Scott Morrison rules out mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy, says employers must 'make their own decisions'

This week, canned food producer SPC became the first non-health-related Australian business to announce it would be banning unvaccinated employees from the end of November.

Scott Morrison has ruled out mandating COVID-19 vaccinations at a federal policy level.

Scott Morrison has ruled out mandating COVID-19 vaccinations at a federal policy level. Source: AAP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ruled out mandating COVID-19 vaccinations at a federal policy level, saying employers must "make their own decisions" when it comes to enforcing jabs for high-risk workers.

This week, canned food producer SPC became the first non-health-related Australian business to announce it would be banning unvaccinated employees from the end of November. Qantas says it is considering demanding workers get the jab. 

While the Prime Minister said mandating vaccines is “not the policy of the government”, he said that employers can give a “reasonable directive” to their staff, provided it complies with discrimination law.

"We do not have a mandatory vaccination policy in this country. We are not proposing that. That is not changing," he told reporters in Canberra on Friday following a national cabinet meeting. 

“Ultimately, employers need to consider these matters and make their own decisions. 

“Where an employee may be at great risk of actually contracting the virus, the employer would be in those circumstances seeking to afford some protection for their staff and upholding - in their view - their obligations regarding the occupational health and safety of their staff.”

Mr Morrison listed airline workers, aged care workers and retail staff as examples of those for whom it may be appropriate to mandate vaccines, based on their proximity to people who may be carrying the virus. 

“It is not the intention of the Commonwealth or of the states and territories to create any special laws in these areas,” he said, adding such decisions would be "decided by the courts". 

Meanwhile, Australia has set a new vaccine record over the last seven consecutive days, with 240,000 jabs administered on Thursday alone.

Lieutenant General John Frewen described the last week as "momentum building".

"I'm very encouraged by the rising uptake in AstraZeneca again," he said. "I would encourage all Australians not to wait and to get booked in for whatever vaccine you can access at the moment."

Scott Morrison rules out mandatory COVID-19 vaccine policy

National cabinet signs off on lockdown exit strategy

Mr Morrison also confirmed national cabinet had officially signed off on Australia’s lockdown exit plan announced last week.

“The premiers and chief ministers fully agreed to the national program that they announced last Friday at the Lodge after the meeting last week,” he said.

Last week, Mr Morrison said Australians would move to the next phase of dealing with the pandemic - potentially out of lockdowns and internal border restrictions - when 70 per cent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.

He said it would have to be a two-fold target where the national target would have to be 70 per cent, and individual states must also reach that figure in order to move to the next phase.

Australia is currently in phase A of the government's four-stage plan out of the pandemic, where lockdowns and quarantine are still required to deal with outbreaks.

Mr Morrison said lockdowns in phase B - when 80 per cent of the population is vaccinated - would be less likely but still possible, and international border caps would remain.

Inbound passenger caps, which were recently halved, would also be restored back to around 6,000 a week.

In phase C, Mr Morrison said lockdowns would only be “highly-targeted” and would not be imposed metropolitan-wide.

The final phase involves opening up international borders, and only high-risk inbound travellers will be required to quarantine.

NSW ‘clearly needs circuit breaker’

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said Greater Sydney's growing virus cluster is a concern, and that authorities must find a "circuit breaker".

“There are still worrying signs in terms of unlinked cases, new chains of transmission, new exposure sites and geographic spread and the like,” he said.

“There is no sense that it is heading rapidly towards zero which is what remains our national approach at the moment. There is clearly a need for a circuit breaker.

“What else could be done to increase the speed of people being diagnosed, the compliance with those public health measures and crucially, an increase in vaccination in those areas and so, NSW needs to stay the course and look for those new ways of increasing and improving that situation.”

NSW recorded 291 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 on Friday, and one new death.

Asked what this circuit breaker could entail, Professor Kelly suggested greater surveillance on movement in Greater Sydney.

“I think looking at ways that they can find people more quickly, make sure the compliance with those orders to stay at home are being complied with,” he said.

“That movement around Sydney - and specifically outside of Sydney - is enforced. All of these things are absolutely important."


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Published 6 August 2021 at 7:22pm