Essential workers challenge Victoria and NSW vaccine mandates in court | Health

An informal assistant teacher takes Victorian health officials to court about mandatory Covid vaccines, arguing that there is no legal or ethical justification for letting employees get the jab.

Separately, in New South Wales, a group of key workers argued in court that the state’s health regulations regarding vaccines are an attempt to force them to get vaccinated.

Belinda Cetnar and her husband, Jack Cetnar, have filed suit against the state Victoria arguing that it is discriminatory and a violation of their human rights to force all childcare and school staff to have their first dose of a vaccine by October 18.

Belinda Cetnar is an informal assistant teacher, while Jack Cetnar is a horticulturist employed by Crest Education.

“The proposed guidelines to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for school or childcare workers is not a proportionate response to the Covid-19 pandemic in circumstances where there is a 99.9% survival rate and children tend to have mild effects of the disease she said in court documents.

Belinda Cetnar said the general mandate did not take into account the human rights of those it was imposed on and no less restrictive means had been considered to achieve its intended purpose, including rapid antigen testing and PPE.

She represented the couple at a Supreme Court hearing on Tuesday and said they were trying to find a lawyer to help with the case.

They had asked for an injunction to stop the introduction of the vaccine mandate, but that happened before the case went to trial. They now have until October 12 to put together a new case. A trial is scheduled for October 25.

Justice Melinda Richards said the couple had a well-developed argument under Victoria’s human rights charter, but had doubts about other aspects of the case.

Their current written case refers to civil service in the constitution, the Commonwealth Biosecurity Act and the Nuremberg Code.

“It seems to me that it could do with the eye of an experienced attorney and perhaps some refinement of the grounds on which you are challenging the leads,” the judge said Tuesday.

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Belinda Cetnar claimed she would lose her livelihood if she didn’t get vaccinated, while her husband could lose his too. Both roles cannot be done off-site, she said.

“Schools and nurseries will face a loss of valued staff, which cannot be remedied by compensation,” she said.

Richards will move directly to a final decision in the trial on Oct. 25, a move welcomed by state attorney Sarala Fitzgerald.

Acting chief health officer, Ben Cowie, who signed the directions, is expected to be added to the case as a defendant.

“Prof Cowie is trying to steer this store through goal posts for the next three months so we have 30 people in our house by Christmas,” said Fitzgerald.

“There’s a lot on the plate from all these public health experts, and I’m just asking the court to notice that all these people, whose time I’m going to demand, are also trying to do something else incredibly important.”

Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews has said that young children still cannot be vaccinated. “So why would anyone want to be in a school community that contributes to the spread of this virus — it makes no sense to me.”

Belinda Cetnar was approached for comment.

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Meanwhile, lawyers for the Secretary of Health Brad Hazzard in NSW have told the Supreme Court that a public health order requiring certain people to be vaccinated if they want to go to work is not really a vaccine mandate.

A group of 10 people are trying to undo orders requiring NSW teachers and aged care workers to be vaccinated against Covid before going to work.

They have also challenged a separate order preventing authorized workers from leaving Sydney’s coronavirus hotspots for work unless they can prove they received the jab.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs told prosecutor Robert Beech-Jones on Tuesday that the orders were an attempt to force their clients to get vaccinated. They say the orders discriminate against a minority group and Hazzard did not have the power to sign them.

But Hazzard’s attorney, Jeremy Kirk SC, told the court the case was not about vaccine mandates. He said the rules were a temporary restriction of movement, which the plaintiffs could avoid if they decide to get vaccinated.

“There is no requirement for vaccination,” Kirk said. “There is a condition to the exception [to the stay-at-home orders] that people may or may not benefit from.”

Kirk said the state likely had the power to force people to get vaccinated if “a terrible disease” as Ebola threatens society.

But, he said, the judge “doesn’t have to decide” [that]”.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers launched an attack on the efficacy and safety of Covid vaccines.

But Kirk said Hazzard had no obligation to listen to the opinions of people who were anti-vaccine, when there was a large body of evidence supporting the policies behind the public health regulations.

The plaintiffs, who include aged care workers and a teacher, say their “fundamental rights” were violated.

“Is there economic pressure? Yes, Kirk replied. “But… there are real choices to be made. That real choices must be made is illustrated by the 10 claimants who made that choice.”

Teachers and social workers in NSW must be vaccinated before November 8, otherwise they are not allowed on the grounds of educational institutions. Elderly care workers should have received at least one dose by the end of the month. Health health care providers have until the end of November to receive both doses.

The Supreme Court will hear the final proposals in the case on Wednesday.

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