Monday, 22 November 2021
COVID-19 Vaccination Status (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill 2021; Second Reading
Once again I rise in this chamber, with a heavy heart, to bear witness to the demise of Australian democracy and freedom. Once again I am forced to remind this chamber of the most essential foundation for a successful, free democracy: the right to choose. Once again I am moved to lament the theft of this most fundamental human right from the Australian people by the very representatives who are charged with protecting it. And once again I am obliged to call out rogue premiers for authoritarian overreach and to call on the Prime Minister to show some leadership and rein them in.
Last week the Prime Minister said he didn't support vaccination mandates enforced by governments. He said state governments should 'step back' and let Australians 'take their lives back'. Australians have had a 'gutful', he said, and he's right—not that Steven Miles gives him any credit. This frightened little schoolboy masquerading as Queensland's Deputy Premier is so completely out of his depth that he panics whenever someone threatens Labor's complete command and control of Queensland's captive population.
The Prime Minister said people in Brisbane should be able to go and get a cup of coffee regardless of whether or not they've been vaccinated against COVID-19, but people in Brisbane can't get a cup of coffee if they haven't been vaccinated. People who call Brisbane home will not be permitted to return there from interstate next month if they haven't been vaccinated. Hospitality businesses in Brisbane will be banned from opening if they don't enforce mandates against customers who haven't been vaccinated. Many people in Brisbane, including those in critical positions in health, education, freight and law enforcement, have lost their jobs because they haven't been vaccinated. This Prime Minister has done nothing to prevent this pandemic of discrimination unleashed on the people of Brisbane—or anywhere else in Australia. In the Northern Territory, anyone with a job involving public interaction will lose their job and pay a $5,000 fine if they haven't been vaccinated. In South Australia, every adult who works or volunteers at a school won't be able to do so if they haven't been vaccinated.
State governments are relishing this extraordinary power to command and control the people they are supposed to serve. They're desperate to keep this power for as long as they can. They've ignored the Prime Minister's national plan and the decision of the national cabinet. The Victorian government relishes this power so much they're trying to permanently enshrine it in law, giving the Premier unprecedented authority to act like a dictator—and still the Prime Minister has done nothing to stop this discrimination.
These vaccines were rushed. Their long-term effects are unknown. The Therapeutic Goods Administration has recorded more than 77,000 adverse reactions to the vaccines, including more than 600 deaths. We are part of a grand experiment. Australia is now a continental Petri dish, and those Australians who exercise their right to refuse this experimentation on their bodies face a bleak future as second-class citizens.
What isn't experimental and what has been shown to be highly effective in treating COVID-19 is a medication called ivermectin. It's been in use for more than 40 years, during which time 3½ billion doses have been administered by doctors, with no ill effects. Last year when data emerged on its effectiveness against COVID-19 and Australian doctors screamed for permission to use ivermectin to treat patients, the authorities just banned it—and still the Prime Minister did nothing. No; all the Prime Minister has done is let state governments get away with a grab for power, leaving his national road map and his authority in tatters.
The cost to our economy has been staggering, but it is the cost to our democracy and our freedom which is even more concerning. One Nation will not stand by and witness the demise of Australian democracy and freedom without a fight. We don't do this lightly. We do it with sincere regret that such legislation is even necessary. But make no mistake: it is not only necessary but absolutely vital that Australians' right to choose is protected from the vaccine discrimination running rampant across this country. You might not agree with the choices that the Australian people make, but that doesn't mean the right to choose should be stolen from them.
Senators here are on notice. If you don't support my legislation then you don't support Australian democracy and freedom and you don't support the right to choose. If you don't support my legislation, you are saying to Australians that their rights will be protected only so long as they do not conflict with the state.
Australia is a democracy. It's one of the most successful in the world. We are not here to wield power against the Australian people. We are here to wield the power of the Australian people. We have no right to take away their rights. We are charged with protecting their rights. It is in this spirit that One Nation has introduced the COVID-19 Vaccination Status (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill 2021. This legislation is urgently needed to arrest and reverse the pandemic of discrimination which has been unleashed on the Australian people.
I'd like to relay the words of a doctor, an expert in immunology, who has taken the risk of speaking to me about his concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines: 'I am angry and frustrated at coercive vaccine mandates healthcare workers now face. After two years of sacrificing everything, we have to care for COVID patients at risk to ourselves and our families. We are now being stood down across the country for simply asking to have a choice, even in our health, a topic we alone are experts in. A recent Lancet study shows that vaccination alone is not sufficient to prevent the transmission of the delta variant. This means that both vaccinated and unvaccinated are as contagious as each other. There's no evidence proving that unvaccinated healthcare workers pose an additional risk. Many of my colleagues are alarmed at the failure of Australia's COVID response to deal with the critical issues of informed consent and COVID prevention. We are further alarmed at the censorship of early treatment options. These failures cause direct patient harm, leading to further vaccine hesitancy and forcing doctors to break their Hippocratic oath.'
He goes on: 'Following the position statement by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency on COVID-19 vaccination, several of my colleagues have been threatened with the loss of their registration for simply and honestly discussing vaccine hesitation with their patients. Most of the more educated among my colleagues—the experts in their field—are in fact the most vaccine hesitant group in Australian society. As the health minister, Greg Hunt, said, "The world is engaged in the largest clinical trial, the largest global vaccination trial, ever." Australian patients need to know this. Trials like these must provide long-term data in order to prove safety. How is it possible, in less than two years, by the definition of informed consent, that doctors cannot and are not able to accurately weigh the risks of COVID vaccines without long-term data? We have no way of knowing if these vaccines will cause future autoimmune injuries, which only present months to years after vaccination. The government and media have placed doctors in an impossible position. The public have been told to speak to their doctors if they have concerns about the vaccine, but, due to the AHPRA's gag orders, those doctors are not allowed to deviate from the current narrative for fear of losing their licence to practice. How can doctors possibly inform patients' consent and overcome hesitancy when we're gagged and have no long-term data? This is not informed consent. At best, it is manufactured consent; at worst, it is coercion.'
