Scrapping Antarctic runway a huge disappointment

The decision to not proceed with the Antarctic runway is a huge disappointment, according to Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz.

As it appears this is a final decision – and a retrograde decision at that, the task is to ensure that the funding predicated for the runway is made fully available for other Antarctic capabilities.

Tasmania’s world-renowned reputation as the gateway to the Antarctic will be questioned, as will our commitment, unless there is a strong unequivocal announcement of the preservation of the funding and the new focus of investment.

The overwhelming strategic and capability support the runway would have provided has been regrettably lost.  So, we now need to invest in other strategic and capability support infrastructure to ensure the international community cannot doubt our commitment to Antarctica.

At a time when China and Russia are rapidly expanding their footprints on the ice continent it is absolutely essential that we don’t loosen our foothold.

Hobart has been a highly regarded partner in Antarctic capacity building and we cannot let this reputation slip.

Senate speech: UTAS' Sandy Bay development needs scrutiny

For some time now, the University of Tasmania, with its own funds and extra taxpayer funding and support from the three tiers of government—local, state and federal—has been transferring from an idyllic park-like Sandy Bay campus into the inner city of Hobart. Whilst initially generally agnostic, if not slightly favourable to the proposal, I admit that I am beginning to harbour some real doubts.

The cost of the move, at hundreds of millions of taxpayers' dollars, is concerning. The aesthetics and surrounds of the move from the park-like campus to an asphalt, concrete inner-city site makes it less attractive. In recognition of this glaring deficiency, there is now talk about greening up aspects of the city. Again, it is right to ask at what cost and why, when a perfectly good site is already inhabited. During the term, with students in the city, there will be a rich coffee and McDonald's fast food economy. During the vacation, one assumes, the city will be a ghost town. The move into the city has seen the purchase of hotels for student accommodation, which will impact tourism accommodation, which in turn will see the conversion of rental properties into B&Bs, which will put extra pressure on our housing market.

One of the reasons for the move is to provide equity or ease of access to the campus by those from the northern suburbs. It is a very worthy concern, but would an enhanced public transport system help overcome that issue at a lot lower cost? For students from the south of the city, access will be commensurately more difficult. The Sandy Bay site and buildings are dated, but I am advised they are basically functional and capable of being retrofitted and upgraded. In raising these doubts I remain to be convinced and suggest a genuine, independent analysis be undertaken as to the effectiveness and appropriateness of the move.

Senate speech: why I'm against vaccine mandates

As Australians we rightly rejoice in being one and free. That sentiment, so succinctly expressed in our national anthem, needs to fertilise the thinking of our nation's authorities as they deal with COVID. Families, workplaces and communities are experiencing tensions between those supportive of vaccination and those who are hesitant or outright opposed. For the record, I'm vaccinated and encourage people to follow suit. But, also for the record, I will not shun those who hold an alternative view. Robust discussion and willing interactions are an integral part of a free democratic society, as is the need for respect and understanding for the other point of view. They are the hallmarks of a civilised and orderly liberal democratic society. Those fundamental principles, understandings and appreciations need to be fully grasped as we deal with COVID.

Our immunisation handbook informs us that valid legal consent should be obtained prior to immunisation and that undue pressure, manipulation or coercion are not the foundations of such valid legal consent. The threat of a two-tier society based on the vaxxed and the unvaxxed is not what I want for Australia. A divided society is a weakened society. People who want to be vaccinated should be given that opportunity and are availing themselves of the taxpayer funded rollout. Those who have concerns have a right to not so avail themselves, whilst their taxes are helping to pay for the rollout. It's how our society works.

But workers being threatened with dismissal unless they are vaccinated is not something I can support and indeed feel compelled to oppose. If vaccination does what it asserts, there should be no fear of the unvaccinated by the vaccinated. So, as soon as everyone who wants to be vaccinated has been given a reasonable opportunity to be so vaccinated, we should be getting back to normal for domestic purposes. To hear of labourers and medical specialists losing their jobs because of their views on vaccination is unacceptable. Medical students are being told they can't sit their exams if not vaccinated, but students in other disciplines can. A GP who doesn't want to be vaccinated will be denied practising even telehealth—go figure. Defence personnel who are at the peak of their physical wellbeing are threatened with dismissal if they don't submit.

