As the Novak Djokovic border drama makes headlines around the world, PM Scott Morrison revealed the tennis star never had the exemption he claimed.
Novak Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled and his Australian Open campaign is in tatters.
The tennis star was told to leave the country after he was stopped upon entering Australia despite claiming to have a vaccine exemption, sparking global controversy.
Djokovic will reportedly be transported to a quarantine hotel in the city before boarding a flight back to Europe, but is expected to try and challenge the decision in Victoria’s courts.
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison tweeted on Thursday morning: “Mr Djokovic’s visa has been cancelled. Rules are rules, especially when it comes to our borders. No one is above these rules.
“Our strong border policies have been critical to Australia having one of the lowest death rates in the world from Covid, we are continuing to be vigilant.”
But speaking in a press conference on Thursday morning, Mr Morrison revealed there had never been an exemption in place and Djokovic’s evidence for a medical exemption was “insufficient”.
“I want to thank the Border Force officers for doing their job implementing the Government’s policies ... entry with a visa requires double vaccination, or a medical exemption,” he said. “I am advised that such an exemption was not in place, and as a result he is subject to the same rule as anyone else.
“I also want to stress, that ultimately, this is the responsibility of the traveller. It is for the traveller to be able to assert and back up their ability to come into the country consistent with our laws.
“They can take advice, but it is up to them at the end of the day, and if they do not comply with the rules, that the Australian Border Force will do their job, and they have done their job (in this case).
“This is nothing about any one individual, it is simply a matter of following the rules, and so those processes will take their course, over the next few hours, and that event will play out as it should.”
Mr Morrison added that it is not uncommon for travellers to try and “run the border" and that entrants to Australia need to be double vaccinated, which is assessed at the border.
He also said it is on the traveller to have the proof to show why they have not been vaccinated.
“He provided information to the airline to allow his entry onto the plane. But people get on the plane, that is not an assurance that they will be able to come through Australia’s border at the other side,” Mr Morrison said.
“The problem is not necessarily with the visa. There are many visas granted and if you have a visa and are double vaccinated you are very welcome to come. And I think what this says to everybody in Australia the people are welcome but if you are not double vaccinated and not an Australian resident or citizen, you cannot come.”
Mr Morrison said Djokovic had not been singled out and he did not believe this situation would impact Australia on the global stage.
"Serbia has been a good friend of Australia and provided very strong support particularly on security issues globally and we greatly appreciate that,” he said. “This is a very specific case that deals with one individual and Australia’s sovereign border laws and their fair application.”
Mr Morrison said Djokovic was not singled out but that any extra scrutiny was due to Djokovic’s own doing.
“When you get people making public statements of what they say they have and what they are going to do and what their claims are, they draw significant attention to themselves,” he said. “Whether they are a celebrity, a politician, a tennis player, a journalist, whoever does that, they can expect to be asked questions more than others before you.”
In a potentially massive twist, Reuters and The Herald Sun are reporting three other players with similar exemptions to Djokovic’s have already entered the country without incident.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews has since said authorities are examining those players to ensure there have been no breaches of border rules.
The Herald Sun added Djokovic’s lawyers were already preparing to challenge the ruling in court.
Why Novak Djokovic was turned away
The world No. 1 touched down on an Emirates flight from Dubai into Melbourne shortly after 11pm Wednesday night AEST.
His father Srdjan reportedly told a Serbian radio station his son was “isolated in a room” at the airport without his entourage and was held under police guard. Djokovic was in that room for more than eight hours.
Srdjan later released an explosive statement to Serbian media, saying: “I have no idea what’s going on, they’re holding my son captive for five hours. This is not a fight for the libertarian world, this is not just a fight for Novak, but a fight for the whole world!
“If they don’t let him go in half an hour, we will gather on the street, this is a fight for everybody.”
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews released a statement on Wednesday and Prime Minister Scott Morrison made remarks appearing to imply Djokovic was not yet in the clear.
The Prime Minister was asked by reporters on Wednesday afternoon if he personally supported the decision to grant Djokovic an exemption. He warned the tennis star could find himself “on the next plane home” if he can’t provide sufficient evidence as to why he is unable to be vaccinated.
“My view is that any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our border requirements,” Morrison said.
“Now when Novak Djokovic arrives in Australia — I’m not quite sure when he’s going to turn up but I don’t think it’s too far away — He has to because if he’s not vaccinated, he must provide acceptable proof that he cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons and be able to access the same travel arrangements as fully vaccinated travellers.
“So we await his presentation and what evidence he provides to support that.
“If that evidence is insufficient, then he won’t be treated any different to anyone else and he’ll be on the next plane home. So there should be no special rules for Novak Djokovic at all. None whatsoever. And so if medical exemptions have been provided by medical professionals and that’s been furnished to him as a proviso for him to get on that plane, well, that will have to stack up when he arrives in Australia.
“But he will be treated no different to anyone else and my view is he should be treated no different to anyone else.
“There are other cases — there are quite a number over the last couple of years — where people have had these exemptions and have the suitable proof to support their claim in those circumstances.
“So the circumstance is not unique. The issue is whether he has sufficient evidence to support that he would qualify for that exemption.”
Andrews’ statement earlier on Wednesday didn’t mention the 20-time major winner by name but there was no doubt who the statement was referring to.
“Any individual seeking to enter Australia must comply with our strict border requirements,” her statement read.
“While the Victorian Government and Tennis Australia may permit a non-vaccinated player to compete in the Australian Open, it is the Commonwealth Government that will enforce our requirements at the Australian border.
“Since 15 December 2021 fully vaccinated eligible visa holders can travel to Australia without needing to apply for a travel exemption, and enter eligible states and territories quarantine free.
“If an arriving individual is not vaccinated, they must provide acceptable proof that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons to be able to access the same travel arrangement as fully vaccinated travellers.
“Australian Border Force will continue to ensure that those who arrive at our border comply with our strict border requirements.
“No individual competing at the Australian Open will be afforded any special treatment. Quarantine requirements for international arrivals in Victoria, including for non-vaccinated individuals, are a matter for the Victorian Government.”
The statement raised several questions as social media reacted to the latest twist in the ongoing saga.
Journalist Eryk Bagshaw tweeted: “Comments by Australian Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews suggest that the federal government could overturn Djokovic’s exemption to enter Australia.
“So Djokovic is currently in the air. Things could get interesting at Tullamarine …”
The Herald Sun’s Kieran Rooney said: “My reading of this is Djokovic will need to show proof of his medical exemption to border force/airline on arrival.
“Others have suggested that this border force arrangement may have already played out when he was granted a visa … Either way, federal authorities needed to approve Djokovic’s arrival (with medical exemption) into the country in some way.”
Rugby league reporter Brad Walter was asking questions that were likely shared by many after Andrews released her statement.
“What does that mean? Is the Federal Government going to stop him coming or playing? Or are they saying that it was them who granted him an exemption? Or does he now have to apply to them?” Walter wrote on Twitter.
Fellow journalist Jack Snape replied: “Border Force may have questions over info Djokovic has provided in his application for an exemption. ‘Acceptable proof’ in the Andrews statement suggests the information may have been acceptable to Vic, but to Border Force? Maybe not.”
Players must be fully vaccinated — or possess an exemption — to compete in the Australian Open.
Djokovic’s vaccination status has been clouded in mystery as he has refused to reveal whether he has received the jab or not, but he has made his stance on the matter clear, saying in April 2020 he was opposed to mandatory vaccinations.