These are the same doctors who, when we were hit with COVID last year and there were no vaccinations, were on the front line, working in the hospitals beside the nurses. They put their lives on the line when we did not know what course this pandemic would actually take. Now they are treated like criminals. They can't go into hospitals. In Rockhampton Hospital, there are shifts for which no doctor is available, because they won't allow unvaccinated doctors to attend. We are on the verge of dividing our nation and people because of differences of opinion.
As the doctor said, they have been gagged. They are in fear of losing their licence or getting a heavy fine. This is not Australia—people being gagged this way. The whole debate on the issue has been stopped. The media cannot put across anyone who has a different opinion and wants to debate this. This is the only place we can do it—on the floor of parliament. Hence my stance with regards to this vaccination: people have a right to actually choose whether they want to have this vaccination or not.
As I have said quite clearly, under section 51(xxiiiA) of the Constitution, the Prime Minister cannot impose mandatory vaccination on the people. That is what he has said, because it's true; he can't do it. If we actually go back to the signing of the Constitution, in 1901, all the states agreed to the Constitution. They signed off on it. Therefore it is arguable that, if it were challenged in a court of law, the Australian Constitution should override state laws and rein in these premiers, who are wielding their power and forcing people to have this vaccination against their will.
Also, under section 109 of the Australian Constitution, if you have two conflicting laws the federal law will override the state law—hence my bill. If these politicians really care for the freedom and the rights of the people of this nation, they will support this legislation. It states that you cannot force mandatory vaccination. It's exactly what the Prime Minister is stating—no forced mandatory vaccination. It will also stop the discrimination against people in this nation who are being stopped from going into pubs, clubs and even hospitals. They're saying now that you cannot go into a hospital unless you have proven that you have been vaccinated. What is our country coming to?
To those people out there saying: 'Get on with it; just get the vaccination. It's alright. Don't worry about it'—no, it's not alright. If you allow these states, these premiers, to have the power over you and your rights, what will be next? Are they going to say that, because you don't work or pay taxes in this nation, you are not going to have the right to vote? Are they going to say, because we have a crisis in housing, that, just because you have so many bedrooms in your house that you don't use, you're going to have to downsize or open up your house to other people? This could lead to anything being under the control of the premiers.
This is nothing but a political stunt because we're coming into a federal election. Look at the three states: the premiers are all Labor. This is what Labor is doing to actually undermine the Morrison government, so they are seen as weak. And I will say that the Prime Minister is weak because he said there should not be vaccine mandates—well, do something about it. I'm also saying, if the Prime Minister is not happy with my bill, change it. You have the Solicitor-General and you have means to do it, to make changes that will give the people back their rights and their freedoms in this nation. Why do you think so many people have protested on the streets of this nation? A lot of these people are not ratbags; they're not idiots. The media and the premiers are trying to say that they are extremists. They're not extremists, they're everyday Australians. They could be your mother, your sister, your father, your cousins, your neighbours. You know they're not extremists. These are people that have had a gutful—they've had enough—and I can't blame them because so have I. And I thank from the bottom of my heart my colleague Malcolm Roberts for standing strong with me on this.
I know, because the Prime Minister has told me, that they don't intend to support this bill, and neither does the Labor Party. How weak and gutless they are, and so are the Greens. The fact is that the Labor Party are supposed to be there for the workers. They say that they're standing up for the blue-collar workers. These are the police, the nurses, the ambulance drivers that are your voters and they're screaming out, 'Help us.' That's why we've got 7,000 nurses in Queensland, 7,000 nurses in South Australia and nurses right across the country who are refusing to have this vaccination. Why? They are not anti-vaxxers. Remember that under the states' standards for their profession, previously they've had to have all the other vaccinations. Why are they hesitant about this one? I'll tell you why: it's because they've seen the adverse side effects in people now coming into hospital that have had the vaccinations. That's why they don't want it. They're not anti-vaxxers, but they know that they want to have good health for the rest of their lives, and there's no-one that can guarantee that. No-one in the world can guarantee it because we don't know the long-term effects of having COVID-19.
Australians are not against getting vaccinated. You have Petrovsky in South Australia. He's inventing a vaccine that's protein based. Why aren't we taking it up? Why is the TGA slamming doors in his face? Why are we supporting Pfizer and AstraZeneca, which are making billions of dollars out of this? No, I don't believe that this is right and I wish the Prime Minister would stand up with the people and be the leader of this nation, because that's what they want. For those members of parliament who are going to cross the floor and support this bill today, I say thank you and so do the Australian people. But I intend to show up the rest of you who are too bloody gutless to stand up for the rights of the people of Australia. I hope they have their say at the next election and throw you out on your ear. This is about the people's rights and their freedoms, and I will fight to the death for them for that reason. I thank the doctor for his words as well. (Time expired)
I rise to support the COVID-19 Vaccination Status (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill 2021, which aims to end unfair, cruel, unnecessary and un-Australian vaccine mandates on the Australian people. You should not need to undergo a medical procedure to earn a living. Everybody should have the right to work and provide for their family, and no government in this free country that I was born in has the right to take away people's right to work and provide for their family. Yet that is what we see a variety of state governments doing across the country. People are being forced to choose between having a medical procedure and keeping their business, keeping their job and, ultimately, keeping their house. I thought I was born in a free country, and a lot of other Australians thought they were too. A lot of Australians respect the sacrifice that previous generations of Australians put in for us to have that right. But those rights are being stripped away from us and will be denied to our children unless we stand up against this tyranny. In the last week, since the Queensland government announced its vaccine mandates, I have been inundated with calls from small businesses and workers who are at their wits' end because they don't know how they are going to provide for their family. They do not know how they're going to put bread on the table next year.
