Mandating or coercing COVID vaccination is one of the most important civil liberties issues of my lifetime. It's a fundamental breach of human rights allegedly guaranteed by a number of international conventions and Australian law, as well as our long tradition of liberal democracy.
Nowhere is the legal case against put more clearly than in a judgment of the Fair Work Commission published on Monday. It says, in a dissenting judgment, that because the vaccines are part of a clinical trial, coercing someone to take them breaches The Nuremburg Code, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration of Helsinki, and the Siracusa Principles.
The judgement also holds that vaccine mandates also breach Australian law as the Australian Human Right Commission Act 1986 (Cth) gives effect to Australia's obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 7 which provides "…no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation".
So the issue isn't whether it is a breach, but how great a breach, and whether that will have any practical consequences.
In my view, it is in the top tier of breaches – much worse than infringements on free speech, but not as bad as conscripting someone to war (the most serious breach I have seen).
Unlike many abuses of human rights, in this case there are physical risks and benefits to taking the vaccines, some of which are "known unknowns", or perhaps even "unknown unknowns" to borrow Donald Rumsfeld's taxonomy of knowledge.
However, on "known knowns", the US CDC estimates, using the VAERS database that the risk of death is .021 per thousand. That would be 525 deaths from the vaccine if everyone in Australia was vaccinated. And for what? We also know that a percentage of those vaccinated will also die from COVID.
Another way of measuring the severity is to ask what individual Australians will put at risk to avoid the vax.
The answer to that is that thousands have protested on the streets, risking fines in the thousands, and others are about to protest silently by losing their jobs and livelihoods, a price greater than any of the current fines.
What that adds up to one can only guess, but it will be significant, not only to the individuals but to the country as well as expertise is taken out of the system, perhaps never to return. Of particular concern must be that a significant proportion of these are health professionals. This will increase the stress on our hospitals at the moment when they are likely to be hit by a wave of illness from the Delta wave.
In the end, the individual will is more important than the legalities. Conscription didn't end because it was a breach of human rights, it ended because the public pressure was just too much.
So how much civil disobedience must there be before a government breaks?
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