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It’s time the McGowan Government dropped vaccine mandates

The West Australian

Matt O’Sullivan | 18/02/2022

“Papers please,” is not something I ever thought I would be asked by police in Australia, let alone by a teenage cashier.

But that is where we are now in Western Australia.

Governments must at all times weigh priorities. Rights/responsibilities. Spending/saving. Agency/control. Liberty/safety (Benjamin Franklin was very clear on this particular choice).

At the onset of an unprecedented pandemic, when the true nature of the disease was not known, it made sense to err on the side of safety and control, despite the obvious drawbacks to this approach.

With the Omicron wave building in WA, things are likely to get a little disrupted over the next few months, but surely given what we have learnt from other jurisdictions around the world, we need a plan that sees the heavy hand of Government lift from our lives.

When it comes to the handling of a once-in-100-year pandemic, there is no playbook. Every government around the world took a different approach. The response by the Morrison Government has, by nearly every measure, exceeded world standards. We have seen fewer deaths per capita, with a far stronger economic recovery post-pandemic.

While the Federal Government led the economic response and funded much of the health response, the States led much of the localised fight against COVID-19. State premiers assumed unprecedented powers, including the now High Court-tested ability to close State borders.

In addition to this power, lockdowns, social distancing, mask and vaccine mandates have become new tools at the disposal of our premiers.

The Federal Government was responsible for some temporary restrictions. We closed the international borders early — despite criticism from Labor and from China — but we have a date to re-open to vaccinated international travellers.

Concerning vaccines, the Prime Minister recently said, “The Commonwealth Government has only ever supported mandates that relate to aged-care workers, disability workers and those who are working in high-risk situations in the health system. All other mandates that relate to vaccines have been imposed unilaterally by State governments.”

He then went on to say, “only those governments that put them in place (can) take them away.”

And now it’s time for them to explain how they will do that.

Never before has Milton Friedman’s quote, “There is nothing so permanent as a temporary government measure,” been so applicable.

The State Government’s apparent failure to prepare our hospital system means that the proposed State re-opening on February 5 has been indefinitely postponed, let alone when we might see travel without requiring a G2G pass.

But the most contentious and repulsive of the McGowan Government’s policies concerning the pandemic is their ongoing and overreaching vaccine mandates.

We have never before seen a medical procedure become a ubiquitous prerequisite for employment, let alone engagement with wider society. Mandates are increasingly being denounced in scientific circles. In Senate Estimates this week, I asked Professor Paul Kelly, the Commonwealth’s Chief Medical Officer, his view on the continued use of wide-ranging vaccine mandates. He clearly stated that he is “not supportive”.

Probably the most insidious feature of Premier Mark McGowan’s mandates is the requirement of employers and staff to be enforcers.

You cannot enter many premises without showing your vaccine certificate to a staff member at the door. Heaven help you if your phone is flat. You also cannot work in many sectors without revealing your vaccine status. If your employer declines to enquire, they face severe penalties.

There are over 500 police deployed to enforce COVID restrictions. This is an unnecessary allocation of resources in a State facing surging crime.

Every resource dedicated to imposing restrictions on otherwise healthy people takes from the resources needed to support the vulnerable.

Moreover, the science increasingly shows that with high vaccination rates across the community, the unvaccinated pose minimal risk to the vaccinated.

Granted, it may be that the mandates helped lift the vaccination rate in WA to where it is now. I personally think WA would have got there without coercion, but putting that argument aside, what justification is there now to persist with wide-ranging mandates in WA with no plan on when they will end?

I encourage all Australians to get the jab. I am triple vaccinated. But I don’t think you should be banned from a drive-through bottle shop if you aren’t.

Many other jurisdictions are announcing their plans to drop their mandates. It’s time the McGowan Government did the same.