I've always said that coronavirus is a serious thing. We've had to take serious action. The businesses that are calling me have sacrificed. They've willingly shut their doors. They went through cash-flow problems last year to lock down and protect people, but they never thought that their government would turn around after all that and put them out on the street. But that is what is happening. There's a coffee shop in Rockhampton where half the staff are not vaccinated and don't want to be. The owner himself is not vaccinated. He might have to shut his doors in a month's time. His wife is currently pregnant and doesn't want to be vaccinated. She is being told that she can't go to antenatal classes while not vaccinated. What the hell happened to 'My body, my choice'? Why are we making pregnant women undergo a medical procedure that they don't want to have? That is what these laws are doing.
Last year, nurses put themselves on the front line. Now we're saying, 'Thanks for your service; you're out.' There's no leave without pay and no payout of their terms. They're just gone. Apparently, over the past month, 4,000 nurses have walked off the job in Queensland due to the mandate, or they've said it's due to the mandate. They're the ones we know of. There are probably more. That's five per cent of the health workforce in Queensland. Apparently, we're doing this to protect the hospital system, but we're losing five per cent or so of our health workforce. The hospital system is already stretched. There is already a situation where people sometimes can't get a bed. How will these policies deliver their objectives when 5,000 workers in our health system have walked off the job in Queensland over the past month?
I don't support these mandates, and I don't support this legislation—because vaccination mandates don't work. I am vaccinated. I support the vaccination rollout. I encourage others to be vaccinated. It protects us from the severe disease that COVID can inflict. But these vaccines do not seem to be doing a good job at stopping transmission. Therefore, there is no justification for taking the choice away from others, because it is not going to work. For those who support vaccine mandates in this place, name one country where vaccine passports are working. Just one. There are lots of countries doing it. We're in the lucky position in Australia where we have not had widespread coronavirus. We have seen lots of other examples of what other countries have done and what they are doing in response to it, such as lockdowns and Sweden's approach, and a lot of countries have introduced vaccine passports and vaccine mandates. For the advocates of vaccine mandates, an incredibly authoritarian policy that strips rights off people: can they name just one country where the vaccine passports have helped stop the spread of coronavirus? Just one. There are none!
Senator McMahon interjecting—
Senator McMahon is right. There are none. Let's go through a few examples. Austria is experiencing more than 10,000 cases a day—a record. They have vaccine passports. Bulgaria is experiencing nearly 5,000 cases a day, which is a record. They have vaccine passports. The Czech Republic is experiencing 10,000 cases a day, which is just below their previous record of 12,000 cases a day. They have vaccine passports. France is experiencing massive numbers of coronavirus cases. They've introduced vaccine passports. Serbia is experiencing 7,500 cases a day. That's a record. They have vaccine passports. Germany has 40,000 cases a day, almost double their previous record. They're introducing vaccine passports. The Netherlands and Switzerland are in the same boat. Vaccine passports simply do not work. They are a failed policy that we should walk away from before this gets any worse for all of us. Let's walk away from these mandates before we inflict more pain on everybody.
I want to deal with the issue of whether this is the Commonwealth government's responsibility. That's a fair point. These mandates have been put in place by state governments and are no doubt within the purview of state governments with their constitutional power over public health. There's no doubt about that. The Commonwealth government obviously does have powers to override the states from time to time. Indeed, the Constitution says that, where a law at the Commonwealth level conflicts with the state government law, the Commonwealth government law will prevail. The question is: can we legislate in this area? This legislation uses a variety of powers that the Commonwealth government has, like the corporations power, which the High Court has established as one with significant reach and which we apply in many different areas such as environmental policy and industrial relations policy. There's no doubt that it could be applied in public health policy too. But, more importantly, given the rights we are talking about, this bill uses the Commonwealth government's international treaties powers that have also been backed up by High Court rulings that we have the right to make laws that enforce treaties. Where does the treaty come from in this instance that gives us this power? We are a signatory to International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and I'll refer to the Australian government's Attorney-General's website, which says:
The right to work includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his or her living by work which he or she freely chooses or accepts.
It goes on to say:
Where does the right to work and rights in work come from?
Australia is a party to seven core international human rights treaties. The right to work and rights in work is contained in articles 6(1), 7 and 8(1)(a) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
We clearly have the power to enforce these basic rights across Australia, because that is clearly a job of the federal government to enforce human rights in this country. They are basic rights that should be available to every Australian citizen, regardless of where they live, where they are born or whether they are born overseas. It is a birth right of anyone in this country to have the right to work. We have signed up to that and we should implement and stand by that by overriding these unfair, unethical and cruel state government mandates.
