South Australia (SA) Liberal member of parliament (MP) Tony Pasin has welcomed the decision to scrap vaccine mandates for public sector employees in education and transport but is questioning what has changed to cause the State Co-ordinator to alter his position.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Pasin said he raised concerns in federal parliament in October 2021 about the decision to mandate vaccines in those sectors.
“At that time, I made it clear that I did not endorse mandatory vaccinations and that I did not support mandating vaccines by stealth, ” he said.
“I agreed with compulsory vaccinations for those working with our most vulnerable, such as aged care workers, but noted that extending this principle to other vocations was a step too far as it impinged on the most basic of human rights.”
Pasin then questioned what prompted the scrapping of the mandates and what evidence was relied upon to mandate vaccines for those sectors in the first place.
This comes after Police Commissioner Grant Stevens announced that as of 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, vaccine mandates would be dropped for South Australian teachers, transport employees such as bus, train, and taxi drivers, and maritime workers.
Stevens said the changes are due to the continual review of the requirement for these directions and that it was always the case that the directions for mandates were implemented to affect quick and effective change regarding vaccine requirements.
“And it was always intended that they would be replaced when necessary with other measures that were more sustainable and more long term beyond the declaration under the Risk Management Act,” he said.
Chief Public Health Officer, Nicola Spurrier, added to what Stevens said, noting that the Emergency Management Declaration has also been used for bushfires and floods, but never for as long as it has with the pandemic.
“So, along with all the other states and chief health officers, we’ve always been aware that we will need to transition any mandated vaccine requirement for COVID into some other sort of either a legal instrument or policy that might be put out in terms of an organisation,” she said.
According to Commissioner Stevens, the mandates have been revoked for these particular sectors based on advice received from agency representatives in those sectors, and they will be replaced with directions implemented by those same agencies.
Education Department CEO Rick Persse said that in SA government schools and preschools, there is around 31,200 staff, only 204 of whom chose not to be vaccinated.
“We’ve worked closely with the commissioner and his team as with Professor Spurrier and SA Health throughout,” he said.
“We are implementing, I’m implementing an interim managerial direction as of tomorrow that will maintain the position with respect to the vaccinations and will require any staff who are unvaccinated coming back to the workforce to wear a mask at all times when indoors and take a daily rapid antigen test.”
Persse noted that based on health advice, there would also be specific high-risk settings in SA schools, such as remote Aboriginal schools and disability units in special schools, where unvaccinated teachers will not be able to work.
When asked whether the scrapping of the mandates was in response to school staff shortages, Persse stressed that it wasn’t a motivating factor but that the department welcomes unvaccinated teachers back provided they comply with the mask and test requirements.
Pasin was not convinced and is calling for a Commission of Inquiry to determine how the decision to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for these public sector employees was arrived at.
“The decision has impacted livelihoods and, in some cases, caused the significant loss. Accordingly, it is imperative that there be a detailed inquiry regarding the same,” he said.