Transcript – Sky News – Business Weekend with Ross Greenwood

Aug 8, 2021 | Federal News

8 August 2021


ROSS: Let’s now go to the legal and political implications of mandatory vaccination with Australia’s Attorney General and Industrial Relations Minister, Senator Michaelia Cash. Senator, as always, many thanks for your time. Can I just start with that SPC situation? Were you aware in advance that it was considering this move?

MINISTER CASH: Well, I am aware of the number of employers have said that they are looking at whether or not they can in their workplace make vaccinations compulsory for their employees, as you know, Ross the starting position for the Australian Government is that vaccination for COVID-19 is voluntary in Australia. However, what we are also saying and what we’ve now clearly seen, with National Cabinet’s plan to get us back to living normally, is that we need Australians to put their hands up and say, we will get vaccinated for our own benefit, for the benefit of our family, but also for the benefit of the community.

But as you’d also know, an employer, well implied into every contract of employment is that an employee must obey a lawful and reasonable direction from their employer. And in some cases, it may be lawful and reasonable for an employer, depending on all of the circumstances of that particular employer and their relationship with their employee to provide a direction that employees in that workplace be vaccinated.

ROSS: As Attorney-General, though, would you like to see that tested is that a part of this is SPC decision that this ultimately goes before the courts that is tested. And so as a result, employers then have the ability to write to actually say to especially customer facing stuff, we think you need to be vaccinated, we think that creates a safe workplace.

MINISTER CASH: The position of the government is that this is a decision for each individual employer, depending on their circumstances. And as you know, both the Fair Work Ombudsman and Safe Work Australia, they provide guidance in relation to the obligations, you have to keep a safe workplace in Australia, but also your obligations in relation to giving to your employees, a lawful and reasonable direction, I would say to any employer, if they are considering providing such a direction, you know, you should always take legal advice. But I would also say, you know, the starting position from the government’s position is that it is voluntary. However, we really do, we need to see Australians putting their hands up to get vaccinated. And it is pleasing to see, Ross, as you know, the vaccination rates across Australia, they are increasing 45 days to get to the first million 12 million to 13 million, 6 million days. On Thursday, I understand a record number of doses given in Australia in excess of 221,000. But in terms of employers and their individual decisions, they are able to give what are called lawful and reasonable directions. But they do need to ensure that they get legal advice in doing that.

ROSS: Okay, but didn’t get to kind of another area where there has been a mandate, mandate for vaccinations the aged care sector. So as of a week ago, there was only some 25% of people in that sector had had their full vaccinations, two shots, and around 40% that had one shot. So in an area which has been mandated that people have been told they must have a vaccination, you’ve still got less than half of the people with even one shot in their arm.

MINISTER CASH: And as you say, the another way that you can actually mandate is for and via the National Cabinet. It was determined that aged care employers were able to require their employees to be vaccinated. And that is being done as you know, through the issuance of state and territory public health orders, National Cabinet and the prime minister in particular, have set out a clear expectation that this will occur, and in particular, over the next few weeks. And certainly, you know, the Prime Minister, who speaks to the state and territory premiers and Chief Ministers on a regular basis, but our expectation is this is being determined by National Cabinet as an area in which it has been determined vaccination is mandatory. And states and territory should be making every effort available to them to see that this does occur by the date of expectation.

ROSS: Okay, so there are going to be key industries that require some form of significant vaccination to get back to normal airlines is one. Alan Joyce is one example of an airline executive who was calling for mandated vaccinations of his workers. He can’t force it at this stage. He knows there’ll be some who will be resistant. At what point does the government have to step in change legislation to say, right? We think that people flying on planes, they hotspots, they’re as important as people in aged care facilities. Is there a change in legislation that you need right now?

MINISTER CASH: The government has no plans to change Commonwealth legislation to mandate vaccinations, I need to be very clear on that. The position of the Prime Minister is very clear. Vaccinations for COVID-19 in Australia is voluntary. But we encourage every Australian, every Australian to put their hand up and say, I will get vaccinated, National cabinet have set out a clear four stage plan to get us back to living with COVID-19, as we would for example, with the flu. But to get to that stage, it is contingent upon certain targets being met. And the first target to get into that transition phase is that 70% of Australians and 70% in each individual state and territory have received both doses of that vaccination. So from the Australian Government’s perspective, we are working with National Cabinet, we have set out a clear pathway towards living with COVID-19, as if we will live in with the example that people understand is with the flu. But that does mean we do need to reach those targets as a country. Individual employers, depending on their own individual circumstances, may say we’re going to give a lawful and reasonable direction. But I would say to those employers, I’m sure SPC did this, get that legal advice.

ROSS: Okay, so what is the issue of this if you say, for example, at a brand new employee turn up on your doorstep, and there was either or a new enterprise bargaining agreement was about to be negotiated with those workers, you could actually put that clause in there mandating the vaccination or saying to a new employee, you must be vaccinated as a condition of employment here. Now, that’s the easiest situation as compared with existing employees who already are working under a certain set of rules and conditions.

MINISTER CASH: And that is exactly right. And you’re talking about a different situation, you’re talking about making it a condition of employment for a future or prospective employee or a prospective contractor, that a condition of being able to be employed by that organisation would be to be vaccinated, and it’s not just as you would k now to be vaccinated, it would be to be vaccinated against COVID-19. That is completely up to the employer if they wish to do that. But they are able to do that.

In terms of an industrial agreement. If it was one that was being negotiated, obviously, you’d work with the unions. And, you know, I’m pleased to say that the unions have said that they understand the need for vaccination. If as an employer, you wanted to introduce this into your industrial agreement that is something that you would negotiate through the normal procedures. But you know, Ross, as you know, there are actually some workplaces that already have, let’s use the flu, for example, vaccination, against the flu, as a condition of employment, and people who want to work in those workplaces. They accept that so for prospective or future employees, for or for a relationship, for example, with a contractor, that is something that you are able to look at.

ROSS: And one other example would be alcohol and drug testing, for example, he knows that use heavy machinery or work in the mining industry have been another classic example. Just take me to another issue here. And that is once we reach that 70% vaccination, how easy is it for you as the Attorney General as for the Australian Government, to suddenly say to some people who are not vaccinated, you have you don’t have certain rights that others who are vaccinated have? You can’t have the freedom of travel. They’re talking about in in the United States that people who are not fully vaccinated have to wear masks? They can’t go to certain places. Do you think that Australia comes to that situation as well?

MINISTER CASH: I think that what National Cabinet has clearly said is that when you look at that four stage plan to get us to that final stage where we are living with COVID-19, as if it was any say flu, for example. There are certain stages that need to be matched 70% and then to get us into that third stage 80% and National Cabinet have been pretty upfront I think, with the Australian people.

ROSS: Michaelia Cash always good to have a chat with you and I appreciate your time here on the program today.

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you, Ross.



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