After 3½ hours’ debate at the Federal Circuit Court in Melbourne, interrupted by several adjournments, the end came quickly. At 5.16pm local time, long after courts usually sit in this city, the judge quashed the initial visa ruling by Australian Border Force and demanded that Djokovic be freed from detention within 30 minutes.
And yet for all Djokovic’s relief at the verdict, his ordeal in the Australian court system was not at an end. “Following today’s Federal Circuit and Family Court determination on a procedural ground, it remains within the minister’s discretion to cancel Mr Djokovic’s visa under his personal power of cancellation within section 133C(3) of the Migration Act,” said a spokesperson for Mr Hawke. “The minister is currently considering the matter and the process remains ongoing.”
The resolve of Scott Morrison’s government to make an example of Djokovic, whose grounds for a medical exemption they regard as spurious, was evident when Christopher Tran, the lawyer acting on their behalf, signalled that the immigration minister could “consider whether to exercise the personal power of cancellation” over his right to stay. Sure enough, Mr Hawke’s office indicated that they were not letting the matter lie.
The stand-off between Djokovic and an Australian administration campaigning for re-election in four months’ time has become a high-wire political game. On the one hand, Morrison has significant reputational capital invested in the Serb’s case, having used it as symbolic of Australia’s unbending restrictions at the border. “Rules are rules,” as he put it, before Judge Kelly’s intervention left those rules in doubt. But on the other hand, the prime minister risks looking vindictive if he continues to pursue other avenues for ejecting Djokovic from the country.
Judge Kelly was satisfied that Djokovic had provided all possible evidence to illustrate his exemption from the vaccination requirements. “The point I am somewhat agitated about is what more could this man have done?” he asked. “Here, a professor and an eminently qualified physician have produced and provided to the applicant a medical exemption. Further to this, the exemption and its basis were further given by an independent expert specialist panel established by the Victorian state government.”