Excluding parliamentarians excludes our electors


October 14, 2021

Ms MAXWELL (Northern Victoria) (17:25): I rise to speak on the government motion on compulsory COVID-19 vaccination of members of Parliament. I must start by saying that never did I imagine us debating measures to exclude elected representatives from this Parliament in such circumstances. I guess none of us ever did.

I will start by noting that Mr (Stuart) Grimley MP and I are both fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a decision we took individually and voluntarily, and I wonder if that declaration is enough proof to allow us to continue attending Parliament and our electorate offices. I would also like to place on the record that Mr Grimley and I encourage people to be vaccinated. We are not anti-vaxxers and, I will say it again, we encourage people to be vaccinated.

We are here in this place, as are those in the other place, to serve the people of our electorates. We are here to represent them as citizens and eligible voters, and that only works when we speak for them and on their behalf here in this Parliament. We need to be conscious that excluding any one of us from Parliament is to exclude those who elected us to represent them.

Yes, the house is enabled to manage its own business, but not in such a way as to undermine or change the privilege of its members and certainly not to remove these privileges altogether. So, does a motion to compel members to be vaccinated and for each to provide evidence of vaccination to the house in order to continue to represent their electorates go against the principles of our democracy?

I have spoken to so many people from across my electorate during the course of this pandemic. I have received thousands and thousands of emails, as have you all, regarding their financial hardship and their psychological distress. Victorians have had their everyday choices removed from them—the right to work, to go to school, to go out in public, to see their family, to cross an interstate border five minutes from their home. They have been frustrated by inconsistencies in restrictions and by the severity of mandates. Employers are now being forced to mandate the vaccination of their staff or effectively terminate them. There are privacy and legal concerns about this that are yet to be tested, and some businesses will have to close their doors while they recruit and train replacement staff. People who are not vaccinated face unemployment, further financial hardship and possibly homelessness, and we all know the crisis in the lack of available housing in this state at the moment.

We recognise the demands and limitations placed on the community and perhaps the opinion that members of Parliament should not be treated any differently. There are many other jurisdictions around the world using alternatives such as rapid testing to avoid widespread and prolonged restrictions. This has not been offered here or for a host of other settings. It does not appear that any other parliament in the world has deemed it necessary to mandate its elected representatives to prove their vaccination status in order to do their job. We recognise this may set a very dangerous precedent for the future.

We are disappointed that that health advice has not been provided nor consultation been offered with the chief health officer in relation to this motion. We also question whether these measures are even necessary given that the inoculation rate for members of this chamber sits at approximately 97.5 per cent if the media reports are true. If you include the clerks and other staff that enter this chamber, presuming they are vaccinated, the rate would be more like 99.5 per cent. This house should consider other reasonable means to ensure the safety of this chamber, such as rapid testing, and we will support amendments to that effect.

We believe in everyone in this place being safe, and we are very keen to get back to our normal, regular sittings so we can represent our constituents and hold the government to account. On this basis we will support this motion despite its flaws and noting our concerns that we want to have placed on the record.

Government motion (Attorney General Jaclyn Symes MP)

That —

  • In order to protect the health and safety of Members and parliamentary staff and reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, this House requires Members of the Legislative Council attending the Chamber or the parliamentary precinct to have received —

(a)       their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by 15 October 2021, or have an appointment to receive their first dose between 15 October and 22 October 2021 and subsequently receive that dose by 22 October 2021; and

(b)       their second COVID-19 vaccine dose by 26 November 2021.

  • In order to protect the health and safety of electorate officers and community members, this House requires Members of the Legislative Council attending their electorate offices to have received COVID-19 vaccinations as set out in paragraph (1).
  • Members must provide proof of vaccination, proof of a vaccination booking or proof of a valid exception to the Clerk by the dates set out in paragraph (1).
  • If any Members do not meet the requirements set out in paragraph (3), the Clerk
    will —

(a)       as soon as practicable, notify each Member of the House which Members have not met the requirements; and

(b)       report the details to the House on the next sitting day.

  • Unless otherwise ordered, any Member who has not complied with the requirements set out in paragraph (3) is determined to have failed to comply with an Order of the House and therefore —

(a)       is suspended from attending the Chamber and the parliamentary precinct until the second sitting day of the 2022 Parliamentary year; and

(b)       will have their Parliamentary precinct security access pass revoked for the period of the suspension at the direction of the Clerk.

  • If a Member who is suspended under paragraph (5) provides proof of a single dose of vaccination between 15 October and 26 November 2021 or a second dose after 26 November 2021, or proof of a valid exception to the Clerk, their suspension is immediately lifted, and the Clerk will advise Members and the House accordingly.
  • For the purposes of this resolution —

(a)       COVID-19 vaccine means a vaccine to protect a person against SARSCoV-2 that, as at the date of this resolution, has been registered or provisionally registered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration or as been approved by a comparable overseas regulator, as determined by the Therapeutic Goods Administration under regulation 16DA(3) of the Therapeutic Goods Regulation 1990 of the Commonwealth;

(b)       proof of vaccination means information about a person’s vaccination status and includes a letter from a medical practitioner, a certificate of immunisation or an immunisation history statement obtained from the Australian Immunisation Register;

(c)       proof of a valid exception means written certification from a medical practitioner that the person is unable, due to a medical contraindication to receive a dose, or a further dose, of a COVID-19 vaccine.

  • The Clerk —

(a)       must ensure all information provided under this resolution remains confidential and is stored securely;

(b)       must not disclose any information except as authorised by this resolution; and

(c)       must destroy all information provided under this resolution at the end of the session or an earlier time determined by the House.

  • The House may agree to further resolutions to —

(a)       vary or amend this resolution; or

(b)       provide for arrangements for sittings in 2022 based on the epidemiology and progress in the roadmap to implementing the national plan at the time.