It is now beyond question that those who are fully vaccinated can also catch and transmit the virus, which begs the question as to why only one group—the unvaccinated—is being discriminated against. We have a shortage of highly qualified defence personnel, workers, doctors and nurses, yet very soon not only will some of these committed and dedicated workers lose their gainful employment but their essential service will be denied to the wider community—livelihoods, careers and aspirations all being trashed whilst dividing us. Proportionality in these things is currently missing. Why do you need to be vaccinated to sit a medical exam or practise telehealth? Why are we denying much-needed services of all types to the community because of people's vaccination status?

Unvaccinated Australians—who, might I add, are overwhelmingly good, decent Australians—point to the risk of an adverse reaction to immunisation in comparison to the dangers of contracting COVID. Respectfully, I disagree, and that's why I'm vaccinated. But that doesn't stop me from acknowledging and respecting their right to their point of view or lead me to argue that they should be denied access to entertainment, shopping centres and churches, let alone their jobs and professions. Personal freedoms are the cornerstone of what makes Australia great, which is why I can't stand by and watch the long-held right to personal medical choices being thrown away:

‘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, and handed on for them to do the same.’

So said Ronald Reagan. He was correct. Our authorities need to respect freedom and not create a two-tier society. The right to a job should not be dependent on a jab. By all means convince, but don't coerce. By all means educate, but don't discriminate. Protecting freedoms, including of those with whom we might disagree, is vital. Our failure to do so will have corrosive, long-term consequences.

Abetz abstains on mandatory vaccine bill

The people of Tasmania are entitled to know why I abstained on a Bill purporting to outlaw mandating COVID vaccination.

The Bill, which is a slightly amended version of a Bill introduced into the House of Representatives, is right in principle but clumsy and unlawful in that it is unconstitutional.

My view has always been that as soon as everyone who wants to be vaccinated has had a reasonable opportunity to be vaccinated, we should open up.

If vaccination works, then we who are vaccinated have nothing to fear from the unvaccinated.

For the record, I’m vaccinated and encourage people to be vaccinated.  Also, for the record, I respect those who hold an alternate point of view.  That’s how a civil liberal democratic society operates.

As a representative who has consistently opposed vaccine passports and mandating vaccinations, I am overwhelmingly sympathetic to the Bill.  We are seeing good nurses, teachers, doctors, defence personnel and aged care workers being thrown out of work in circumstances where the loss of jobs and services to the public is highly disproportionate to the actual risk, at a time when we already have a shortage of personnel in these areas.

The thought of a two-tiered society – the vaxxed and the unvaxxed - is to split and divide our community which is to weaken it.

My view has consistently been that we should educate, not discriminate.  We should convince, not coerce.

The Bill before the Senate would seek to over-ride the States and stop funding to them if they mandate in any circumstance.  Its constitutionality is highly questionable and the consequences highly disruptive.  It would see the GST arrangements ripped up.

It stands to reason that if today the Federal Government is clothed with the power to override the States on vaccine mandates, it would also have the power to impose such mandates on the States.

This is a two-edged sword.

We cannot stop living because we are scared of dying.  The lockdowns and restrictions can’t and shouldn’t continue from general health, mental health and economic perspectives.

We need to learn to live with COVID.  Vaccine passports have failed elsewhere and they will fail here while costing huge sums to administer while restricting freedoms.

Tasmanians can be assured I will continue to support their vaccination choices on the basis of the standard set by the Australian Immunisation Handbook, which declares valid legal consent is required and that means no “undue influence, manipulation or coercion”.

The threat of job loss is clearly “undue influence” if not outright “coercion”.

The legislation, while well-motivated and intentioned, was not of a standard to attract my vote.

Given that my vote was not going to determine the success or otherwise of the Bill, I took the unusual step of abstaining.

High Court Facebook defamation ruling should worry us all

First published in The Examiner 19/10/2021

The law. It is an ass, according to an old saying, usually employed to give expression to our frustrations when we don’t or can’t understand its ways.

 As someone who enjoyed the practice of law in a former life, the law still holds a deep and profound interest and fascination. High Court decisions in particular because from them there is no appeal. The only way around its pronouncements are changes to the legislated law of the country via the Parliament or the people if it’s a Constitutional issue.

 Our High Court judges are quality individuals tasked with onerous responsibilities. Theirs is the final say on matters judicial. There’s no further appeal.