In saying that, I think this bill has the power to do these things. I would make some amendments to this legislation. I think it's important to note that this legislation has its origins in a bill that, in the other place, Mr Craig Kelly and Mr George Christensen drafted. Senator Hanson has made some changes. She's changed the approach in that bill from vaccine passports to discrimination, but the basic structure remains the same. I think it is worthy of some amendments. I will support this bill regardless of whether those amendments are accepted or not, but I do think that the Australian government should retain the power of deciding who comes to this country and whether they're vaccinated or not. That was something in the original Kelly/Christensen bill that I would seek to reinsert. I think that we need to look at exceptions in high-risk situations such as aged-care centres and COVID wards in hospitals where perhaps a requirement for vaccination would reduce risk in those situations.
My amendments would ensure that any such exceptions are very narrowly targeted and don't otherwise impinge on someone's rights to work and make a living. For example, in a hospital, if someone doesn't want to be vaccinated that may mean they will not be able to work in the COVID ward. However, hospitals are big places and they will surely be able to find other work for those people. My principle here is that we should respect each other as Australians and respect each other's choices. If someone wants to make a different choice to me, I don't want to make their life miserable, unlike the head of the Queensland medical association when remarkably the other day he said anyone unvaccinated will be lonely and miserable. What an inhumane thing to say about a fellow Australian. I don't want to take anymore lectures from the Labor Party about compassion, refugees or people's rights to work because the Labor Party are not standing by the unions. They're not standing by the CFMEU who are fighting BHP at the moment on vaccine mandates. I am: I'm standing with the CFMEU. I support their case. I'm against big business telling people what to do, but the Labor Party here are not supporting the labourers of this country who just want to work and provide for their families. They have deserted them and, worse, they are vilifying them.
We had the spectacle last week of the Deputy Premier of Queensland, Steven Miles, saying that those people out there protesting are the fringe elements of society—that's what he said. We saw hundreds of thousands of Australians out there on the weekend. Thus far I've seen just one arrest in the whole protest—and the police in Victoria said that that was actually unrelated to the protest. These have been the most peaceful large-scale protests we have ever seen in this country. Then we have the Deputy Premier out there saying to average men and women in this country who just want to work that they are fringe elements. That's the contempt that the modern Labor Party has for the average working man and woman in this country. Mr Daniel Andrews, the Premier of Victoria, is out there saying that they're radical extremists, all these people who just want to work, to own a business, to run a coffee shop. You're a radical extremist now, according to the Victorian Labor Premier. That's how you've been labelled. Well, this division has to end, and passing this legislation would be a strike for unity in this country, a strike against further division.
I fear what's going to happen next year. I didn't think we'd end up in this place. When COVID first hit last year, I supported the lockdowns. I thought we were all in this together. Remember that? Remember when we were all in this together? That was a long time ago. Now we're dividing our community, segmenting them up, segregating ourselves, based on the politics of fear. If we do not end this here, what will be next, next year? As I said, the passports aren't going to stop COVID. We know that. Everybody here knows that. They may not express it, but they know that the passports aren't going to end COVID. We will have outbreaks next year. We will have high vaccination rates—that's clear—but we will have outbreaks. What will happen then? If I know governments well, I don't think they're going to get up in March next year and say: 'Sorry about these record coronavirus cases. We were at fault. We were wrong about the passports. That was our fault. Mea culpa.' That's not what governments will do. They will double down and they will blame the unvaccinated even more. They'll seek to blame someone. They'll seek to say, 'These outbreaks are all because of the unvaccinated,' when it's clearly not true. It can't be statistically true in this country, because there are not enough unvaccinated people to have these spreads. But that's what they'll do, and it will further divide our society.
And then what will happen? Then they'll say: 'We've got to have all the kids vaccinated. They've all got to line up.' I'm on the front lines of this battle, because that's where I draw the line. I am not ever going to support governments forcing children to get these vaccines, but that is where we are headed unless we put a stop to this now. That's what they will do. That's what governments will do. When these clearly failed policies fail, then they'll seek to say: 'Let's go after the kids. We've got to vaccinate them too.' There is no justification for that in health terms. The Doherty modelling itself clearly shows that vaccinating children has almost no effect on coronavirus spreads. But that won't matter. There will be new health advice from the failed and hopeless medical associations of this country, who continue to say that opening up will cause massive lockdowns and then are massively wrong. These people should have no credibility now. We need to restore freedom in this country and let every Australian choose. I trust the Australian people to make the right decisions. I trust the Australian people to be the masters of their own health care. I trust Australians to look after their own families. I trust Australians to work and cooperate and do business with each other without the heavy hand of government being over them all the time.
Labor supports vaccine mandates where they are guided by public health advice. That is because we want to see as many people as possible vaccinated as soon as possible, to keep Australian businesses open and keep all Australians safe, including Australian workers. We do not want more lockdowns. What we need right now, what Australians are calling out for, is leadership from the national government, and especially from the Prime Minister, on this issue. Instead, what do we have? We have the bungled vaccine rollout—a Prime Minister who forgot to order vaccines, who lied when he said we were at the front of the queue. We were at the back of the queue. We had a disastrous, tragic third outbreak that saw hundreds of people die. That is what happens when people are not vaccinated. They get sick and they die. Lives and livelihoods are lost. Instead, what do we have? We have a Prime Minister who is dog whistling to extremists who drag around gallows in protests, calling for state premiers to be hanged. This is un-Australian, yet the Australian Prime Minister cannot call it out, cannot unequivocally condemn it.
The fact of the matter is: we are debating this bill this morning because the government have given up their time to One Nation. They have jettisoned Senator McMahon's bill. They have jettisoned Senator McKenzie's bill. Instead, we are debating Senator Hanson's bill, and the government has made that deliberate decision because the Prime Minister is pandering to these extremist elements. Let's understand why he is pandering. Let us understand this. As Senator Pauline Hanson said:
In the Senate, I hold two of the three votes the government needs to pass their legislation …
So I have the deciding factor what happens, in the Senate.
