by Mathias Graham
As most would be aware, the Victorian Government introduced a Bill into that state’s Legislative Assembly back in September, the purpose of which is to prohibit the enrolment of most unvaccinated children in childcare services in Victoria. This Bill comes on the back of a similarly sinister one currently before the Queensland Parliament, and of course, the Commonwealth Bill, which is seeking to deny child care subsidies and Family Tax Benefit Part A supplement for conscientious objectors to vaccination, currently before the Commonwealth Parliament.
The Victorian Bill also represents a broken election promise. The ALP ran on a platform of supporting conscientious objector exemptions in child care laws. What a difference a few months makes.
The Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, Inc. (AVN), along with 140 other people, consequently made a submission to the Victorian Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee, whose role it is to scrutinise all bills introduced to the Victorian Parliament for compliance with sound legislative practice, and in accordance with The Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (the charter). Under the charter, the Committee is required to determine whether a Bill introduced into Parliament is incompatible with human rights protected under that Act. This submission is available at the following link on the AVN’s website.
The AVN’s submission identified several human rights which are significantly limited by this Bill, and provided evidence to the committee that these limitations of human rights were not reasonably justified having regard to the Bill’s stated purpose of increasing vaccination rates in Victoria, and that there were less restrictive means by which the government may increase vaccination rates without infringing the human rights of conscientious objectors.
These arguments seem to have resonated with the committee, which reported its findings on the Bill last week, and which is available at the following link commencing on page 7 (Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (No Jab, No Play) Bill 2015).
The findings can be summarised as follows.
1) The Bill’s immunisation requirement may constitute direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of imputation of possible future disease in contravention of the charter. However, the committee failed to note that the Bill may also conflict with the Commonwealth Disability Discrimination Act for similar reasons.
“The Committee will write to the Minister seeking further information as to whether or not new section 143B’s ban on the enrolment of most unvaccinated children in early childhood services is compatible with the Charter’s rights against direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of possible future disease.” (page 9)
2) The Bill’s provision for a temporary grace period of 16 weeks by which to comply with the immunisation requirement in relation to children of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent may constitute discrimination on the basis of race in contravention of the charter.
“The Committee will write to the Minister seeking further information as to whether or not new section 143C(1)(d)’s exemption of all Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders from this requirement is a measure taken for the purpose of assisting or advancing persons or groups disadvantaged by discrimination.” (page 9)
3) The Bill’s immunisation requirement without exemptions on grounds of conscientious objection constitutes an effective mandate for those Victorian parents reliant on child care services in contravention of the charter which protects the right to consent freely to medical treatment.
“However, the Committee notes that a parent who is unable to care for a child themselves (for example due to employment or other commitments) and cannot afford or otherwise obtain private care for their child (for example from a family member or a nanny) may have no choice other than to have his or her child vaccinated in order to enrol that child in an early childhood service.” (page 10)
The committee also noted that the Bill will have the effect of denying Commonwealth child care benefits which are currently available to defray the significant cost of child care services.
The Committee called on Parliament to consider whether there is a less restrictive alternative which is reasonably available to increase vaccination rates even though the AVN’s submission provided evidence about how vaccination rates could be increased without infringing the rights of conscientious objectors.
4) In relation to the AVN’s argument that the Bill limited the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief which is protected by the charter, the committee noted that an immunisation requirement to enrol children in childcare services in New South Wales provides for exemptions on such grounds, but made no recommendation to adopt such an exemption.
Notwithstanding, the committee’s damning findings about this draconian and totalitarian Bill, the Legislative Assembly proceeded to pass this Bill last Thursday following debate, and the word ‘debate’ has been used loosely. The only debate seemed to be around the Bill not being draconian enough because it provides for a temporary grace period for disadvantaged groups. For those wishing to read the various speeches by ALP, LNP and Greens members, the links to Hansard are provided below, but brace yourselves; it’s chock full of just about every pro-vaccine fallacy of which one could think. The table of contents makes it easy to find the relevant sections.
What this means is that the Bill is now before the upper house (Legislative Council) which resumes sitting next Tuesday 20 October 2015, so time is running out if we are to defeat this Bill. People in Victoria who wish to retain their freedom of choice need to stand up now, and should be contacting their state representatives to voice their objection to the Bill by highlighting to them the damning findings of the parliamentary committee: that the Bill is discriminatory; violates the right to consent freely to a medical procedure and; that there are less restrictive means by which the government may increase immunisation rates without discriminating against those opposed to vaccination.
The AVN has compiled some tips for those meeting with or writing to Victorian MPs. These can be found at the following link.