Vaccine passports raise potential for human rights breaches: Commissioner

Dominic Giannini 20 September 2021 45
Dr Helen Watchirs

ACT Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs. Photo: ACT HRC.

Governments around Australia are investigating vaccine passports as premiers look to open their jurisdictions, but the ACT Human Rights Commission has raised concerns about implementing any vaccine passports in the Territory, warning that it risks creating discrimination and a two-tier community.

ACT Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs said the ACT Government needed to take a proactive role in regulating any vaccine passport to minimise the risk of potential human rights breaches.

These breaches may include limiting a person’s access to everyday goods and services, infringing on their privacy and autonomy, and restricting their freedom of movement and association.

“The ACT can choose to lead or be led on this issue,” Dr Watchirs said.

“This is a complex issue, and the Commission believes that the use of vaccine passports must be expressly regulated by the government to reduce the risks of unfairness and discrimination.

“It should not be left to the discretion of the private sector, where we could see different businesses imposing restrictions on clients and patrons in arbitrary ways.”

The ACT HRC is not advocating either way for a vaccination passport. Dr Watchirs acknowledged this appeared to be the direction the nation was heading, especially concerning international travel.

Gyms, hospitality venues and retail shops in NSW will reopen to fully vaccinated people once the state reaches the 70 per cent vaccination milestone under its new roadmap outlined by Premier Gladys Berejikilian.

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But one of the main differences between the two jurisdictions is that the ACT is a human rights jurisdiction with a legislated Human Rights Act, which NSW does not have, Dr Watchirs said.

Dr Watchirs added that while vaccination passports are a good mechanism to encourage vaccine uptake and combat hesitancy, a conscientious objection exemption needed to be in place.

The exemption would need to be formalised so a person does not undertake the objection lightly.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr said using vaccine passports to tackle vaccine hesitancy was “a solution looking for a problem” in the ACT. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

But Chief Minister Andrew Barr poured cold water on the idea that the ACT needed vaccine passports to encourage vaccinations, saying there is little hesitancy in the Territory.

“In the ACT context, this is a solution looking for a problem,” Mr Barr said.

“The argument for [vaccination passports] is that it will drive up vaccination rates – we have no issue in the ACT with our vaccination rates. They are nation-leading in every cohort.

“The only thing holding back this community from getting to 95 per cent vaccination is available vaccine supply, so we are going to get there based on first doses and booking [figures].

“I acknowledge that [hesitancy] might be an issue in other jurisdictions, and that might be why they pursue [vaccine passports].”

Mr Barr also said that giving vaccinated people more freedoms ahead of others at certain vaccination thresholds would only impact the ACT by a couple of days.

“Why would we go through the entire rigmarole of putting in place such a complex set of systems with fraud risks and compliance nightmares associated with it for the sake of five days of extra vaccinating,” he said. “[It will be] five more days to go from [70 to 80 per cent or from] 80 to 90 per cent,” he said.

“Then you get to the range of philosophical questions about what benefits you would bestow on vaccinated people, particularly when the issue in the ACT is not that people are not wanting to get vaccinated, it is that we do not have enough Pfizer in the city.”

Compliance would be another issue, with Mr Barr asking whose responsibility it would be to check only vaccinated people are in a particular setting.

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Mr Barr also raised philosophical and human rights-based concerns about limiting access to services for people who have not been vaccinated, considering not everyone would have had the chance to get the jab or may be unable to for medical reasons.

He ruled out any exclusion from essential services, like healthcare, for people who were not vaccinated.

In some scenarios, Dr Watchirs said that a negative COVID test may be better and more effective than a vaccination passport.

“It is important to ensure that vaccine passports would only be used in ways that are necessary and proportionate for the legitimate public health reason of controlling COVID,” she said.

Legislative and independent oversight would also be required, she said.

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45 Responses to Vaccine passports raise potential for human rights breaches: Commissioner
Spiral Spiral 1:41 pm 24 Sep 21

If you choose not to get your driver’s license – you can’t drive
If you choose not to have a TFN – you pay more tax
If you choose to not obtain (or carry) any form of Proof of Age – you might not be able to buy some products (such as alcohol), partake in some activities, or enter some establishments
If you choose not to get vaccinated – you might not be able to partake in some activities or enter some establishments

Living in our society requires people to fulfill their obligations as much as they can.

Stop whining.

