The vaccine rollout has gathered pace, and as a nation we are now vaccinating a million people every three days. More than 70 per cent of the eligible population aged over 16 are fully vaccinated, and today South Australia achieved 80 per cent first dose vaccinations.
This is a fantastic achievement, and I thank Australians for rolling up their sleeves to help reach these targets, which will see borders open and restrictions ease. The government has made vaccination freely available, and I myself have received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. We have embarked on advertising campaigns to encourage vaccinations because we know a high vaccination rate is our ticket to freedom, and it’s clear that as a nation we will achieve vaccination rates above 90 per cent—truly remarkable.
But I am becoming increasingly concerned about the emergence of a two-tiered society.
Forty-six companies confirmed to the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald this week that a double vaccination would be a requirement for at least part of their workforce, while unvaccinated adults and older children will be barred from accessing all but basic services until 2023 under the Victorian government’s path back to freedom announced by the Premier on Sunday.
From a federal government perspective, we are following at the AHPPC advice on vaccine mandates. They have recommended mandatory vaccinations in two areas only: aged-care workers and those working in quarantine facilities. The medical advice has not been to mandate vaccinations in other sectors on public health grounds.
The Western Australian government plans to roll out the toughest vaccination mandate in the country: 75 per cent of the Western Australian workers will be forced to get a vaccination or risk losing their jobs, and employers will face fines of up to $100,000 if they have unvaccinated staff working past the deadline.
We all want to be safe. We all want to return to a more normal life, one without threat of serious illness or death, but we should stop for a moment and balance the public health need with the individual’s right to choose.
Let me be clear: I do not endorse mandatory vaccination, and I do not support mandating vaccines by stealth. Individuals should be free to choose. As individuals, they are responsible for the consequences of those choices. I agree with compulsory vaccinations for those working with our most vulnerable, such as aged-care workers and those working in quarantine facilities, but extending this principle to other fields of work and ordinary daily activities is a step too far. I ask that as a society we stop and think about the consequences of, effectively, forcing vaccinations on the unwilling.
Rightly, we have never mandated medical procedures in this country, and we have never mandated vaccines. The federal government invests considerable resources in approval processes through the TGA to ensure vaccines are safe and effective, and the government subsidises their provision via the National Immunisation Program. But, as I have said, they have never been mandated.
I understand how much work goes into making vaccines available to Australians, because I have been a strong and vocal advocate for seeing the meningococcal B vaccine made available and free to all Australian children. But I would never support making the meningococcal vaccine mandatory for Australian children. I would never want to see the choice taken from a parent and a medical procedure mandated by a government.
Vaccinations should remain an individual’s choice, and those who choose not to be vaccinated should not be ostracised.
Outside of the aged-care setting, we don’t exclude those who haven’t taken the flu vaccine from work or from other aspects of life. A society that shuns the unvaccinated is not what I want a post-COVID Australia to look like.
My family came to Australia seeking opportunity—opportunity made possible by the freedoms Australians enjoy.
I want us to return to a post-COVID society that does not impinge on those freedoms and that remains inclusive, regardless of an individual’s and vaccination status.
Covid normal should not involve the need to flash our vaccination status around just to get about our daily lives. Outside of an aged care facility or quarantine setting you should not need a vaccination to get a job, sit in a café or watch your favourite sporting team.
Mr Speaker let me be clear. I am a pro-vaxxer. I encourage all Australians to roll-up their sleeves and get vaccinated if and when they can, but I also encourage everyone to think about the future of our society and what we want Australia to look like as we learn to live with this virus.