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

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

The Novak Djokovic saga has highlighted serious problems with the unfairness of Australia’s immigration system, advocates say

The Novak Djokovic saga proves the need for an urgent review of the immigration minister’s “godlike” visa cancellation powers, migration experts and advocates for refugees and asylum seekers have argued.

The visa cancellation working group, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Refugee Advice and Casework Service made the call on Thursday, as Djokovic awaits an imminent decision from the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, about whether to re-cancel his visa.

Expectations within government that Hawke will cancel the visa, leading to Djokovic’s deportation before the Australian Open unless he can challenge it successfully in court, were raised by the tennis star’s statement on Wednesday.

In it, Djokovic blamed his agent for an “administrative mistake” when declaring he had not travelled in the two weeks before his flight to Australia, and acknowledged an “error of judgment” by not isolating after he tested positive for Covid.

Experts and advocates say the saga has drawn attention to Australia’s dysfunctional cancellation framework and mandatory detention regime, including the plight of asylum seekers at the Park hotel in Melbourne, where Djokovic was held before a court win on Monday secured his release.

Hawke is considering cancelling Djokovic’s visa using a personal power that does not guarantee the visa-holder natural justice.

Since rule changes in 2014, Coalition governments have cancelled more than 10,000 visas under separate provisions regarding character grounds, a frequent sticking point in Australia’s relationship with New Zealand.

Sanmati Verma, the deputy chair of the visa cancellation working group, said Djokovic’s case “has thrown light on the longstanding unfair and arbitrary use of the commonwealth’s cancellation and detention powers”.

“Most visa holders whose visas are cancelled on arrival are denied time to provide a response and the chance to get advice from a lawyer.

“Many are turned around at the border quickly while in immigration clearance with little or no recourse to redress, even if they face serious harm in their home country.

“Those not immediately deported are detained. The laws currently in place require people to be mandatorily detained until they are either granted a visa or deported, resulting in many people being detained for years, even indefinitely.”

Dr Carolyn Graydon, principal solicitor of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said conditions in detention centres are “deplorable and pose a constant risk to the health and safety of detainees”.

Sarah Dale, principal solicitor of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service said an inquiry into minister’s powers could help restore “substantive and procedural rights” to those facing visa cancellation.

Although Australia’s harsh border policies tend to have bipartisan support, Labor has been critical of the Morrison government’s handling of the Djokovic saga, with Anthony Albanese describing it as “diabolical” on Thursday.

“This was the biggest sporting story in the world for months,” Albanese told Channel Nine’s Today program.

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“Novak Djokovic, best tennis player in the world, No 1 ranked, nine-time champion, shooting for his 21st grand slam.

“And no one knew that he wasn’t vaccinated? He’s made that a bit public.

“How is it that a visa was granted in the first place? This has been diabolical for Australia’s reputation, just in terms of our competence here.”

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