Robert Jovicic was set to be detained in Villawood Detention Centre today because he refused to apply for Serbian citizenship. Instead, he was informed yesterday afternoon by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews that he would be granted a two year extension on his Special Purpose Visa.

This may not be an outright win for Jovicic – he doesn’t know what will happen at the end of two years, hasn’t been given access to Medicare and must report to police if required – but it is certainly a political victory.

The government issued a challenge to Jovicic to apply for Serbian citizenship. He refused. Andrews backed down. This was Andrews’s decision. Or was it?

Suggestions among several sources in Canberra are that the Prime Minister’s fingerprints are all over this case.

It’s an election year. The David Hicks case is not playing well for the government. While public interest in Jovicic’s case is nowhere near the Hicks level, Jovicic has received a lot of positive press. He is an articulate, likeable character who has managed to shake the “ex-junkie” tag and pick up some influential backbenchers onside along the way.

Just over a week ago, Family First’s Steve Fielding publicly slammed Kevin Andrews for reneging on a personal promise to him to meet with Jovicic. Andrews is known as a man of his word, and to break this commitment seemed out of character. So why did he?

Extending Jovicic’s SPV for two years puts off the hard decision. Andrews can continue to come down hard on Jovicic by offering no explanation as to what will happen to him at the end of two years, by refusing him access to Medicare and by demanding that he report to police if necessary “for the protection of the community.” Jovicic has committed no crime since 1999.

But a backflip is a backflip. The government didn’t detain Jovicic and it didn’t deport him, despite his refusal to apply for Serbian citizenship.

Peter Fray

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