Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Matters of Urgency

COVID-19: Morrison Government

4:11 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to talk on an aspect of the vaccine rollout that flows on a little bit from what Senator Abetz has talked about but, in my view, hasn't been discussed in enough detail and certainly not without the extreme rhetoric that can sometimes be attached to both sides of this argument. It goes to where the boundaries are in relation to restrictions that are being imposed upon people who have not been vaccinated.

I just want to state my position really clearly: I am fully vaccinated, and I intend to get a booster. My view is that everyone who is medically able should get a vaccination. But I also accept that there are some people—and I've spoken to constituents who say to me: 'Rex, I'm really scared.' A woman I was chatting to the other day said: 'I'm a single mother. I'm very scared about what's going to happen. I'm not trying to be violent. I'm not trying to be extreme. I'm just worried. I'm genuinely worried about what would happen if I were to receive a vaccination.'

Again, my position is that mass vaccination has saved, and will save, lives. I also think that mass vaccination has played a key role in Australia opening up and has helped from a national and statewide health restrictions perspective. But, again, there are some questions that need to be properly asked. I don't think restrictions and exemptions—and I point out that there ought to be exemptions; there are good cases for exemptions—have necessarily been well spelt out to people, and I'm talking about restrictions and exemptions at the federal, state and local government level. We do have inconsistency around the states and the territories, right across our federation, and I don't think that is helpful. Sometimes, trying to untangle what the restrictions are, and, indeed, where the exceptions may lie, can be very difficult. Where does the legal basis for restrictions lie, and what are the limits of those legal restrictions? Those are things that we need to be talking about. They're things that we ought to understand.

I'll give another example of this: we have business entities imposing restrictions on people who haven't been vaccinated. The other day I listened to Senator Lambie's speech and I think it was one of the best speeches she's ever given. I support all the features of her speeches where she talks about never wanting someone who's unvaccinated to go into an aged-care facility and put the elderly at risk. The same would be said about children. But there are some businesses which, in good faith, as Senator Abetz talked about, are imposing restrictions. What is the legal basis for them doing so, and what are the boundaries—what are the limits of those restrictions?

I was speaking with the BCA the other day. They're quite worried about what happens when they, as employers, say to their employees, 'You can't attend work and, in fact, you may not be employed if you do not get yourself vaccinated.' The legal basis for such an indication to an employee is unclear to me, and I don't know what happens when someone who is a good worker and who is happy to do their work gets themselves into a situation where an employer says, 'I'm sorry, you have to go.' What may happen in those circumstances—what I suspect will happen in those circumstances—is that we'll end up with a matter before the Fair Work Commission. The facts will be presented, the circumstances and the law will be discussed and some decision will be made.

But there is great uncertainty right now: where are the boundaries? I think that's something which government ought to pay some attention to, to assist the community, to make it easier for the community to understand, to make the worker understand what their rights might be and to make sure that employers understand what their rights may be. There are boundaries; there may be circumstances where it's quite inappropriate to apply a restriction. I wonder about the intersection of COVID restrictions and on people who have not been vaccinated entering into a medical facility. How does that intersect with the Hippocratic oath? I don't know the answers to these questions but I think we ought to be thinking about them. I think that the government ought to put some effort into that space, to help remove some of the confusion.


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