no vaccine mandates

Here’s Why the Australian Labor Party Should Be Standing Against Vaccine Mandates

24 August 2021

3.5 MINS

The ALP has traditionally been the voice for working Australians — a voice it must now use so working Australians can keep their medical autonomy.

All Australians want a safe exit from the crisis that has plagued our nation these last eighteen months. And while vaccines, despite their flaws, are part of our nation’s solution, vaccine mandates are not. Compulsory medical treatment is a violation of Australia’s most basic values, which begin at “respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual”.

Our nation has long affirmed medical freedom: the right of each person to consult their GP and decide what’s best for them, as opposed to having governments or employers dictate their medical care. Indeed, the Australian Immunisation Handbook states explicitly that vaccines “must be given voluntarily in the absence of undue pressure, coercion or manipulation” — a principle Australia has also agreed to under the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights.

The Australian Labor Party has traditionally been a voice for working-class Australians. This demographic has been especially hard hit by covid restrictions and the resulting economic downturn. Incidentally, these same workers are now among the most vulnerable to medical coercion as well, given that so many blue-collar jobs do not take place at laptops in sterile home offices but in high-interaction environments.

If there has ever been a time for the ALP to speak up in their defence, it is now.

Not all workers want to be vaccinated

Medical freedom means that even if certain medical treatments benefit whole populations, they should not be forced upon every individual. A person’s conscience, medical history or religious outlook may preclude them from giving consent to a vaccination. This may be bureaucratically inconvenient, but human dignity always has been — and always should be — of higher importance in Australian life than collectivist ideals. Our national character hinges on this fact.

Additionally, many Australians harbour legitimate concerns about the precedent we set by mandating vaccines. If retaining one’s job is made contingent upon certain vaccinations today, does this not grant the government the power to mandate ‘booster shots’ — and any other ongoing treatments they deem necessary — in perpetuity? To paraphrase John Adams, medical autonomy once lost, is lost forever.

Those who have adopted more of an authoritarian outlook in these times may resist such calls for caution. But all of us are capable of empathy. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes: how would you feel to be injected with something you didn’t want in your body — just to keep feeding your family; to go on working the only job you’ve known since high school; to hold on to the dignity your career gives you?

Spare a thought for your fellow Australian who since the start of last year has missed a birth, wedding, funeral or Christmas with the family; who has seen their savings dry up or their house repossessed by the bank; who has lost a loved one to suicide or the virus; who has been forced to live on the doll for months on end. Surely the final indignity would be for them to permanently lose their career too — or to have their medical autonomy taken away just to keep it.

Is this not precisely the kind of Australian that the labour movement exists to defend?

Unions standing up for medical freedom

Fortunately, some of Australia’s biggest unions and labour collectives have spoken up for medical freedom in recent weeks. The Australian Council of Trade Unions is the peak body for unions in Australia. On the 13th August, they released a statement on mandatory covid vaccinations in conjunction with the Business Council of Australia.

While affirming that they were “committed to working cooperatively with governments to keep workplaces safe” and to achieve high rates of vaccination, they left no room for doubt that vaccination “should be free and voluntary”. The ACTU/BCA told their constituents that “for the overwhelming majority … your work or workplace should not fundamentally alter the voluntary nature of vaccination”. They also called on governments and the National Cabinet to support this position, and that any exceptions to this should be governed by nationally consistent Public Health Orders.

Likewise, when food manufacturer SPC announced vaccine mandates for their staff in early August, the Australian Manufacturer Workers Union came out and sharply criticised the move.

“SPC are not showing workers that they are genuinely willing to consult with them over a planned vaccine rollout,” AMWU president Andrew Dettmer said. He added that “mandating vaccination in workplaces needs to be based on the advice of health professionals and a proper risk assessment—not just a poorly consulted plan by bosses.”

Another union to take a principled stance on vaccine mandates is the NSW branch of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU). For certain high-risk local government areas, Gladys Berejiklian’s government shut down construction work and then mandated that workers receive at least one dose of the vaccine before returning to work.

In response, the CFMEU state branch released a statement to say they have “consistently argued that vaccinations should be a matter of personal choice, rather than a mandatory requirement for construction workers from locked down LGAs and surrounding suburbs,” and that “construction is an industry that understands how to manage risk”.

It is clear that workers and their unions have seen the need to speak out against coercive medical mandates. It would only make sense for the Australian Labor Party to now do the same.

[Photo: Moyo Oyelola]

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