 Sometimes they get it resoundingly right, as in the unanimous 7-0 Pell decision, teaching everyone the basics of criminal law and the test of beyond reasonable doubt, which protects us all.

 But then there is the recent Voller Case, a 5-2 decision, which held that the owners and operators of Facebook commentary pages are responsible for defamatory comments posted by third parties. Being perplexed at such a determination is not unreasonable.

 Readers may recall that Voller was an inmate of the former Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in the Northern Territory. Treatment of its clients became a hot issue and as is the media’s right and want, stories were published, including online. The stories were not defamatory. However, being online, readers could leave comments and did so – some allegedly defamatory. Whether or not the comments are defamatory is still to be determined by the Courts. The case before the High Court revolved around the responsibility of the publisher of those comments and whether hosting a Facebook post that allows for public comment could be deemed to be a publisher of those comments and therefore be held liable.

 The Court held that the creation of a public Facebook page and the posting of content on that page facilitated, encouraged and thereby assisted the publication of comments from third-party Facebook users, even if the page administrator did not know it was there or took steps to remove the potentially defamatory comments.

 One assumes this finding applies to all public Facebook pages and one wonders how this is fair or reasonable given the owner has not exercised any judgement or decision to publish. If ownership of the site clothes the owner of full responsibility for all published comments, it begs the question of whether the pinning of a defamatory statement to a community notice board could be similarly deemed the responsibility of the owner of the notice board because it encourages the placement of public notices. The local council notice board, the CWA’s, the football club’s or the local church’s noticeboards could all possibly end up being responsible for things being pinned to them, completely unbeknown and unsupported by the organisation.

The potential ramifications of the Voller finding could spawn a litigious minefield. How long might a well-meaning Facebook page owner have to delete a potentially defamatory comment by another before they are vulnerable? Would it be immediately, 10 minutes, 1 hour perhaps? Given the ruling, one suspects immediately.

 Public Facebook pages are slowly having their public comment sections blocked or taken down for fear of the lurking defamer, whether its community pages promoting local news, the Premier’s page or even CNN’s Australian Facebook page. Not a good or healthy outcome for a vibrant democracy with participants seeking community feedback and input.

 As an aside, our excellent judiciary exercising the same sworn duties of office, hearing the same evidence and applying the same law will often come to split decisions, as in this case, five-two. Specifics of the case aside, it should remind us all that men and women of good faith can come to differing conclusions on the same evidence. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are good or evil – they just honestly come to different conclusions. As a society, we would do well to remember that in our discourse.

 But back to the matter at hand. The Parliament must legislate to overturn this decision while the companies engaged in hosting social media platforms should ensure that fake accounts providing anonymity to the bully, abuser or defamer are not allowed. The de-platforming of an anonymous bully, abuser or defamer may be a more worthwhile activity than de-platforming people with whom the platform operators disagree. Their eagerness to de-platform a former US President but allow the anonymous bully to go free exposes an unfortunate set of priorities.

 All said and done, we are well served by our judicial system, but I trust our Parliament will clean up the Facebook fiasco.

IHRA antisemitism definition adoption overdue recognition

Liberal Senator for Tasmania, Eric Abetz, has welcomed the Federal Liberal Government’s decision to formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. Senator Abetz is the Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel and has consistently requested the Government to adopt the definition. 

The Government will adopt the following non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism:

“Antsemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” 

Senator Abetz said adopting the definition was a practical, positive step toward helping identify, and to educate people about, antisemitism.

“In order to address the problem of antisemitism, we need to know what antisemitism is and what it is not. The definition provides a clear, workable definition that will help educate and identify antisemitism.

“The adoption of the definition is most timely given the increasing incidents of antisemitism and adoption puts us in league with other adoptees such as the UK, USA, France and Germany.

“As Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel, I have long advocated for the government to adopt the definition and I am most pleased it has decided to move on this issue.” 

The IHRA makes the distinction, however, that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

The IHRA is an intergovernmental organisation uniting governments and experts to strengthen, advance, and promote Holocaust education, remembrance, and research worldwide and to uphold the commitments of the 2000 Stockholm Declaration and the 2020 Ministerial Declaration.

Australia gets defensive with new alliance


At last. Some real backbone and leadership in our defence posture.

Woke morning teas and fingernail painting as expressions of solidarity with some group or another is thankfully a thing of the past in defence.

