Covid certificates/passports undermine our basic freedoms

(First published in The Examiner 10 August 2021)

Our freedom is always under threat. As Ronald Reagan so pithily and poignantly stated,“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected…”

He said this in 1987 at a time of real ideological struggle between communism and Western liberalism. The Cold War was an entire generation’s fight for freedom. To think that the victory for freedom will last is the continual folly of every generation.  Too often, people take it for granted and are willing to trade their basic freedoms on the hollow promise of government claims that liberties need to be restricted for the citizens’ “safety” and the “common good” or “greater good”.

Recently, one of the more insidious terms used by government officials in this country was ‘freedom incentives’ to encourage vaccination against Covid. Since when has freedom been a government’s to give, let alone take in the first place? Our basic freedoms are inalienable, God-given human rights over which a legitimate government has no long term authority.

Government and corporate plans for ‘freedom incentives’, ‘vaccine certificates’ and the power for employers to force employees to divulge their personal medical information is a dangerous precedent that potentially threatens the freedom of Australia’s citizens and will create second class citizens based on their health status and medical choices or their even simpler desire for privacy.

Doctor-patient confidentiality, together with the long-established legal right of medical privacy, should not be casually discarded by public health orders without well-considered Parliamentary debate and public scrutiny.    

The Federal Government is rolling out the vaccination process as quickly as possible and vaccination should be rolled out under the strict legal requirement of informed consent. The Australian Immunisation Handbook clearly states that for consent to be legally valid, “It must be given voluntarily in the absence of undue pressure, coercion or manipulation”.

Therefore, it is difficult to see how informed consent can apply if people’s fundamental human freedoms to which citizens are entitled as of right are taken away by the force of government authorities, which are only restored for those who are vaccinated. Such actions fit the classification of undue pressure or manipulation, if not outright coercion. 

I encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible. However, once the population has had the opportunity to be fully vaccinated, lockdowns and all restrictions should be a thing of the past and vaccine certificates should not be a blunt instrument to force people to be vaccinated by locking them out of society.

Denied or limited access to government and private businesses’ goods and services should not be based on one’s medical status and the idea of a vaccine certificate is a dangerous one.

Where would the line be drawn? Football matches? Shopping centres so people can’t go to a supermarket to buy food? The question then becomes, and which no one seems willing to discuss, is how far do the authorities go to restrict these freedoms? How many vaccinations and booster shots or other medical procedures will be required on a person’s vaccine certificate to allow them to participate as full citizens? Once we start down this path, where does it end? The proposed restrictions on freedoms leave questions from precedent to freedom to privacy and the situation for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

Last Thursday, Senator Jacquie Lambie arrogantly told us, “I think with this Delta strain, you’re just going to have to resign to the fact that you have to be vaccinated otherwise I think that, you know, further on down the track you are going to miss out on things, there are things that are going to come back to bite”.  

Such an authoritarian, un-Australian approach is hardly likely to convince, nor should it. If anything, it will turn people off vaccination. I do not think it a wise choice to refuse vaccination, but I support people’s innate rights and freedoms free from coercion. We need a considered approach that takes full account of personal freedom, choice and medical privacy.

I join with Premiers Palaszczuk (Qld) and Berejiklian (NSW), who said, “There should be free movement within Australia, vaccine or no vaccine”. (20/05/2021)

For the record, I am awaiting my second jab and encourage all to be vaccinated and respect the right of those who hold a contrary view.

 

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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Senator.Abetz@aph.gov.au

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