Grievance Debate - COVID-19 Vaccination

Wednesday November 17, 2021

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (15:56): Today, I want to talk on a very important issue and one that some people have shied away from. I think it is the role of every member of parliament to represent their community and all people who are in their community. Selfish. Uncaring. Dangerous. Refusal. Resistance. You would think I am referring to enemies of the state of South Australia. However, this is the appalling language being used to describe regular everyday South Australians—bus drivers, teachers, police officers, cleaning staff, mental health workers—simply because they have delayed or chosen not to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Every week it seems we have a new announcement, a new direction, like the one this week requiring all education and early learning staff to be vaccinated by 10 December. Anyone who is not vaccinated by that date will be forced to take personal leave and then will face the real possibility of being stood down and losing their job. Many of these people are full-time permanent staff.

In news reports today, the education department estimated this could be around 700 staff. Over the last few weeks, we have learned that around 200 police officers and 400 medical staff will be stood down for the same reasons. That is 1,300 people of South Australia that South Australia cannot afford to lose from its workforce. There are already severe shortages of professional staff, particularly in our regions.

It is my personal belief that this is going to lead to a jobs crisis in regional areas and a mental health crisis for this state. South Australia is going to be faced with severe skill shortages right at a time when our borders will reopen and we desperately need experienced professional staff. I would also like to point out that these people are not guilty of anything. They have chosen not to get vaccinated before a government-imposed deadline.

If a major South Australian employer announced they were shedding 1,300 jobs six weeks before Christmas, it would be a major crisis and covered by every news organisation in the country. There would be sympathetic case studies featuring the people losing their jobs, with individual interviews highlighting their personal and family needs. Last year, these frontline workers were pillars of our community, held up as heroes in many situations. Now they are being singled out and referred to as anti-vax villains or names like the ones I started this speech with. Even the people speaking out about this normally qualify their statements with, 'I'm pro vax,' or, 'I'm double-vaxxed,' and then go on to lend their support.

This is having a major impact on people's mental health and wellbeing. There is a very strong connection between steady employment, meaningful employment and a person's self-worth and mental health. When you take away somebody's job, you take away their ability to provide for their family, to live and contribute to society, and you take away their dignity. I know people in despair and desperation because their right to choose has been taken away. These are people who have worked hard all their lives in careers they love.

I refer to Oxford studies, peer reviewed, that look at the vaccination rates and also community transmission of Delta. I will just read one of the interpretations. I do not want to get too much into this, but it is true that if you are fully vaccinated you can still catch COVID and you can still pass it on. In fact, this peer-reviewed study from The Lancet Infectious Diseases states:

Vaccination reduces the risk of delta variant infection and accelerates viral clearance. Nonetheless, fully vaccinated individuals with breakthrough infections have peak viral load similar to unvaccinated cases and can efficiently transmit infection in household settings, including to fully vaccinated contacts.

I refer to the Netherlands, which has a rate of 85 per cent and now having weekly and partial lockdowns due to this. It is my belief that vaccination should be an individual choice, not mandated by government. I support people's right to choose what is right for them and their family.