Our excellent special forces have had their status returned.

And to make up a trifecta of announcements showcasing that defence is purely focused on defending our nation and not on politically correct agendas, we have the nuclear submarines announcement. One cannot help but think Minister Peter Dutton has helped drive this desperately needed reform.

Some of us who’ve watched this space for years have been urging the need for Australia to fully immerse itself in the 21st century when it comes to defence capability. Nuclear submarines have been around for about 65 years and are the pinnacle of submarine capabilities, so we’re long overdue in acquiring them.  

With our long coastlines, non-nuclear subs compromised our security.  Diesel-electric sub operations last up to 70 days, with half of that time spent getting to and from their patrol area.

In comparison, a nuclear submarine never needs refuelling in its operational life, which is approximately 30 years.

Defence – the capacity to protect the integrity of one’s borders from attack – is the most fundamental task of the government of any nation-state wishing to claim sovereignty over its territory. It’s the first test to determine nation-state status.

Having been singled out by the Chinese Communist Dictatorship for our principled stand over human rights and transparency over the origins of covid-19 with belligerent rhetoric and economic sanctions directed at Australia, it was reassuring to see the warm embrace of us by our close allies in the United States and the United Kingdom.

This cooperative approach will benefit all members of the newly formed AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom and the United States). It is an important deepening of the relationship, which has already been exceptionally close for the past seven decades.

The United States spends more on technology than the next 12 countries combined. To be invited into this stable of sharp leading-edge technology is a compliment defying description. It also bears testament to the closeness of the relationship and the deep trust within which we are held.

The sharing of nuclear submarine technology by the United States has only been done once before – 63 years ago with the United Kingdom. It is a great vote of confidence; other countries have been denied requests by the US to share their technology with them. Our status as a valued, trusted ally and a genuine partner is beyond doubt.

As our former Ambassador to the United States, the Hon Joe Hockey, said, the AUKUS agreement was “a real and tangible statement about the growing depth in the relationship between Australia, the US and UK that would reverberate around the world…”

We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that the Indo Pacific situation is not deteriorating. None of us want to hear that. But it’s regrettably true and we need to accept that truth and respond decisively, which we are now doing under Minister Dutton’s Defence leadership.

The new AUKUS arrangement is part of an ongoing strengthening of relationships and cooperation in our region with countries from India to Japan – countries which share our basic values of democracy and human rights.

What is particularly pleasing is the commitment of the United Kingdom. The UK has willingly and proactively placed itself with our interests here “down under”, indicative of its perceptions and concerns to maintain stability in our region.

And before some (the usual suspects) get too exercised, the submarines will be nuclear powered, not nuclear armed. Nevertheless, by exporting $750 million worth of uranium each year, it might be worth reconsidering our ban on nuclear energy which would provide baseload energy that is reliable, affordable and will easily meet our CO2 targets. It is a fact far too often ignored that no major economy intends to reach net-zero by 2050 without nuclear power in the mix.  If only the billions already spent on subsidising mainland wind farms and solar panels had been invested in modern nuclear energy capacity, we would all be better off and would have avoided the mass manufacturing exodus of recent times. But we digress.

The Prime Minister’s announcement of AUKUS should be celebrated by all Australians concerned about not only our national security but that of all the freedom-loving peoples of the world. The best security is always self-sufficiency. To achieve that, you always have to be ahead of the curve. And it doesn’t hurt to have strong, reliable, committed and principled friends on board in that endeavour. AUKUS provides such friends.

Time for a Tasmanian Hall of Fame

The extraordinary Olympic performance of Ariarne Titmus is a timely reminder that we need to better celebrate our greats – those whose talents and achievements have, or should have them written into the annals of history. Tasmanians whose excellence, perseverance, and tenacity have propelled them into our consciousness deserve recognition.

Every society needs its heroes – people to whom the next generation can look up to. People to salute. And for our young people, some role models to which to aspire.

Tasmania has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to our greats. Tasmania per head of population provides well in excess of our fair share. Two of the last four Australian Test cricket captains are from our tiny home State. We need a facility where people can visit to celebrate them and the many others in all sorts of other endeavours. What better way to provide our gratitude and respect and inspire our youth than through the establishment of a Tasmanian Hall of Fame?

