Police, ambulance workers, nurses and more, all step up to challenge.
NEW LEGAL CHALLENGE
The first of several civil cases brought on by Queensland frontline workers challenging COVID-19 vaccine mandates, including police officers and paramedics, has begun in Brisbane.
More than 70 Queensland Police Service (QPS) and Queensland Ambulance Service (QAS) staff who have refused to comply with their employer’s directives are testing the legality of the policies in the Supreme Court, arguing they are unjust or an improper exercise of power.
Some of the applicants, made up of three groups, have also claimed that similar directions made by the state’s Chief Health Officer last year breached human rights laws, but that matter will be heard at a later date alongside other similar legal challenges.
Queensland healthcare workers were required to have received two doses of the vaccine by December last year and the QPS staff deadline to be fully vaccinated was in January — unless an approved exemption was granted for medical and religious reasons, or exceptional circumstances.
The QAS mandate was ordered to ensure staff would ‘not pose a significant risk to patients and the broader community’, after determining COVID-19 had been shown to “disproportionately affect healthcare workers”.
The QPS said it introduced its mandate for similar public health reasons, as the nature of police work meant officers interacted with large numbers of people across the state.
‘INTERFERENCE ON LIBERTIES’
During opening submissions today, Dr Christopher Ward — who represents the group of QAS staff — told the court the workers were being “singled out” by the policy, highlighting the fact that mandates had lifted in other industries.
He also argued vaccines had “no measure of effect” on reducing transmissibility of the Omicron variant.
“Restrictions on liberties for the overwhelming majority of the Queensland population have been relaxed,” he said.
“Yet this small group of employees remain subject to what we say was… unjustified interference on their liberties and employment.
He continued: “It could not be said in our submission either today nor in January ’22 that the virus disproportionately affected healthcare workers including paramedics in any sense of the word disproportionately.”
Dr. Ward said some of his clients had made exemption applications on various grounds including “significant” medical histories, religious objections, and concerns over the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
But he said many were still waiting for a decision.
“The exemptions on face value appear to address some of the legitimate concerns of this policy, but in practice they have been utterly ineffective,” Dr Ward told the court.
“The exemptions are not worth the paper they’re written on.”
Dan O’Gorman, who is representing one group of QPS staff, told the court the Queensland Police Commissioner’s directive was an “impractical compulsion” and in effect was asking his clients to “commit a criminal act”.
“They’re required to sign a statutory form saying that you give full and free permission to undertake the medical treatment,” he said.
“They couldn’t say to the doctor that they give their free consent… They would have to lie.”
The first trial is set down for five days and is expected to hear evidence from several witnesses, including infectious disease experts and Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll.
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