Page 1693 - Week 06 - Tuesday, 7 June 2022
As Chair of the Standing Committee on Health and Community Wellbeing, I am proud to have participated in the policy process that has led to this legislation and to know that this process has genuinely led us to better outcomes. Committees provide an extremely important function for public accountability and scrutiny in our unicameral system and, while I speak today as the ACT Greens spokesperson for health, it would be remiss of me not to reflect on the government’s response to the committee report that is reflected within the amendments that we debate today.
The committee inquiry into this bill was one of the most popular that the ACT Legislative Assembly has ever seen. We heard from over 1,100 individuals and organisations who made submissions outlining their feedback on the Public Health Amendment Bill. Most of these submissions were from individuals living in other jurisdictions who were concerned by what they considered to be an overreach from government. These submissions were clearly part of a mobilisation of concerned citizens across the country and around the world, keen to participate in a process designed to provide transparency and accountability to legislative decision-making of the management of COVID-19.
Most of these submissions did not support vaccine mandates and quarantine, outlining concerns about these vaccines and what they considered to be overreach of the state into their personal decision to not get vaccinated. While the ACT Greens and I do not condone the underlying premise of some of these submissions, it is worth taking stock of the importance to have allowed due process and consideration of all views put forward to that committee.
While it is easy enough to say that we must protect the vulnerable by enacting mandates such as compulsory vaccines and stay-at-home orders, we know all too well that those impacted most by the overreach of the state into their lives tend to be the most vulnerable and most marginalised people—people who do not necessarily have high levels of health literacy, and people who do not necessarily understand or, frankly, trust the role of government in these decisions. Considering this problem as the vulnerable versus the entitled is a fallacy and simplifies very complex human rights and justice problems.
Along with hearing from those concerned by what they understood to be the bill’s intentions, the committee also heard from many stakeholders that were strongly supportive of the legislation’s intent to limit disease transmission. These stakeholders included peak bodies representing people with a disability, people living in the justice system, and those working across health and community sectors in which vaccine mandates have been enacted. The committee also heard from organisations representing business and industry keen for what they saw as the enactment of legislation that would appropriately allow for a safe return to the enjoyment of public life and employment.
Since the pandemic began, the ACT Human Rights Commission has been advocating for fit-for-purpose legislation to enable the ongoing management of this pandemic. Citing concerns that the existing emergency powers in the Public Health Act were not designed to deal with the long-term management of a pandemic, the commission has