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.

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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