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Business owners are being told they should set their own rules on whether customers and staff have to be vaccinated, in a message from Prime Minister Scott Morrison that takes on state premiers amid uproar in federal Parliament over vaccine mandates.
With some of his own Liberal colleagues moving against the government on vaccine rules, Mr Morrison tried to quell a damaging dispute in Parliament by insisting he would not force employers to demand vaccinations for their workers and customers.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it should be up to businesses to choose if they will ask customers for vaccination certificates.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
The claim puts the Prime Minister at odds once more with state health orders that ask retailers, event organisers and others to ask for proof of vaccination, as the issue sparks public protests and fury from conservatives including Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.
The government was thrown on the defensive on Monday when Senator Hanson sought to pass a private bill in the upper house to overturn the health orders, gaining support from five Liberals and Nationals who crossed the floor to defy Mr Morrison.
The One Nation bill was backed by Liberal Senators Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Gerard Rennick and Alex Antic as well as Nationals Senators Matt Canavan and Sam McMahon in a sign of the deep grievances over state rules that impose greater restrictions on those who are not vaccinated.
Senator Hanson and her colleague Malcolm Roberts were participating online and could not vote, while Liberal Senator Eric Abetz abstained rather than siding with the government in the majority vote to block the bill.
Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie angrily denounced the One Nation move and argued for controls that allowed more liberty for those who signed up for the vaccines, saying people had to think of others.
“One Nation is not a fighter against discrimination. One Nation seeks to profit from it. It’s just a fundraising exercise for them and that’s all this is,” she said.
“The only people who need protection from discrimination are people who can’t receive the vaccination for reasons outside of their control.
“But if you’re able to get vaccinated and you choose not to, discrimination is the wrong word. That’s not discrimination. You have freedom to make a choice, but if you make a choice, those choices have consequences.”
Senator Lambie said people who worked with vulnerable people needed a police check, taxi drivers needed to get licenses and it was not discrimination to expect some workers to be vaccinated.
“That is the way it is and we do that to keep people safe. How about that? We put others before ourselves,” she said.
In a separate dispute, a Senate committee is urging the government to allow more scrutiny of emergency decisions such as the closure of the international border last year, an order that did not have any mechanism for a vote in Parliament to consider the move.
The Senate committee, chaired by Senator Fierravanti-Wells with Labor senator Kim Carr as deputy chairman, wants Mr Morrison to make sure future orders are “disallowable instruments” that can guarantee oversight and trigger votes in Parliament, but the government has rejected the suggestion.
With tempers flaring in Parliament’s final fortnight for the year, Labor accused Mr Morrison of failing to condemn the violence at last week’s demonstrations against vaccine mandates and trying to appeal to the protestors with his sympathy for those who wanted an end to the rules.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese said Mr Morrison was using “doublespeak” when he criticised restrictions in Queensland that required people to show their vaccine certificates to go to cafes and other venues when this was part of the national plan agreed by Mr Morrison and state premiers.
“Measures have been put in place by governments, Labor and Liberal, state governments across the board,” he said.
With Labor backing vaccine rules while conservative parties such as One Nation railed against them, Mr Morrison set out a position that endorsed the rules for some situations but argued against mandates for all employers.
“If venues, businesses, airlines, other places of work seek to require of their employees to be vaccinated, they have that right under the law,” Mr Morrison told Parliament.
“But it is not the Commonwealth government’s policy that they should be told to do that.
“Wherever that is in the country, that is not the government’s policy.
“We support mandatory vaccines for health workers, for aged care workers, for disability workers, those who are working with vulnerable people.
“But when it comes to what happens in somebody’s business, we believe business should make that decision and shouldn’t be told by the government what they should be doing.”
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