The Novak Djokovic affair has been called many things, including a debacle, an embarrassment, a farce, a fiasco, a mess, a muddle and a shambles.
Shambles fits best. An issue that unites anti-vaxxers, the migration lobby and the big end of town is bound to be a doozy. And like all world-class shambles, few people seem to have a firm grasp of what the rules are and the few that do find it devilish hard to explain them.
Worse still – even fewer can explain what lies at the heart of the matter.
The idea is to clear out all the underbrush of bodgy assumptions and misconstructions.
First, many make the point that Djoker should never have been granted a visa in the first place. This sounds quite sensible except for the fact that it is not how the system actually works.
He applied for a visa on 18 November and it was granted the same day; all you really need to do is to provide ID and passport information. All the other rigmaroles lie down the track.
Administrative decision makers have three main options: they can get to the right thing the right way, the wrong thing the right way, or the right thing the wrong way. There is another path, of course: the wrong thing, the wrong way. Any path with ‘wrong’ in it is best avoided.
Second, many think, say or write that Judge Kelly found in the Federal Court that the Djoker’s medical exemption was valid for the purposes of his visa. He didn’t. It never got to that point.
The Commonwealth realised that its delegate had made a procedural error by not honouring the extension of time he had promised. Thus the Commonwealth agreed to revoke the visa decision and Kelly J issued a Consent Order which reflected the two parties’ own agreement.
Thus the Commonwealth’s current position is that the Border Force delegate decided the right thing the wrong way.
So, what is the ‘right thing’?
It all boils down to the medical exemption.
What Djoker needed to enter Australia as an unvaccinated traveller was a medical exemption from the Border Force Commissioner that said that he “cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons”.
What he did have (and which he attached to his Australian Travel Declaration) was a letter dated 30 December from Tennis Australia’s Chief Medical Officer granted on the grounds that he had “recently recovered from COVID”.
The fact that the TA Chief Medical Officer’s letter was based on advice of two independent panels set up by TA and the Victorian government is really neither here nor there. The difference between “has recently recovered from COVID” and “cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons” is not even a subtle one.
Tennis Australia was told this twice in writing: first by a senior Commonwealth Health executive on 18 November and again by her Minister Hunt on the 29th.
It’s not much use having a medical exemption that gets you into Victoria and then into the Open if it can’t get you into the country.
How did it happen? Why?
What are the lessons?
Well, that’s for the autopsy, and this is just the anatomy.