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Novak Djokovic letter never seen by Victorian government before vaccine exemption


The hotel where Novak Djokovic is being held. Picture: David Crosling
The hotel where Novak Djokovic is being held. Picture: David Crosling

Acting Victorian premier Jacinta Allan claims no one in the state government saw bombshell correspondence between the commonwealth and Tennis Australia as the blame game continues in the Novak Djokovic debacle.

The world No. 1 spent the night in immigration detention after his visa was denied upon arrival to Melbourne Airport to play in the Australian Open, due to his not having a valid medical exemption for being unvaccinated.

It has been reported the Serbian tennis star was relying on previously having had Covid for this “permission”, which was announced in a post to his Instagram on Tuesday.

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As the fiasco intensified on Thursday, two letters emerged that had been sent in November from Health Minister Greg Hunt and the commonwealth Department of Health to the Tennis Australia CEO.

The letters stated that people who had tested positive to Covid-19 within the past six months did not meet exemption requirements to enter the country, casting doubt on why Djokovic had been granted an exemption to play in the tournament.

Acting Premier Jacinta Allan said the Victorian Government had not seen the documents. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw
Acting Premier Jacinta Allan said the Victorian Government had not seen the documents. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw

Ms Allen on Friday said she had been advised that Victorian government officials hadn’t seen that correspondence.

“We wouldn’t necessarily see it, but it reinforces that point that it is the commonwealth government … that’s responsible for issuing visas and how they engage in that dialogue with Tennis Australia,” she told reporters.

“The role of the Victorian government here as the city and the state that hosts the Australian Open is to run a safe event. That has been the primary focus – having all the arrangements in place for the event to be run successfully and safely.”

Health panels set up by Tennis Australia and the Victorian government granted Djokovic an exemption to play in the tournament, sparking widespread public backlash.

Ms Allan said the role of the Victorian government panel was “very much separate from the visa process” and could only assess the eligibility of a medical exemption for unvaccinated players and support staff to take part in the tournament.

“How people who participate in that event get into the country is a matter for the commonwealth government who are responsible for issuing visas,” she said.

Djokovic arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday to defend his Australian Open crown, but he was held by the Australian Border Force shortly after for failing to meet entry requirements.

Supporters have rallied on Thursday outside the hotel where he is being detained as he mounts a court challenge to his deportation.

Novak supporters have gathered outside the hotel where he is being detained. Picture: Alex Coppel
Novak supporters have gathered outside the hotel where he is being detained. Picture: Alex Coppel

Protesters, who include Djokovic fans as well as members of the anti-vaccine mandate crowd, planned to gather The Park Hotel in Melbourne’s Carlton at noon on Thursday.

A small group of protesters campaigning for refugee rights returned to the Rydges hotel on Swanston Street on Friday where tennis star Novak Djokovic is being held while his legal stoush with border authorities plays out.

After swarms of both anti-vaxxer demonstrators and refugee activists descended on the detention facility on Thursday night, public order response units supervised the group that stood outside the hotel.

About eight refugee activists held signs saying “no crime, no time” and “to seek asylum is a human right”.

They could be heard chanting: “Free, free, the refugees” repeatedly.

Meanwhile, Victoria Police officers patrolled the perimeter of the hotel.

About 50 people turned up at the hotel in support of Djokovic, holding tennis racquets and Serbian flags.

Novak Djokovic applied for an exemption on the basis he already had Covid. Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images
Novak Djokovic applied for an exemption on the basis he already had Covid. Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images

The group has attracted curious onlookers who stood across the road, taking pictures.

A pair of motorbike riders circled the crowd with the Serbian flag attached to the back of their bike.

Some passing cars honked their horns in support of the refugee activists. One protester was also seen carrying an umbrella painted with the words “sack Dan” and “kill the bill”.

Yesterday border force officials released a statement about the saga and confirmed the tennis star had failed to provide appropriate evidence.

“The ABF can confirm that Mr Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia and his visa has been subsequently cancelled,” the Australian Border Force said on Thursday.

“Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia.”

Members of the local Serbian community gather for a vigil outside a hotel where the tennis champion is being held. Picture: William West/AFP
Members of the local Serbian community gather for a vigil outside a hotel where the tennis champion is being held. Picture: William West/AFP

Djokovic is now in immigration detention at the hotel awaiting the outcome of a high stakes legal battle with Australian authorities to avoid his deportation days out from the tennis tournament.

Asylum seeker advocates and refugee protesters have also gathered outside the hotel to demonstrate separately for those held in detention there, with some people climbing an awning and spray painting slogans onto the building.

Djokovic’s family have launched an extraordinary attack on Scott Morrison as they protest his treatment in Australia, with his father likening his son’s predicament to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Even Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic weighed in, claiming the star is the victim of a “political witch-hunt”.

The challenge in the Federal Circuit and Family Court to the federal government’s decision to deport Djokovic from Australia has been adjourned until Monday.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews on Friday morning refuted claims from Djokovic’s family that he was being kept in captivity.

“Well, can I say, firstly, that Mr Djokovic is not being held captive in Australia. He is free to leave at any time that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that,” she told the ABC.

She also confirmed that a visa had been issued to Djokovic but he failed to meet entry requirements.

“Yes, there was a visa issued – that is actually not the issue. It is the second part of that process, which is the specific entry requirements to be able to cross Australia’s border and to enter Australia lawfully,” she said.

Ms Andrews said investigations were under way for two other individuals associated with tennis.

“I’m aware of investigations in relation to two individuals by the Australian Border Force,” she said.

“They’re going through their processes of investigation.

“And at some time, they will brief me, but all I can absolutely assure you and the rest of Australia of is that the Australian Border Force will take absolutely the appropriate action.

“So, they’re conducting their investigations and they will take the appropriate action.”

Novak Djokovic has refused to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Novak Djokovic has refused to get vaccinated against Covid-19. Picture: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Additional reporting by Olivia Jenkins

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