I will not be supporting or voting for any government legislation, from here on in, until we get my private members bill up.
That is what we are doing here today. The Prime Minister has made sure we don't get to talk about Senator McMahon's bill and we don't get to talk about Senator McKenzie's bill. We get to talk about Senator Hanson's bill because he is giving a wink and a nod and a dog whistle to extremist elements. The same Prime Minister who can't call out and unequivocally condemn threats of violence and assassination against elected leaders in this country is here today allowing these same extremist elements to run the same arguments.
It's another example of this Prime Minister seeking to divide Australians rather than unite them, seeing to undermine the tremendous progress we have made as a country. We are all in this together. People have come together. People have worked hard to ensure that they can get access to the vaccine, that people understand the benefits of the vaccine and, yes, where it's guided by health advice, that we have mandates for a vaccine, to keep all of us safe. We are yet to reach 80 per cent double-dose rates for eligible people in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. In many vulnerable communities, vaccine coverage is much lower than that. Prime Minister, now is not the time to be sending mixed messages on the importance of getting vaccinated. So I say to the chamber today that Labor condemns—without reservation, without qualification—the violent threats being made by antivaccination protesters, even if the Prime Minister won't do it.
We live in a society, in a community, and that means we have obligations to one another. We have obligations to one another to tame this virus, to look out for one another and to keep each other safe. The Prime Minister is trying to divide us. He is trying to diminish that collective effort and undermine all of that good and all of that progress that Australians have made together, and he's doing it with dangerous dog whistling—with the doublespeak that we hear from him. He is claiming credit for the high vaccination rates without taking responsibility for the measures that got us here.
What makes this especially troubling is that, for mainstream Australians, for ordinary Australians, we see the kind of violent politics that played out in the United States over the last couple of years and exploded in the January Capitol Hill riots and we reject it. Mainstream Australians reject it, but the Prime Minister seems to want to give it a wink and a nod to curry favour with people with those types of violent views and violent threats.
We know that there are government members and senators who prefer this division and who are spreading vaccine misinformation. Senator Rennick has been a relentless person in this space with his efforts to undermine the nation's vaccine rollout with antivax content. For months, Senator Rennick has been pursuing an agenda to undermine the vaccine rollout. Senator Rennick is the one running scare campaigns on social media pages. As reported in the New Daily this morning, Senator Rennick has set up a taxpayer funded website to publish unverified reports of alleged vaccine adverse events and has claimed there is a government cover-up of the side effects. Senator Rennick tries to pretend that he's not actually a member of the government! The opposition condemns Senator Rennick's actions, as does the Australian Medical Association vice president, Dr Chris Moy, who has called Senator Rennick's posts 'about as antiscientific as you can get'.
Just this morning, Senator Canavan tweeted against workplace vaccination mandates, a position in direct opposition to his own government's mandate for aged-care workers. Then there is Senator Antic, who's undermining the vaccine rollout and feeding these dangerous protests by saying: 'Australians are being coerced into taking COVID vaccinations.' Australians are not being discriminated against and coerced. It is their choice whether or not to be vaccinated.
Of course, we cannot forget the member for Dawson, who has undermined health advice throughout this pandemic by promoting ivermectin as a COVID-19 treatment, which the TGA has banned for COVID treatment, because:
… there are a number of significant public health risks associated with taking ivermectin in an attempt to prevent COVID-19 infection rather than getting vaccinated.
The member for Dawson has also compared vaccine mandates to apartheid. Once again, we will remind the member for Dawson that the Morrison government, of which he is a member, has a vaccine mandate in place for aged-care workers.
By the way, it's not just the vaccine mandate for aged-care workers. Let's revisit some of the views of the Prime Minister from 2015. In 2015, this Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, when he was Minister for Social Services, brought in the No Jab, No Play policy:
Parents who vaccinate their children should have confidence that they can take their children to child care without the fear that their children will be at risk of contracting a serious or potentially life-threatening illness because of the conscientious objections of others.
That was the Prime Minister in 2015. His government policy is that children should be immunised. In August this year, Mr Morrison, the same Prime Minister who brought in No Jab, No Play, said that he expected the COVID-19 vaccine to be 'as mandatory as you can possibly make it'. Mr Morrison then went on to say:
There are always exemptions for any vaccine on medical grounds, but that should be the only basis.
Then this year he went on to say:
I was the minister that established 'no jab, no play'. So my view on this is pretty clear and not for turning.
Here's the thing: you've got a slippery prime minister who lies as effortlessly as he puts on his socks in the morning. Was he lying in 2015, or is he lying now? Was he lying earlier this year when he said he supported vaccine mandates or is he lying now? Is he so willing to pander to violent extremists and to threats of assassination against elected officials, premiers and members of parliament? Is he so willing to incite division, hatred and fear? Is that the path to victory that he wants? Is that the game he is playing? We are here today because he is pandering to One Nation. He is unwilling to say the things he said in 2015 and earlier this year. This is a prime minister who will say or do anything. This is a prime minister who cannot be trusted, and on this issue we are talking about the safety, the security, the lives and the livelihoods of our fellow Australians.
The nation is crying out for national leadership. If the Prime Minister of the day, Mr Morrison, is unwilling to show that leadership, is unwilling to unequivocally condemn the threats of violence and is unwilling to reject ideologically motivated violent extremism, then not only do we have an opportunity to take him out of office at the next election; indeed, Australia, we have an obligation to do so.
