Flat White

Scott Morrison has created his own vaccine mandate crisis

22 November 2021

11:55 AM

22 November 2021

11:55 AM

Editor’s note: Technical issues prevented the publication of this piece ahead of this morning’s Senate vote where five Coalition members cross the floor to support Pauline Hanson’s bill, which was defeated by the combined votes of the remainder of the Government and Labor.

Scott Morrison has condemned Queensland’s proposed vaccine mandates, suggesting that Queenslanders, vaxxed or not, should be able to go out and have a cup of coffee. 

Pauline Hanson is calling his bluff. As are two of his senators. 

There is a variety of vaccine mandates on the east coast of Australia.

In New South Wales a mandate applies limiting what you can do until the vaccination rate reaches a specific level. In Victoria, mandates limit what you can do in perpetuity.  

Queensland is closer to the Victorian model, but from a logical point of view, bizarrely, allows the unvaxxed to access everything now, but that changes when vaccination rates hit 80%, anticipated to be on December 18. 

On Saturday capitals were filled with tens of thousands of citizens protesting against vaccine apartheid, demonstrating that it doesn’t matter which regime is in place, they are all highly unpopular. 

Many of those marching were vaccinated. Some were there because they resented being forced to take a drug they did not want, others because they had friends or relatives in that position. Others were there to support the unvaxxed and, of course, there were people who are still holding out against the mandates. 

I wasn’t at any of the protests, but looking at the television coverage, and what I found on the Internet, these demonstrations were in the tens of thousands, and easily would match any other protests I’ve seen in my lifetime. 

Most significantly, these people were mostly from the right of the political spectrum – that end of the spectrum that is called the “silent majority” because of its aversion to public displays of force. 

The moniker “Scotty from Marketing” has stuck because people aren’t sure that when the Prime Minister expresses a point of principle he really means it.  

So is Morrison expressing politics or principle? 

There’d be good reason for it to be politics. These marches are of a scale to challenge those in 2007 which opposed Howard’s Work Choices legislation. Work Choices played a part in Howard’s downfall. 

They’ve also been organised and addressed by his opponents on the right. I don’t know what Clive Palmer’s vaccine status is, but I do know where he stands on this legislation – in front of the crowd with a megaphone. 

In a sense it doesn’t matter whether it is principle or politics. Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, with the assistance of two Liberal senators – Gerard Rennick from Queensland and Alex Antic from South Australia – has threatened to block his legislative program in the last week of parliament if he doesn’t agree to ban vaccine mandates. 

Their position is principled, but principle and politics align in this position, as far as Morrison is concerned. He needs to resolve the mandate issue. 

Hanson has produced her own bill which saves Morrison the trouble of drafting his own. The COVID-19 Vaccination Status (Prevention of Discrimination) Bill 2021 bans discrimination by the Commonwealth on the basis of vaccination status, and relies on the government’s foreign affairs power to ban discrimination by the state and territories. 

It’s embarrassing for Morrison that Hanson is well ahead of him on this, but it would also be embarrassing if he were shown to not be serious about stopping vaccine apartheid and not prepared to back either this bill, or produce one of his own.  

If he doesn’t have a bill ready to roll, then it is an indictment of the government. He’s been saying all along that there should be no vaccine mandates. The government has as good a view of what is happening in the future as Senator Hanson, so there is no excuse if they have let her get in front of them. 

Undoubtedly there will be pushback from members of the government, as well as the whole ALP.  

This is partly Morrison’s fault. He has handled the COVID crisis largely by allowing the states to make decisions and trying to distance himself from the less popular ones. There has been no leadership, at least not that the public can see. 

This means that the field has been vacated and the states have been allowed to run their nonsensical lines that COVID can be eliminated. Now they claim that anyone who is not vaccinated is a risk to those who are, at the same time as asserting the contradictory proposition that you need to be vaccinated to protect yourself from infection. 

Morrison’s failure to counter these fallacious arguments means that public opinion has moved with them, and it now takes more than normal courage to run the contrary line. Many of his party live in seats where the state’s narrative dominates, making it very courageous for them to vote a different line. 

Morrison has a week to sort his government and backbench out, or what remains of his minimalist parliamentary program will stall, and he will go into Christmas with a crisis of his own making. His temptation will be to allow a conscience vote.  

That would be a disaster as Hanson’s bill would go down and Morrison would be exposed as a man of straw, ready to be burnt at the next election. 

Graham Young is executive director of the Australian Institute for Progress and founder and editor of On Line Opinion.

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