Morrison government dragging out Djokovic visa saga ‘as a distraction’, Labor says

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<span>Photograph: Martin Keep/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Martin Keep/AFP/Getty Images

Anthony Albanese says it should ‘never have come to this’ as Jacqui Lambie implores immigration minister to ‘stop this debacle’

Labor has accused the Morrison government of dragging out the Novak Djokovic visa saga to distract from its Omicron woes, as uncertainty over the tennis star’s ability to play the Australian Open enters its second week.

With no decision yet announced by immigration minister Alex Hawke, the independent senator Jacqui Lambie also accused the government on Friday of an “absolute shambles” in its handling of the Djokovic visa issue.

Djokovic’s lawyers are prepared to challenge a visa cancellation, which has made the Australian government hesitant to pull the trigger until it is certain it won’t be reversed by a court.

Related: Novak Djokovic: Australia still considering cancelling player’s visa and whether he had ‘acceptable proof’

A lengthy legal battle could drag the saga into the next week, when the men’s tennis world No 1 is due to begin his Australian Open title defence.

Djokovic arrived in Australia on the evening of 5 January. He believed that a visa granted on 18 November and an exemption approved by Tennis Australia’s chief medical officer and a Victorian government independent expert panel would be sufficient to enter Australia.

Djokovic’s visa was cancelled on the basis that a recent Covid infection by itself was not sufficient for an exemption from Australia’s strict vaccination requirements.

Although the visa was restored by the federal circuit court on Monday, Hawke began to consider cancelling it again under a separate personal power.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, on Thursday refused to comment directly on the case but confirmed he expected authorities to enforce the requirement that non-citizen non-residents be vaccinated, in a signal interpreted as meaning a fresh cancellation was imminent.

On Friday Lambie questioned why the saga “keeps dripping out of the tap” and why the minister “hasn’t done anything about this”.

“So maybe it’s about time to stop this debacle, finish it once and for all … and make up your mind, Alex Hawke. Where are you, missing in action? Make a decision,” she told Channel Nine’s Today.

Jacqui Lambie says the Novak Djokovic visa situation is &#x002018;an absolute shambles&#x002019;.
Jacqui Lambie says the Novak Djokovic visa situation is ‘an absolute shambles’. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Lambie said if the government couldn’t make a decision about Djokovic she questioned how they could run the country.

“This is an absolute shambles. Let alone what it’s making us look like in the face of the rest of the world. It’s absolutely a shocker.”

At a press conference in Maryborough in Queensland, Labor’s shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers accused the government of “using this Novak Djokovic saga as a distraction from the shortages in our supermarkets, the shortages in our chemists, the shortages of workers”.

The Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, said it should “never have come to this” because Djokovic should not have been granted a visa if not eligible for an exemption.

“Novak Djokovic and his participation in the Australian Open has been the number one sports story in the world for months.

“Everyone knows he’s the number one player in the world. He’s won the Australian Open nine times, shooting for 10, shooting for his 21st grand slam to be the greatest champion of all time.”

Albanese noted it had been 60 days since the visa was granted and said the government had “never answered the question of how is it that that visa was granted in the first place if he wasn’t eligible because he wasn’t fully vaccinated”.

Related: Refugee advocates want review of minister’s ‘godlike’ powers, as Djokovic waits on visa verdict

On Thursday Morrison explained that having a visa is different to satisfying the requirements for entry to Australia, warning those should not be “conflated”.

Morrison said non-citizen non-resident arrivals would need to show they were double vaccinated or “acceptable proof that they can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons”.

The first counsellor at the Serbian embassy, Ivana Isidorovic, revealed on Friday that Djokovic has a diplomatic passport, telling the Herald Sun it should ensure “adequate treatment” of the 34-year-old tennis star.

“Djokovic, as our most recognisable representative in the world, is the holder of a diplomatic passport, which should, in diplomatic theory and consular practice, guarantee him adequate treatment when crossing borders,” she reportedly said.

However, Djokovic’s passport is unlikely to have any bearing on the vaccination requirement or visa cancellation, and was not a feature of his federal circuit court case.

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