I'd like to start today by acknowledging all the people who have suffered injuries from the vaccines. When I signed up to become a senator 2½ years ago, I signed up to protect the Australian people and, in particular, to make sure that we always look after the health and wellbeing of those people. The name of the game with health is to make sure that everyone has a good health outcome. It's not just about the vaccine rollout and reaching targets. That's a means to an end. The end, in itself, is good health for everyone. The best people to do that are the people themselves, in consultation with their doctor. We shouldn't be having mandates imposed upon people by bureaucrats, by governments or by the media.
What we have got, however, is Australians who have been injured—Australians who did the right thing, who listened to the government that said the vaccines were safe and effective—and what we've seen is that many of these victims have been scorned and ignored by the medical community. It must be particularly difficult to have an injury at the best of times, but it must be so much worse when you go to the doctor or the hospital and you don't get the attention that you need. That is why I'm speaking here today.
The reason I am withholding my vote from the government is first and foremost to improve the indemnity scheme for those people who have been injured by the vaccine. People have been injured for months now. There have been people who have been paralysed down their right-hand side, people who have had strokes, pulmonary embolisms, myocarditis, pericarditis or functional neurological disorders, and these people have been left helpless by a government who are more than happy to indemnify foreign pharmaceutical companies, many of whom are convicted felons for past misdemeanours.
We are neglecting suffering Australians. I believe that these people should be compensated for every dollar they spend as a result of vaccine injuries. The threshold should not start at $5,000. They should also be compensated for their loss of income as a result of not being able to work because of the vaccine injury. Furthermore, they need to be compensated straightaway and not have to wait for months. I know one lady who was paralysed back in June. She's been bedridden most of that time. She's had a broken ankle. She has to spend $400 a month on potassium IV injections just to keep her alive. I don't know about you, but I think that we've got an obligation to protect people who are going through such shocking medical injuries.
Furthermore, in the case of healthy people who had no underlying conditions, the onus of proof should be on the government to prove that serious injuries weren't caused by the vaccines, not the other way around. These victims should not be treated like criminals and expected to prove beyond reasonable doubt that their injury was caused by the vaccine; rather, the civil weight of evidence should be used—that is, the balance of probabilities. It would be very intimidating for someone who's sick and injured and who isn't a medical expert to go up in front of a board of lawyers and doctors, who are basically trying to talk these people out of compensation merely because the government doesn't want to do the right thing by its people. But what these people want most of all is for their voices to be heard, for their injuries to be treated with the same level of concern as a COVID patient. These people should not be shunned and scorned by the very people who are expected to care for them.
To be fair to the medical community, this is not your fault. I have heard from countless doctors, nurses and patients that backroom bureaucrats—namely AHPRA and the TGA—are threatening medical staff with deregistration if they speak up about vaccine injuries. This needs to stop. This leads to the even more egregious act that people who have suffered an adverse reaction from the first dose of the vaccine are now required to get a second shot. What kind of cruel, inhumane act is this? Seriously, what has happened to common decency and human compassion? I note that Senator Keneally used the words 'violent extremism' and 'violence' a lot in her speech. But can I say that the threat of having to take a second vaccine if you've already had an adverse reaction from the first vaccine is violence in itself. It is intolerably cruel, and it is not something I intend to walk by.
Furthermore, I don't understand why it is so necessary to force these people into getting a vaccine if we are already at 84 per cent double-vaccinated for the adult population over 16. If you'd asked the Prime Minister and the premiers last year if they would have accepted that this figure was a reasonable rate of progress and would achieve herd immunity, I'm sure they would all have said yes, so why are the premiers still pushing vaccinations so hard?
I have been contacted by thousands of people who have valid medical reasons why they can't take the vaccine. Many have even been granted exemptions by their doctors because there are reasons why they can't take a second vaccine, but they are still being excluded from society by the premiers. If a doctor says that you can't take a vaccine, and you're given an exemption, who are the premiers and the government to say to people, 'We're going to exclude you from society'? These people are already injured. Why are we shunning them? Why are we putting them down? Why are we putting the spin of the political narrative over the health and wellbeing of the Australian people? This issue is way above politics. It is about the people, and we should not be playing political games with their health.
Where there is a risk, there must be choice. This is especially so in regard to healthy people who have a very low risk of serious injury from COVID. They should be entitled to weigh up the relative risk of an injury from COVID versus an injury from the vaccine. Instead, we have had their rights and their choices taken away from them. The problem with that is that federal legislation, and the Immunisation Handbook itself, says that you cannot coerce people into taking a vaccine. Section 51(xxiiiA) of the Constitution says that you cannot conscript people into giving the vaccine, especially in regard to medical procedures. That was put into the Constitution as a result of a referendum. That's one of the very few referendums about the Constitution that has actually got up, but that only got up on the condition that people couldn't be conscripted into taking a vaccine. So we need the Prime Minister and the federal government to stand up to the state premiers. At the end of the day, whilst I am a proud Queenslander, I'm a much prouder Australian, and the last thing I want to see is the premiers tear this country apart by playing political games at the expense of people's health and at the expense of our national unity. Enough is enough.
The government overreach of the state premiers in destroying our civil liberties has gone too far. This is no longer about health but is rather about politicians wielding power for the sake of power instead of doing what they should be doing and protecting the people. To those of you who say I should not be holding the parliament to ransom, I say this: politicians should not be holding people to ransom. Politicians should not be holding people to ransom with their health. The people should not be held to ransom with their livelihoods. They should not be held to ransom by being separated from their children. They should not be held to ransom by their children being discriminated against. I've heard so many stories of upset parents who have chosen not to get their children younger than 16 vaccinated, because they want to wait and see the longitudinal data, and they know there is a low risk of children having severe adverse events, injuries, from COVID. And yet the children now have been stopped from going to school formals, attending schoolies and things like that. I just cannot believe that we are taking these mandates so far as to be holding it against the children. They have their choices restricted by their guardians—rightfully so; that's why we have things called parents and we acknowledge age of consent—but this is just another example of government overreach that has gone too far in dealing with COVID.