The Tasmanian Hall of Fame would operate as a repository for the memorabilia of our greats as well as a tourist attraction. The only difficulty associated with it would be two-fold, or potentially three-fold.

Firstly, could you build a sufficiently sizeable facility?

Secondly, who would be left out?

And thirdly, dare the question be raised – where would it be – north or south of the Blackman River? (Hopefully, the third question won’t derail the idea).

Many of our community clubs and associations have their own “halls of fame,” even if they don’t own an actual hall in which to provide physical recognition. There are also our “Honour Rolls” like the “Honour Roll of Tasmanian Women”.

Our Tasmanian Hall of Fame would be our celebration of all our Tasmanian trail blazers.

The categories and people to be considered are only limited by our imagination (and The Examiner’s word count!).

We have our Victoria Cross winners like Teddy Sheean and Alec Campbell, the last survivor of Gallipoli.

Our sports heroes have excelled. We’d have Ricky Ponting (cricket), Peter Hudson (AFL), David Foster (woodchopping), Ariarne Titmus (swimming), Richie Porte (cycling)…

They’re obvious and exceptionally well deserving. Their names are still currently in the public mind.

As is the Crown Princess of Denmark Mary Donaldson – our very own royalty.

From politics, Joe Lyons (our only Tasmanian Prime Minister) and Enid Lyons (the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives) would be certainties.

Trugannini and Fanny Cochrane Smith would be clear indigenous entrants.

We have our own movie legend Errol Flynn.

Further in the artistic sector, we have Peter Sculthorpe – the composer of more than 350 musical works.

Then there is our very own queen of country music crowned by the late Smoky Dawson – Jean Stafford, with awards in Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the USA. Her memorabilia has been valued in excess of $1 million.

And who knows about Alannah Hill, Tasmania’s fashion designer?

Would we include Bill Lark for whisky, Bob Clifford for shipbuilding, Claudio Alcorso for wine, Joe Chromy for all manner of things including his success story as a migrant?

And let’s not forget Deny King – the King of the Wilderness.

While in the wilderness, what about Olegas Truchanas for his photography?

In painting – John Glover.

In Campbell Town we celebrate Harold Gatty – the “Prince of Navigators” for his world recognised pioneering work in navigation.

How about John Gellibrand, the father of Legacy (Not too late to donate for Legacy Week by the way!).

Or, our Nobel Prize winning Elizabeth Blackburn – the first woman in Australia to be so awarded.

Her world-leading discovery in 1984 was to establish the existence of telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes the telomere, a structure at the end of chromosomes that protects the chromosome. Hands up if you knew of Elizabeth Blackburn, let alone why she was honoured. It would be good if our National Curriculum could teach our children about such achievers and achievements.

Elizabeth Blackburn was, we are told, captivated by reading and re-reading the biography of another scientific great, Marie Curie (of radiation fame – the first woman to win a Nobel Prize).

Who knows how many Tasmanian girls might become captivated by learning about Elizabeth Blackburn’s achievements?

The Examiner’s word count must kick in soon, so the list must come to an end. Which is the shield behind which the writer will hide for the failure to mention an anticipated avalanche of other worthy inclusions.

A Tasmanian Hall of Fame will inspire the next generation to achieve, foster self-esteem for our collective selves as Tasmanians while being a wonderful tourist attraction and repository for memorabilia. It’s in all Tasmanians’ interests, so let’s do it.

Senate Speech: the disabled deserve our support

The love of a mother goes a long way, but sometimes it just won't go far enough. And that is the case with the Jackson family in Tasmania. Jayden is a teenager deeply loved by his mother and father. Jayden has cerebral palsy and autism, is blind and cannot speak. To compound these issues, Jayden's father recently had a stroke. Jayden's mother, Lisa, is doing everything she possibly can to give her son the best in life. In her relentless search for specialist assistance, Lisa found a school for the blind in Queensland with all the necessary additional support services on hand, such as occupational therapy, speech therapy and a hydro pool. The Narbethong school in Queensland seems exactly what is needed for Jayden to be given the best opportunity in life.

