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SYDNEY – “Rules are Rules” according to to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison – but when you’re the best tennis player in the world, the rules don’t necessarily apply.
The world has been waiting impatiently for Australian Immigration Secretary Alex Hawke to reveal whether he will use his personal powers to deport Novak Djokovic and ban him from Australia for three years, or allow the world No. 1 to stay in Melbourne to fight for could be his 10th Australian Open title.
In the days since a judge ordered Djokovic’s release from hotel confinement after Australia tried to deport the COVID vaccine skeptic upon his arrival in Melbourne, Djokovic has admitted to breaking Serbia’s isolation rules and effectively banned him conceded lied on his Australian Travel Declaration form.
While on paper this should make deportation a breeze, here’s what’s on Hawke’s mind as he considers intervening…
The pub test
That of the Morrison government strategy Winning elections has a name: the “pub test”. Think of Britain’s ‘man on the Clapham Omnibus’, but three beers on it and constantly being asked what he thinks of the Prime Minister.
And with a general election likely to be just months away, Morrison’s centre-right Liberal Party is extremely vigilant about anything that might anger the average Australian.
The rules for traveling to Australia are now clear: you must have a visa, have a recent negative COVID test, be fully vaccinated and fill out your travel declaration truthfully. Djokovic is unvaccinated, and his form incorrectly stated He had not traveled in the 14 days prior to his arrival in Australia.
While Djokovic sat in hotel confinement challenging his visa cancellation, the Australian Prime Minister and his colleagues were all too eager to highlight his mistakes.
“Rules are rules and there are no special cases,” Morrison proclaimed in one press conference on January 6th. The job of the Australian Border Force is “to apply the rules to everyone – and the Morrison Government will always support them in doing so,” said Home Secretary Karen Andrews added last week. “It’s the only way we can ensure it’s fair to everyone – especially Australians and their families who have made sacrifices to comply with various pandemic rules over the past two years.”
But the ruling by federal court judge Anthony Kelly gave the government a headache. While Kelly ordered Djokovic’s release, he did so for administrative reasons – not because the tennis champion’s visa was valid, but because the government had to admit he had not been given enough time to act on his annulment.
At that point, Morrison and company could have backed down, claiming the matter was out of their hands and let Djokovic play. Instead, the government tried to save face by noting that Hawke still had the personal power to step in and kick Djokovic out of the country.
Three days later, with the Australian Open draw now complete and Djokovic in and the tournament due to start on Monday, Hawke’s inaction is unbearable.
If he relents on Friday and lets Djokovic stay, the government will look weak; voters remember that rules don’t matter when you’re rich and famous; and Morrison’s tough stance on immigration is being undermined at the worst possible time.
So why isn’t Djokovic on the next plane home?
The case of the Biloela family
A likely reason Hawke is reluctant to use his power to intervene personally is the so-called case of the Biloela family. A Tamil asylum-seeking family – the Murugappans – have fought for years to be allowed to return to the town of Biloela, in the Australian state of Queensland, after the federal government rejected their asylum application on the grounds that the parents had traveled to Australia by boat and ordered them to go return to Sri Lanka.
the The Biloela community has rallied around the family and waged an impassioned campaign for Hawke to intervene and use his personal power to allow the family to return to town. So far, despite the family, Hawke has largely abstained terrible distress.
Now the Djokovic case attract new attention to the Murugappans – and when Hawke chooses to intervene, even if it means deporting the tennis star, he stresses the fact he could easily do so Biloela case too.
And there’s another important reason why Hawke hesitates.
The fate of the Australian Open
The Melbourne Grand Slam is one of Australia’s most popular sporting events, attracting thousands of visitors and contributing more than A$380 million to the Victorian economy in pre-pandemic 2020.
Djokovic is the world’s top men’s tennis player, a man some fans love and others hate. If the Australian Open 2022 loses its headliner, the competition for the trophy would likely be between Rafael Nadal, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev (the latter is under investigation). allegations of domestic violence). Definitely less exciting.
(Side note: if Zverev is convicted of a domestic violence offense or subject to a domestic violence order, he would technically fail the character requirement for an Australian visa in the future.)
And more broadly, the Djokovic saga lands at a complex time for the Australian Open. While the Grand Slam is on Contracted Tournament director Craig Tiley, set to take place at Melbourne Park for the foreseeable future, has repeatedly warned its future is not necessarily guaranteed, particularly due to the pandemic. He said last year: “Even if we have a contract until 2039 for the government, that does not mean that if … another country invests a lot of money in a big event that is easy to play in”, the top players keep coming would go to Melbourne.
“The only reason we bring players here is because we offer a lot of prize money and spend a lot of time chasing them,” he added.
So what happens to a Grand Slam when the world’s best player gets a three-year ban?
Apparently Hawke is afraid to find out.