I'd also like to point out to my colleagues, especially my Queensland colleagues, that we have the LNP values, which are about the dignity and worth of every individual. Surely, if someone has had a serious injury from a vaccine, they have the right to say no to a second one. What type of intolerable cruelty is it that we are going to force people into possibly getting injured again? I've heard many stories of people who felt a little bit off after the first vaccine and thought it was as a result of the vaccine. They went and saw their doctor, and the doctor said: 'No. It wasn't the vaccine. You'll be right. Get the second vaccine.' And then they've had a much worse reaction the second time around. When Chantal Uren, a Western Australian police officer in Perth, went to the vaccine safety clinic, she thought she was going to get some counselling as to how to deal with her injury. Instead, the vaccine safety clinic was trying to tell her to take a second vaccine. Her health has deteriorated markedly since that meeting.
We believe in freedom of choice. We believe in freedom of conscience. We believe in free speech. We should allow people to make choices based on their own medical conditions in consultation with their doctor. I'll quote another doctor I spoke to last week, who said, 'We're now in this upside-down world where the doctors and nurses are being gagged and all the unqualified experts, politicians'—myself included—'the media and celebrities are telling everyone to get the jab.' Another doctor pointed out to me last week that it is entirely irresponsible not to be diagnosing and looking at people before giving a vaccine, especially a vaccine that is still undergoing longitudinal testing, a vaccine that is new technology and that has never been used before.
The arguments often split out into vax versus antivax. Every vaccine has to be assessed on its own merits. This vaccine was rushed. I understand why: there was a serious risk from COVID. But we need to be honest about the fact that we are still undergoing testing, and we need to be honest about the fact that what we're seeing out in the population—the population data of adverse events—doesn't correlate with the data from the testing that Pfizer did. Much of that data, when it got released, had been redacted. That in itself is a massive concern. How can anyone make a proper, informed choice when the data from the trial itself has been redacted? Furthermore, they went and vaccinated the placebo group, so now it is almost impossible to do long-term testing, because we don't have a trial of people who haven't been vaccinated.
While I know the Prime Minister had good intentions by setting up the national cabinet, the premiers have abused his trust and the trust of the people. They are playing political games in order to score political points. They need to be reined in. The Prime Minister must assert his authority and stand up for the Australian people. I commend the bill to the Senate.
If you want to champion against discrimination, you don't want One Nation. One Nation wants autistic children to be taken out of public schools because they're a 'strain' on the rest of the class. People don't choose to be autistic. Taking them out of school is discrimination, and One Nation just loves it. One Nation wants a ban on any immigration from majority Muslim countries, even if the person isn't Muslim. People don't choose what country they were born in. That is discrimination. One Nation has no problem with that either. One Nation is opposed to same-sex marriage. People don't choose to be gay. That is discrimination. One Nation has no issue with that either. One Nation are not fighting against discrimination; One Nation seek to profit from it. It's just a fund-raising exercise for them. That's all this is.
This bill is supposed to be about fighting discrimination against people who haven't been vaccinated against COVID-19. The only people who need protection from discrimination are the people who can't receive the vaccination for reasons outside of their control. They shouldn't be discriminated against. But if you're able to get vaccinated and you choose not to, 'discrimination' is the wrong word. That's not discrimination. You have freedom to make a choice but, if you make a choice, those choices have consequences.
You can't call every consequence of choice a discrimination. If you get behind the wheel of a car and drive at twice the speed limit, you may be comfortable taking that risk with your safety, but you'd be putting other peoples' lives at risk, and you don't have the right to do that. And you will more than likely lose your licence. You are not being discriminated against. If you chose to do something that puts other peoples' lives at risk, you will be held accountable for that choice; it is that simple. That's what we're talking about here. People who don't get the vaccine are making a choice. You have a choice; we all have choices to make. We all get a choice. You're making a choice that means you're more likely to get COVID and you're more likely to spread it to someone else. That is your choice; it is your right. I want to make that clear, and I support that choice.
But you don't get to decide how the rest of Australia responds to that choice. You can't force someone else to act a certain way, the same as you, because of your freedom to choose. That's not how we do things in this country. We have freedom of speech in Australia, but you can't stop people reacting to what you say with your freedom of speech. We have freedom of assembly, but you can't stop the rest of us from calling you out if you're being disruptive and rude. Having freedom to choose isn't the same as having freedom to avoid the consequences of that choice. Some might say that if you're vaccinated because you're required to be in order to keep your job, then you've been forced to get vaccinated. But that's not right; that's not being truthful at all. That is not correct. If you want to work with vulnerable people, you need to get a National Police Check. If you want to work with kids, you have to have a Working With Children Check. That is the way it is, and we do that to keep people safe. How about that? We put others before ourselves.
You can decide not to choose those checks. No-one's forcing you. But if you don't do them, you can't work where you want to work; it's as simple as that. That is the way it is. If you want to work as a cabbie, you need a licence to drive a cab. People without licences are not being discriminated against. If you want to work in aged care, you need to have a flu vaccine. That rule was in place before COVID-19 was even a twinkle in a Chinese bat's eye, for goodness sake! That is the way it is.
