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A Choice of One Option (and Two Australias): On De Facto Compulsory Vaccinations

Wednesday, 12 January 2022  | Paul Tyson


I am a double-jabbed late-middle-aged male with young adult daughters, one of whom has serious vaccination hesitancy. Because my wife and I were in regular contact with my wife’s 94 year old father, she and I were vaccinated some time back. Pop was in the very high-risk category, and he did die of a respiratory ailment (though not of Covid), so we have no regrets about taking the precaution of being vaccinated for Covid, well before ‘no jab no entry’ had become mandated in Queensland.[1]

But now, our unvaccinated daughter is persona non grata in the public spaces of Brisbane. Now, state funded advertising, political announcements, well publicised researchers and most standard news outlets are loudly portraying anyone with vaccination hesitancy as immoral, irrational and just plain wrong about ‘the facts’. My daughter is now being cast as a pariah and excluded from the public life of Brisbane. As the parent of a very sensible, moral and hard-thinking young woman, I am shocked to find that she is being treated as foolish, immoral and somehow warranting exclusion from public life as a result of exercising a natural right over her own body to choose or not choose to get Covid vaccinated. But did she even have a meaningful choice? Did she only actually have a ‘choice’ to agree with the public health recommendation of the government? What kind of ‘choice’ only allows for one right answer?

‘Two Australias’

Most troublingly, how did it happen that, in our supposedly classless society, overnight we have come to have two classes of citizens: those with freedom of movement and entry rights to public places, and those who are marked as pariahs, restricted in their movements and refused the entry to public places? This is the ‘two Australias’ problem; and it affects households, such as my own.

Perhaps our divided Australia problem originates from the way our government’s biosecurity strategy was designed to incrementally force our population’s compliance with its public health ‘recommendations’. That is, a policy solution to the global pandemic that involves a certain percentage of the population voluntarily accepting the government’s health advice is inherently problematic if the intention of this policy is actually to force non-compliance out of being a genuine option.

Our government has incentivised vaccination (positively and negatively) so that it could achieve its vaccination percentage target. Incentives and exclusions skewing a genuine and free choice are a real problem here; we are being treated like gullible consumers and sugar-daddied or scolded children, not like responsible citizens and free adults. I was shocked at how brazen and targeted incentives were just prior to the 17 December ‘no jab no entry’ event horizon. Watching a movie with my young adult daughters, a state government sponsored ad showed us how much fun young people who could not go to the movies would miss out on if they did not get vaccinated. It seems that the government has turned into a broad-spectrum advertising agency trying to entice different target audiences to ‘freely’ choose the ‘right’ stance so that the government can achieve its target. But, if the government aims at anything less than 100 per cent voluntary acceptance, it has the ‘problem’ of what to do with those who do not choose to be vaccinated once the percentage target is hit. If, once the target is hit, the government then punishes those who have not ‘freely’ chosen to go with the government’s policy recommendations, this lets the population know that the policy recommendation is, de facto, compulsory. Does this amount to giving people ‘free choice’ before the target is realised, and then withdrawing ‘free choice’ after it is achieved such that the policy entails (effectively) compulsory vaccination for exactly those people who would choose not to get vaccinated if you gave them a real choice? That is, was the policy always never about respecting the capacity and choice of citizens in regard to whether they get vaccinated or not? If there never was a real choice, why not come clean and just mandate compulsory vaccination for everyone from the outset? Then, at least, we are living in an honest nanny state. And, if we had compulsory vaccination for 100 per cent of the population, at least we would not create a second-class citizenry.

In the above light it looks like the policy problem our government has created is exactly not about choice; it is about a de facto lack of choice at the same time as requiring people to ‘freely choose’ a stance that aligns with government recommendations. De Tocqueville warns of the sort of soft despotism that democracies can produce, where the individualist materialism of the majority can lead to safety concerned majoritarian conformism, enforced by a powerful state that finds genuine freedoms and responsibility in citizens simply dangerous. We are being treated like farm animals, not like responsible adults who can and should make our own genuine and free choices as it concerns what happens to our own bodies. Where is the ‘right to choose’ now?

And as much as I am not an anti-vaxxer, whether or not one should get vaccinated is not a simple health matter, as your Covid risk factors and your vaccine side-effects risk factors are not the same as everyone else’s, depending on your age and health. But the Queensland government has a one-size-fits-all approach to this problem and is being very heavy-handed in its policy of herding Queenslanders towards the single ‘right’ choice. Perhaps irresistible mass control is normative in China, but I thought we had a higher respect for individual choice and responsible freedoms in this country. Or are we really not that different to China?

Surveillance and the degradation of civil liberties

Unfortunately, our governments – both state and federal – are now highly experienced at implementing invasive mandatory public surveillance and control measures, by stealth and by degree. With over 90 new pieces of national security legislation passed by the Australian parliament since 2001, expansive and invasive citizen surveillance powers are now the norm.[2] Some time after 2001, having a biometric photograph on your driver’s licence became compulsory. But fear not, for it is not compulsory for every adult citizen to be biometrically photographed, even though you can’t have a driver’s license without agreeing to the transport department making, storing and using a biometric photo of you. But provided you accept the natural consequence of your choice (i.e., you are not legally permitted to drive a car), you remain entirely ‘free’ not to have a biometric photograph. Nothing functionally compulsory to see here.

