The assistant minister to the attorney general, Amanda Stoker, has come out hard against employers requiring their staff to be vaccinated â€“ a stark contrast to Scott Morrison, who has given business some comfort by suggesting the solicitor general had advised it could be lawful to do so.
Asked by Sky News if businesses are right to demand their staff get vaccinated, Stoker replied: â€œNo, I donâ€™t think so.â€
She added that the only exception was where state public health orders required it, such as health workers but â€œin general it needs to be the case that people are making a decision for themselvesâ€:
Let me be perfectly clear: this should be voluntary. The individual has the right to choose what works for them. An employer can encourage them and can provide an incentive to make this call if itâ€™s in their interests [but should not mandate a vaccination].
Stoker argued that conscientious objection rates may be so low that Australia can achieve 80% vaccination rates without vaccine requirements.
At a doorstop after the interview, Stoker clarified that she is not opposed to requiring vaccination in aged care settings. But she still said â€œthose are matters for the state governmentâ€ â€“ seemingly ignoring that it was the federal government who led the push to require vaccination of aged care workers by mid-September.
Stoker said she wouldnâ€™t go â€œinto the weedsâ€ of which other employers might require their staff to be vaccinated because â€œthe principle on which the commonwealth governmentâ€™s program has operated is that vaccination is voluntary but strongly encouragedâ€.
This helps explain why, despite the Business Council of Australia, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Australian Industry Group all pleading for more public health orders to clarify and expand the industries that can require vaccination, Morrison has held the line that to do so would be mandating vaccines by stealth.
There is obviously a constituency in the Liberal party that will defend individual rights to refuse safe, effective vaccines and hold on to a job.