Jayden has an NDIS plan. Under the plan, removal costs to relocate the client and his family closer to essential specialist facilities are, regrettably, not covered, and there seems to be no flexibility in the system to allow for such funding. In principle, I can understand the need to avoid cost blowouts in this taxpayer-funded scheme, but the difficulty with a one-size-fits-all approach is that worthy needy cases are denied that which is required. Any scheme needs tight stewardship to protect taxpayers' money and to ensure the limited funds are appropriately targeted. Within those strict parameters, which I fully endorse, there can be, and indeed needs to be, room for flexibility to cater for the Jaydens of this world. I thank the Senate.

Afghanistan – it was worth it.

(First published in The Examiner 24 August 2021)

What were you doing 20 years ago? 20 years ago, the Al Qaeda terrorist operation being harboured in Afghanistan was putting the finishing touches on its 9/11 hijacking massacre operations. 2977 people died on that fateful day from nearly 100 different countries of whom 10 were Australians. More than 6000 were injured – many scarred for life.

This barbaric shedding of innocent civilian blood was as brutal as it was brazen. Any self-respecting nation could not allow such a travesty to pass without a strong definite response. Given the attack’s Al Qaeda antecedents, the US Government demanded the Afghani Taliban regime deal with the Al Qaeda in their midst. It refused.

To root out this network of terrorists, military action was regrettably required.

With the removal of the Taliban regime came the dismantling of the Al Qaeda network and the introduction of liberties. Girls were not only allowed, but indeed encouraged, to pursue an education and be involved in society.

So as Afghanistan regrettably returns to its oppressive Taliban rulers, some ask, was it worth it?

It clearly was worth it. In answering such a question, heed must be had to the circumstances together with the intelligence available at the time (some 20 years ago). Who isn’t smarter with hindsight? How many things would we have done differently if we knew 20 years ago what we know today?

The removal of Al Qaeda’s safe haven within Afghanistan and the disruption and dismemberment of this horrific terrorist organisation was much needed. A question to which we will never know the answer is, how many other attacks and resultant thousands of deaths and injuries would have occurred but for the blotting out of this truly horrid organisation by military action?

As we reflect on the 10 Australians cruelly killed on 11 September 2001, we can be thankful that we had Australians willing to serve (about 39,000) and sacrifice (41 of whom gave the ultimate sacrifice) to protect us and other freedom-loving peoples from similar attacks.

While all of us would prefer diplomatic solutions, how do you negotiate with a mindset which glorifies willing martyrdom on the promise of not only riches for the family left behind but also “pleasures” in the afterlife, in which the women (yet again) don’t seem to have a say?

As an aside, it is a matter of regret that certain elements find it difficult to unconditionally condemn such a brutal ideology with its consequent gross human rights abuses (especially for women) yet salivate at the opportunity to throw stones at our society and culture. Imperfect though ours may be, we all know where we would rather be living.

To date, 1800 Afghans and their families have been granted visas for Australia. And those Afghans in Australia with a visa will be allowed to stay. An initial 3,000 humanitarian places have been allocated for family members of Australians, persecuted minorities and other vulnerable groups.

The thousands seeking to flee highlights how despised the Taliban is by their own people.

Those who served in Afghanistan should be the beneficiaries of our universal admiration and appreciation for blotting out Al Qaeda and giving the Afghans the opportunity to live in a more open and free society. The fact that the latter has not been embraced does not in any way diminish their efforts and contribution.

Our prayers must surely be with the Afghani people, especially the minority Christians and Hazara who are so ruthlessly persecuted by the Taliban. And we have their relatives and friends right here in our midst. As Hosein Mohseni so rightly observed in The Examiner last Wednesday, the 20 years of rebuilding Afghanistan after the Taliban appears to have been erased in a matter of days, “All of those achievements – freedom of expression, women’s rights, freedom of speech – all that is gone”. Hopefully, a young generation will have been given a sufficient taste of these freedoms to drive change from within.

While the social benefits enjoyed over the last 20 years may have been lost in the short-term (freedom always ultimately wins), let’s remember the operation was about defeating Al Qaeda and protecting us from further terrorist attacks rather than an attempt at nation-building and social reconstruction.

In our understandable disappointment at the collapse of Afghanistan into the hands of the terrible Taliban, let’s never lose sight of the fact we are all the beneficiaries of a more secure world and future because of Al Qaeda’s defeat.

For those who gave so much in the cause for freedom and are battling to come to grips with the events in Afghanistan, remember Open Arms Veterans and Families Counselling is available 24-hours a day on 1800 011 046. We thank you for a job well done.

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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