The old argument – ‘if you have done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear’ – would like us to suppose that all driving Australians are not being treated like potential criminals whom the government is able to identify from any security camera should they become a ‘person of interest’ to one or another of our nation’s many and extensive security and surveillance networks. We are assured that only potential or actual criminals need to be worried about the government having access to our biometric photograph, and the government is keeping the rest of us safe by having this power, so good on them. That is the standard argument, but things are not as morally black and white as this simple reasoning depicts.

There was a protest against lockdowns in Brisbane recently, attended by some thousands of protesters, during which the police made no arrests. However, ‘all available footage’ was reviewed by the police so that, if any infringements of legality occurred – concerning, say, social distancing in a public place – the police could identity the people they want to question or fine later on, presumably from their access to the biometric photo data that all licenced Australian drivers have ‘freely’ provided to the transport authorities.[3]

And as a lawyer pointed out to me: ‘The argument of having nothing to fear if you haven’t done anything wrong rather assumes that those with security and surveillance power will never misuse it. But experience has proved that wrong: power is uniquely attended with the propensity for its misuse – and overuse. The more information at the disposal of these very fallible and often only weakly accountable agencies, the more capacity there is for abuse and for the full power of the state to be mobilised against those with the least power. We do not have to look far for very recent abuses of law enforcement powers’.

‘Doing nothing wrong’ is now equivalent with citizens accepting whatever ‘voluntary’ (yet functionally compulsory) biosecurity measure the government decides it needs to implement. This is getting very heavy-handed, and citizens are being treated like naughty children if they don’t do as they are (non-compulsorily) told, rather than as adult citizens who should make up their own minds about matters that directly affect their own bodies. It appears that one can have consenting sex with whomever one wants, but one cannot refuse to have complex substances injected into your blood stream if you want to enjoy basic freedoms of movement and gathering.

It is now normative for all public movement to be traceable and for ‘privileges’ of free movement to be conditional upon receiving a ‘voluntary’ vaccination. Do we really want our governments to have this much surveillance and compliance power over our very bodies, as citizens? We are told that the extraordinary context of a global pandemic makes such measures necessary for our safety, and yet these measures are not actually compulsory in law (the government cannot simply require us to be vaccinated). So, as with Google, if you want a benefit, you need to sign up to the conditions. And thus, to have a free Gmail account and search the net, we give Google full access to our data use and attention indicators so that they can hone their commercially purposed algorithms. If we want the ‘privilege’ of going to public places of our choosing, we give our government whatever invasive and restrictive conditions of public ‘safety’ our public health authorities ‘recommend’. And so, with carrots and sticks, our government gets its way with the majority, and the minority of non-conformists are punished, excluded and defamed, so as to make that minority vanishingly small as quickly as possible. Are we seeing too much public control by our governments?

The continuous incremental degradation of civil liberties and what might be called the abandonment of citizen’s rights (though we actually don’t have them) are two things my daughter is very concerned about. Is she immoral, just plain wrong, uniformed, or somehow a wacko conspiracy theorist because she has these concerns? Not at all. There is always a lunatic fringe in any non-conformist group, but all vaccination non-conformists are being painted as despised and dangerous lunatic fringes, which is a gross misrepresentation of the people I know who have chosen not to get vaccinated. And vaccination itself is not the central issue here. Many of the vaccinated Queenslanders I know who are unhappy with ‘no jab no entry’ are concerned about the sense of limitless ‘public safety’ powers that our governments are exercising. These powers are heavy-handed means of controlling the public to functionally force compliance with government public health recommendations. Is this an appropriate way to treat citizens?

Not all vaccine hesitancy is equal

A serious concern that vaccination hesitancy citizens like my daughter have is a very sensible uncertainty about the actual health facts, based on a growing appreciation of the problem of ‘capture’. That is, there are powerful commercial interests involved in how we presently manage Covid, and whether health and public safety is really the first issue motivating vaccination-producing companies and governments is not at all easy to ascertain. The first driver of our government’s interests is keeping itself in power and returning the economy to full functionality as soon as possible. Showing that they are keeping us safe has been the political imperative for the first phase of pandemic response in Australia – resulting in long lockdowns in Melbourne and Sydney – but now we are moving into the ‘living with the virus’ phase of public management, and as close to full vaccination as possible is deemed necessary to achieve this end. Whether the amazing mRNA vaccines that have been so rapidly developed have as yet poorly understood heart risks associated with them in the longer term – particularly for the young and healthy – is simply not known.[4] But we do know that many governments have signed safety wavers for vaccination companies because quick vaccination action to save both economic viability and lives is politically imperative now, whatever health problems some other government may have to deal with in the future as a result of the rapid roll out of vaccines.[5]

The capture of governments to economic imperatives, the global financial power of big pharma and the capture of academic institutions to corporate fundin, means that public health knowledge is hard to properly understand, and official pronouncements are hard to believe when there are obvious underlying uncertainties and obvious conflicts of interest. People with vaccination hesitancy are not (necessarily) nut jobs for having trouble finding the official narratives of public safety something that any sensible person should simply trust.