Get your COVID prick. Don’t be one!

Annette Hemsley Annette Hemsley 1:06 pm 24 Sep 21

Should be up to each business to choose what they want to do and it’s also the choice of each person if they go into an establishment that allows vaccinated and un vaccinated people

Capital Retro Capital Retro 11:04 am 24 Sep 21

I recently discovered some old papers belonging to my late father. Among them was an “Identity Card” Form C.R.3 which was issued by the divisional electoral offices throughout Australia. It was issued to him in 1942 and also included details of his family at that time.

Its need was to cover ID requirements and “important purposes” under national emergency conditions which at that time would have been WW2. The card had to be carried at all times and was “to be shown, at anytime on demand , to any person authorized by law to see it”.

How would that fit with our human rights brigade these days?

whatwik whatwik 3:58 pm 23 Sep 21

Keep in mind for a stay out Mildura way –

Caravan park owners abused for vaccination stance –

MERC600 MERC600 1:52 pm 23 Sep 21

Well I guess our hooman rights people could stop these passports and such, If thats what they’re paid to do.

And so don’ t be surprised when crossing into NSW, or flying into another state, there is a big sign at entry saying “”From the ACT ? No passport ? well bugger off.! Have a nice day.””

    JC JC 5:39 pm 23 Sep 21

    Any vaccine passport should be national. From Medicare maybe.

    And will be interesting to see how the NSW one works for interstate people seeing it is linked to service NSW app. Sure out of staters can get an account toll so they can check in but there is no proof of ID needed to do that. But to link to Covid passport you would think there needs to be proof of ID and a link. Don’t see that being NSW’s priority.

    Which gets back to first point any passport should be federal and from Medicare.

Kylie Tinnock Kylie Tinnock 9:33 pm 22 Sep 21

No we should all be treated equally

    David Newman David Newman 11:19 pm 22 Sep 21

    Kylie Tinnock, yes, we have all been offered the vaccine equally but those who choose not to vaccinate are not treating others with the same respect for their safety as do those who do vaccinate.

    So who is not treating who equally?

    Mircea Stancu Mircea Stancu 1:36 pm 23 Sep 21

    David Newman those not taking the vaccine,maybe they already had the disease.

    Or maybe they do not think the jab is safe enough for them.

    They treat you with respect because they do NOT force you to take a jab, they respect your choice re your own body.

    Please don't be like anti-abortioniats, don't try to control the medical procedures others go through.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 2:41 pm 23 Sep 21

    Mircea Stancu If they've had Covid, I believe just one jab is recommended. Also, I have read several articles saying that natural immunity from having had Covid, doesn't last as long as having had the vaccine. On the net I have come upon several people claiming they have caught Covid more than once. One said the second time was worse than the first. All here-say with no checking possible, but still, not worth risking not being vaccinated.

    Mircea Stancu Mircea Stancu 2:48 pm 23 Sep 21

    Julie Macklin

    There is ample documentation that people who had it are less likely to catch it than those who had the jab.

    So if you want those who caught it to also have the jab (against their wish), then they also could ask you to get the disease, and ask you to be infected on purpose.

    It's fair, and also sounds crazy, doesn't it.

    Or maybe, every person can choose their risk from the vaccine, from the disease and how to mitigate *that risk for their own body*.

    Kylie Tinnock Kylie Tinnock 4:30 pm 23 Sep 21

    Should we really be fighting each other instead of just supporting each other. I don’t want Australia divided into those that have and those that haven’t. And yes I’m vaccinated.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 5:10 pm 23 Sep 21

    Mircea Stancu "Ample documentation", but you didn't show any. Here is some.

    British Society for Immunology

    “It's likely that for most people vaccination against COVID-19 will induce more effective and longer lasting immunity than that induced by natural infection with the virus. Even if you've had COVID-19, you're recommended to get the vaccine because it will boost whatever immunity you have from natural infection.”

    “Unvaccinated health care workers appeared to have less protection against the delta and beta variants compared with alpha about a year after they recovered from mild COVID-19. While 88% of this group had neutralizing antibodies against alpha, only 47% neutralized delta.

    However, recovered health care workers who had received 1 dose of the AstraZeneca, Pfizer, or Moderna vaccines had a marked increase in neutralizing antibody levels against all 3 of these variants compared with their unvaccinated peers. “Vaccination of convalescent individuals boosted the humoral immune response [against delta] well above the threshold of neutralization,” the authors wrote. “These results strongly suggest that vaccination of previously infected individuals will be most likely protective against a large array of circulating viral strains, including variant [d]elta.””