You have a right to choose. You don't have a right to put vulnerable people's lives at risk. You don't have that right—and you shouldn't have that right. You don't have the right to go into an aged-care home unvaccinated and risk starting a COVID outbreak among the elderly. I have constituents with autoimmune conditions who run businesses. If they're forced to serve unvaccinated customers, they'll have to choose between risking their lives or shutting down their businesses. You don't have the right to force them to make that choice. We have pubs in Hobart that will have to close if just one person with COVID walks into them. Those pub owners should be able to choose to protect themselves and their staff, and they should be able to say, 'I can't afford to have an unvaccinated person in here.' They're already on their knees. They should not be forced to pay for another person's choice to not get the vaccine. This is the point: nobody has the right to make someone's life less safe. That's not what freedoms mean; it's not what freedoms mean at all. You have the freedom to make your own choices. Everyone else has the freedom to respond to your choices, and you don't get to control that, no matter how much you might want to.
I get that some people have a lot to fear about the vaccine. I understand that, for some, getting that needle in your arm is hard choice to make. It's good to ask questions about how the vaccine was developed, where it comes from and how we know whether it's safe. I've asked plenty of those questions myself. I put them to the Department of Health and I put them to the TGA, and I wouldn't have it any other way. That's our democratic process in this country. The problem is that politicians like Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts are using people's fear to boost their own election campaigns, and they're using fear to make money. That's what this is about, from One Nation. They're not being straight with you people out there—not straight at all. It's all about cash, it's all about power and it's all about One Nation's seats. That's all this is: a grab for cash and seats from One Nation. I reckon a lot of their supporters would think twice if they saw the absolute hypocrisy of these two politicians. Honestly, One Nation pretends to be on the side of the people, but they are happy to tell fibs to their own voters if it means they can make a quick buck or two.
Take this example: Senator Hanson went on Sky News and said the TGA had published data saying that a whole bunch of people had died from the COVID-19 vaccine. The journalist pulled her up straightaway and told her, 'That's wrong.' The journalist called her out for misleading Sky's viewers. And do you know what happened? Senator Hanson backed down. She admitted that she had the facts wrong, that she'd have to look at it again. But the very next day she went right back to saying the same crap anyway, like nothing had happened—like that's acceptable behaviour in this country. That's leadership, is it, Senator Hanson? My goodness. I've got things wrong in the past. I accept that; I'll admit it. I'll fix it and move it on. That's how it works. If you get it wrong, say you got it wrong and stand by that.
What sort of person accepts they're wrong but just keeps saying the wrong thing anyway? What sort of person does that? Let's be clear: I don't want people being forced to get vaccinated. I don't think we should ever do that. But I think there's a world of difference between opposing that and supporting this damn bill. This bill says that the freedom of the unvaccinated is more important than the freedom of the vaccinated. Really? It says that the nine in 10 Australian adults who have gone out and got the jab don't get a choice themselves, that we don't have a choice to keep COVID out of our worksites, our aged-care homes, our pubs, our cafes and our houses and away from our kids. It says that some people should be allowed to make consequence-free decisions, that some people should be able to yell 'Fire!' in a crowded room and get away with it scot-free.
I don't think so, not on my watch. Here's the thing. Being held accountable for your own actions isn't called discrimination. It's called being—you wouldn't believe it—a goddamn bloody adult! That's right; it's being an adult. It's putting others before yourself, and that's what this country is supposed to be about. We don't have lockdowns and border restrictions because state premiers love discrimination. That's rubbish. We have them because state premiers don't want people dying, because they don't want to be playing Russian roulette with their own people's lives. That is why they're doing it.
One Nation is the champion of the right for unvaccinated COVID-carrying mainlanders to come to Tasmania and create an outbreak. I don't think so! It's not going to happen under my watch, and I doubt very much it's going to happen under Peter Gutwein's watch. We're not going to stand for it. One Nation are the enemy of health workers and officials who would have to clean up after the outbreak. Everybody pays for COVID-19. Every day that we have to deal with lockdowns and restrictions is a day when a business goes bust, a family breaks down in despair and a person takes their own life.
The way out of lockdowns and restrictions is vaccination, because there is nothing else on the table. Let's be honest about that. It's how we protect ourselves and it's how we protect each other. It's how we stand together. It's how we fight back. It is the only weapon we have, and we need to do everything we possibly can to keep ourselves safe, our kids safe, our grandchildren safe and our friends and family safe. That's what we need to do, and sometimes sacrifices have to be made.
You are patriots. We should be celebrating vaccinated Australians. You are fighting for our freedoms, to take control of our lives again. That's what you're doing, and good on you! It's a proud day for you today, and so it should be. Good on you for showing the courage to do so. You're the best we have. You are at the frontline fighters. You are displaying the kinds of qualities that make this country the great country it is. That's what it takes: sacrifice.
I was brought up believing in responsibility, to look after people who cannot look after themselves, and that nobody owes you anything. So go out and earn what you want. Go out there and earn it. This bill flies in the face of all of that. That's why I absolutely oppose every bit of it.
Mr President, on a point of order, to perhaps help the chamber in this regard. I understand that during the operation of remote participation rulings, and remote participation in proceedings, it has been enabled at times—for example, where divisions haven't been called, or otherwise—that a senator indicates their party's voting intention or position. The fact that they have simply stated that position means that it is reflected in the Hansard record of proceedings. It doesn't change the tally of the votes. There's no process to change the tally of votes, but Senator Hanson merely making the statement that One Nation supported the bill is a statement of fact and would be recorded on the Hansard.