So I humbly appeal for a more civil, open and morally nuanced dialogue between the majority/government/university-backed mainstream and the increasingly alienated minority of Australian citizens who have vaccination hesitancy. This minority should not simply be ladled as anti-vaxxers and then judged as selfish and ignorant troublemakers, and then heavily punished for not being vaccinated. Indeed, heavy-handed exclusions of nonconforming minorities will encourage bad feeling and conspiracy extremism, and may produce genuinely criminal blow-back, which will only increase the alienation of intelligent and conscientious vaccination hesitancy people – like my daughter – who have no interest in conspiracies or law-breaking. But any such blow-back would be a huge PR asset to the government, justifying further heavy measures, further exclusions and invasive actions against the pariah class, so one can only think that the government would be delighted if it happens. The ‘stay safe’ game is really getting out of hand.

If there is no real choice open to people about whether or not they get vaccinated, then we have de facto compulsory vaccination. If those who do not comply with this highly incentivised vaccination push are denied the movement, entry and education[6] that the vaccinated have, we have created a minority underclass of citizens and have divided the nation into two Australias. Both of these outcomes of the present ‘no jab no entry’ policy setting are deeply politically shocking; such government exerted pressure for herd conformity is an affront to the civic dignity and proper freedoms of Australian citizens. But there is no opposition; both centre party blocks are united in their public management attitudes and logic. One would expect a bit of libertarian push back from the Centre Right, and one would expect a bit of human rights push back from the Centre Left, but we have a unified political management class that does not seem to trust the Australian citizenry with making adult and informed decisions about their own bodies. Our body politic seems to be in worse health than our physical bodies.

A real choice by informed and adult citizens should be a real choice, not a highly managed, strongly incentivised (or punished) and heavily propagandised choice for only one right option. Australia should not face this pandemic as two Australias; we should face this as one people, whether we are vaccinated or not. The minority can see these problems where the majority seems indifferent. If the majority fails to heed the minority in this context, we are embracing our own passive civic management by a nanny government and big pharma, and we are accepting a divided nation. Is this the Australia we want?

 

Paul Tyson is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Queensland.



[1] Queensland Government Public Health and Social Measures linked to vaccination status, 17 December 2021: https://www.covid19.qld.gov.au/government-actions/queenslands-covid19-vaccine-plan/queenslands-public-health-measures-linked-to-vaccination-status.

[2] Lizzie O’Shea (Chair, Digital Rights Watch) in conversation with Phillip Adams, ‘How Australia’s pile of national security legislation stacks up’, Late Night Live, ABC Radio National, 22 September 2021: https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/how-australias-pile-of-national-security-legislation-stacks-up/13553368

[3] ‘Under current restrictions, persons outdoors are not required to wear or carry a mask as long as physical distancing is maintained’, a police spokesperson said in a statement. ‘We will be reviewing all available footage of today’s events to determine if any clear breaches have occurred.’ As quoted in ‘Thousands rally in Brisbane against lockdown and masks as state records no new cases’, ABC News, 24 July 2021: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-07-24/covid-qld-coronavirus-flight-attendant/100263642.

[4] There is a known link between myocarditis as a ‘rare side effect’ in young men and RNA vaccines against Covid-19. Whether this is a potential longer-term problem for a larger cohort of vaccine recipients or not, cannot be known at this early time. See Alida L. P. Caforio, ‘Receipt of mRNA Vaccine against Covid-19 and Myocarditis’, The New England Journal of Medicine 385, no. 23 (2 December 2021), 2189-2190.

[5] ‘Public Citizen also said it looked at contracts where governments had to “indemnify, defend and hold harmless Pfizer from and against any and all suits, claims, actions, demands, damages, costs and expenses related to vaccine intellectual property”.’ And we do not know what the details of the Australian Government’s contract with Pfizer are (or how much Australians taxpayers will pay for scrapping the French submarine deal) because ‘The details of the Advance Purchase Agreement (APA) with Pfizer for the purchase of their COVID-19 vaccine are commercial-in-confidence’. See David Chau, ‘Pfizer has power to “silence” governments and “maximise profits”, consumer group alleges’, ABC News, 21 October 2021: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-10-20/pfizer-covid-19-vaccine-contracts/100553958.

[6] The University of Queensland, for example, has decided no student can come onto the campus who has not been vaccinated. See https://support.staff.uq.edu.au/ci/documents/view/1/AvN4~wp~Dv8S~xb~Gv_8~yIMxesqshH7se6jHz7~Pv9q.


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