and the lawyer used a lot of acronyms.
The judge wasn’t a fan, telling him: “You’re going to have to drag yourself back to the last century. I hate acronyms.”
Australia’s cruel new threat to Djokovic
Djokovic is arguing he has a valid reason for a medical exemption not to be vaccinated against Covid-19 because he has contracted the virus within the last six months.
His lawyers submitted a 35-page document Saturday arguing his visa was wrongly cancelled and should be reinstated, allowing him to compete.
The team argued that Djokovic’s claim of a positive PCR test on December 16 means he meets the criteria for a vaccine exemption under the guidance of Australia’s immunisation advisory body.
But Australia’s Home Affairs Department has rebuffed his arguments point-by-point and urged the judge to dismiss the case, with costs.
Djokovic is unvaccinated and poses a risk to people and the health system in Australia, the government said in a 13-page document lodged with the court on Sunday.
The government added “there is no such thing as an assurance of entry by a non-citizen into Australia”.
“As for material given to the applicant by the Department, it had not represented to the applicant that his so-called ‘medical exemption’ would be accepted,” the submission said.
Significantly, the government’s submission also said it retains the right to keep Djokovic detained even if he wins Monday’s case.
“If the Court makes an additional orders for immediate release of the applicant, notwithstanding the above, the respondent submits that the Court should make it expressly clear that that order does not purport to (nor could it) prevent the respondent or any officer of the Commonwealth from exercising any power to detain that might be available to him or her despite the quashing of the delegate’s cancellation decision,” the submission said.
“An order for immediate release does not prevent re-detention if there is power to detain.”
‘Conflicting information’: Tennis chief spills
Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley said the organisation received lots of “conflicting advice” as it communicated with state and federal authorities about the rules for unvaccinated players coming into the country with an exemption if they had contracted Covid in the last six months.
“On the course of this journey, as the introduction of medical exemptions were proceeded with, there was plenty of contradictory information, plenty of conflicting information, and we were constantly seeking clarity from day one to ensure that we did the right thing and we were able to bring the players into the country again,” Tiley told Nine on Sunday.
“All I can say is the there was much conflicting information, the whole time. Every single week we were talking to Home Affairs, all parts of government to ensure that we were doing the right thing and we were on the right process with these exemptions, but knowing also that everyone coming had to be vaccinated.
“The conflicting information and the contradicting information we received was because of the changing environment.
“I’m not going to blame anyone, all I will say is we know what we know, we know what we have in front of us and will do the best job we can.”
Djoker’s family keeps on fighting
Djokovic’s family has already blasted Scott Morrison and Australian authorities for their treatment of the 20-time grand slam champion and they were at it again overnight.
At a rally in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, Djokovic’s mother Dijana said her son was staying “in not humane conditions”.
“They detained him and even don’t give him breakfast, he has only lunch and dinner,” she said, quoted by N1 regional television.
“He does not have a normal window, he stares at a wall.”
Srdjan Djokovic, Novak’s dad, took another crack at Morrison, adding: “We hope the court is independent and that it will bring the right decision and that Novak will get out as a winner and as a free man as the person he is.
“What is it that (he did) to deserve such treatment from their politicians, from their prime minister? Their fight between the federal and local governments and the tennis association — we are not interested in that at all.”
Both sides clash over exemption argument
Djokovic’s lawyers say Tennis Australia cleared him to play in the tournament because of his recent Covid infection, saying his vaccine application was approved by two independent medical panels.
But Australia’s vaccination exemption form clearly states that a previous infection “is not a contraindication to immunisation”, the government lawyers stressed.
Despite Djokovic’s claim of a positive test on December 16, photos shared by the Belgrade Tennis Federation showed him at a young players’ event in the city on December 17.
It reported that he had handed over cups and prizes to players. No one was wearing a mask.
Djokovic also attended a gathering on December 16, when the Serbian national postal service launched a stamp series in his honour.
“Thank you to my generous country for this rare gift! I’m humbled!!” he said on Instagram at the time.
The tennis ace’s lawyers argued that he faced an “unfair procedure”, claiming Australian border agents refused him time to rest and consult lawyers.
But the government rejected this, saying Djokovic had an opportunity to put his case to a border agent and had previously contacted his lawyers.
Since being held, his pleas to be moved to a facility where he can train for the Australian Open have fallen on deaf ears, his lawyers said.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said this weekend that Serbia was fully behind the player and she had held “constructive talks” with Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
“We managed that he gets gluten-free food, exercise equipment, a laptop,” she told Serbia’s Pink television.
Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley on Sunday defended his organisation from criticism that it failed to warn players that a previous infection did not qualify them for entry without a Covid-19 vaccination.
“We are not going to lay the blame on anyone because there is much contradictory information,” Tiley told Nine.
A second tennis player who was headed to the Australian Open — Czech doubles specialist Renata Voracova — had her visa was cancelled after initially being allowed into the country.
She flew out of Australia on the weekend after being held in the same Melbourne centre as Djokovic.