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Novak Djokovic vaccination: Barnaby Joyce weighs in on tennis border saga

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has weighed in on the Novak Djokovic case, saying the requirements to enter Australia are “black and white”.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has hit out at the Novak Djokovic case, saying the vaccination requirements to enter Australia were made “quite clear”.

Djokovic will fight his visa cancellation in court today, after the world number one tennis player arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday ahead of the Australian Open.

He claimed he had a “vaccine exemption” but upon landing in Australia, he was denied a visa and detained due to not having a valid medical exemption for being unvaccinated.

It is believed Djokovic was relying on having previously been diagnosed with Covid-19, with it emerging that Tennis Australia (TA) had incorrectly informed unvaccinated players they could enter the country if they had contracted the virus in the last six months.

Mr Joyce weighed in on the case while speaking with Sunrise on Monday morning, saying the requirements for people entering Australia were “black and white”.

“It was made quite clear by the Health Minister Greg Hunt that having Covid-19 is not enough, you have to be double vaccinated,” he said.

This refers to a letter Mr Hunt sent the CEO of Tennis Australia clearly stating people who had tested positive to Covid-19 within six months did not meet available exemption requirements to enter the country.

Mr Joyce said if he was in Djokovic’s position, he would not have attempted to enter Australia, but added the issue was not about him, it was about what the tennis player “has decided to do”.

He added the Australian government didn’t have different rules for people who are rich and famous.

“We will do what’s right and we will do what follows the process. We are not making special exemptions for people because they’re rich and famous, that’s not how Australia works,” Mr Joyce said.

“It was made quite clear by the Federal Government that you had to have had the double vaccination and the Health Minister made that absolutely black-and-white clear.”

Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon also weighed in on the saga, telling Sunrise after reading Djokovic’s submission to the Federal Court it was clear he had a “pretty compelling case”.

“We have to wait and see what the court says but it’s a pretty powerful case and it will be interesting to see how this thing pans out,” he said.

“But he came here with much more than a letter, as Barnaby suggested, much more than a letter, a certificate from the medical expert panel working under Tennis Australia.”

Djokovic to fight visa cancellation

The court hearing is due to commence at 10am today, with Judge Anthony Kelly refusing a request by the government to adjourn until Wednesday.

Speaking to Sunrise on Monday, partner at Thomson Geer Lawyers, Justin Quill, said he had a “strong view” that Djokovic would win is court hearing today.

“My pretty strong view after having read the submissions from both parties, particularly Djokovic’s, is that he will win his case in the Federal Court today,” Mr Quill said.

“He is under reserve and the decision might come down tomorrow, and I’m pretty confident on that he will win.”

However, he said this doesn’t necessarily mean the tennis star will get to play at the Australian Open.

“What will happen then is it will go back to the Minister to make a decision once again. They will then have a decision, whether or not they again cancel his visa, mindful of what the judge had said and making sure that they follow the right process,” Mr Quill said.

“That will be a hard decision, a political hot potato, whether the government stands by their strong words or whether they just do not cancel his visa and let him play.

“If I was betting on it, I would say that they will let him play, but that will be a tough call.”

Djokovic’s 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, 2021 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 said “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 sol-called ‘medical exemption’ would be accepted,” the submission said.

‘Conflicting information’ claims from Tennis Australia boss

Tennis Australia (TA) boss Craig Tiley has publicly addressed the Djokovic saga, after it was revealed TA had incorrectly informed unvaccinated players they could enter Australia if they had contracted Covid in the last six months.

Tiley first addressed the ongoing controversy in a leaked internal video directed to TA staff, saying the organisation has “done an unbelievable job” in getting everything together for the grand slam under “very difficult” circumstances.

Over the weekend Tiley, who is also the tournament director of the Australian Open, publicly responded to the situation in a brief TV appearance.

In an interview with Channel 9’s Clint Stanaway, Tiley said TA was “constantly seeking clarity” over the exemption rules while dealing with “plenty of contradictory information”.

“From the beginning on this journey we have always stated and said that what is of absolute priority is the safety of Australians, anyone coming in from overseas,” he said.

“That’s why we went on a journey of vaccination for everyone coming in, and actually, during the US Open 50 per cent of the playing group was vaccinated and today it is more than 97 per cent.”

However, the TA boss claims they had received “conflicting information” from the Victorian and Federal governments.

“However, 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.”

He said the TA had worked closed with the Victorian government but also revealed he had been in Department of Home Affairs, which sent Djokovic correspondence indicating informing his Australian Travel Declaration appeared to meet the requirements.

Originally published as Barnaby Joyce weighs in on Novak Djokovic controversy

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