    Not all results are clear.

    “Real world data have also been supportive.14 Several studies (in Qatar,15 England,16 Israel,17 and the US18) have found infection rates at equally low levels among people who are fully vaccinated and those who have previously had covid-19.”

    Far better to get vaccinated, than risk being in the 1 in 40 to 50 who die, or the 1 in 10 (1 in 4 who are hospitalised, or was it just in CPU) who have Long Covid. Some people appear to recover and Long Covid appears after what appeared a recovery.

    Mircea Stancu Mircea Stancu 5:17 pm 23 Sep 21

    Julie Macklin

    Heres a photo, but really, the whole point of principle is, please don't think you have rights over other people's body.

    That's an anti-abortionist stance and it is, really, not ok.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 5:27 pm 23 Sep 21

    Mircea Stancu Not a great source. Please give a scientific or medical source. Such as the 'British Society for Immunology' source I gave. Your other comments are just silly, emotive and illogical (and sound cultish), and show a lack of empathy for others. We don't live in isolation; we live in a community and our actions effect others. Getting a vaccine is not just for the individual (although it is too), but to protect others in the community, and to stop the Petri dish effect of the unvaccinated being a breeding ground for new variants. Yes, even the vaccinated can be a Petri dish for new variants, but the risk is decreased. Refusing to be vaccinated, without a true medical reason, is the height of selfishness.

    Mircea Stancu Mircea Stancu 5:42 pm 23 Sep 21

    Julie Macklin

    I love how you, "generous" and "concerned" types are all about "not being selfish", when it costs you literally nothing, apart from believing what you want to believe.

    And it's awesome how you personally attack others, calling them "selfish" for exercising body autonomy.

    You are, literally, attacking others' character for having a different world view and risk assessment than you.

    Thank you for your authoritarianism, but I am a fully fledged human and in my assessment, I am entitled to exercise body autonomy and personal choice regarding what goes on with my healthy body.

    David Newman David Newman 6:01 pm 23 Sep 21

    Mircea Stancu, the number of people who have actually had the disease here in Australia is quite small compared to those overseas, so the number of people who may have acquired natural immunity (as the ‘out’ you are alluding to) is very low. Are you from Australia (your page suggests not) or are you just trying to put a foreign lens onto our country?

Josette Noble Josette Noble 1:22 pm 22 Sep 21

We don’t need a passport it’s discrimination

    David Newman David Newman 11:21 pm 22 Sep 21

    Josette Noble, vaccine passports already exist - you need your international yellow needle book with proof of vaccination to travel to certain countries. How is this different?

    JeeKay Dee JeeKay Dee 1:07 pm 23 Sep 21

    David Newman because that only impacts you when you want to travel internationally, which most of us don't do very often. This passport will adversely effect people's ability to go about their day-to-day business, reduce or remove earning capacity and reduce or remove their access to family and friends. Sure, it's a similar concept, but on an entirely different scale.

    David Newman David Newman 1:20 pm 23 Sep 21

    JeeKay Dee, that’s true but you need to carry your licence to drive your car so how is this significantly different?

    Mircea Stancu Mircea Stancu 1:35 pm 23 Sep 21

    David Newman well, this is like a licence to breathe. Which we do not need nor want.

    JeeKay Dee JeeKay Dee 1:46 pm 23 Sep 21

    David Newman because that also doesn't stop you from going about your daily business or earning a living. Your whataboutisms just don't ad up.

    Joanne Mitchell Joanne Mitchell 5:20 pm 23 Sep 21

    JeeKay Dee yes, absolutely , I have the international vaccine card and it is needed to enter some countries . But there is a world of difference in travelling globally and just going to a local restaurant to eat 🙂

    David Newman David Newman 5:48 pm 23 Sep 21

    JeeKay Dee, all I am trying to say is that having and producing a means of demonstrating that you have been vaccinated is not that hard. If your argument is simply about vaccinated people getting wider access, then you need to look at this as a health issue. Unvaccinated people are more infectious and that is a fact. If you think that your right to not be vaccinated gives you the right to increase your risk to others, then you are just being selfish

Acton Acton 6:31 am 22 Sep 21

No way. The removal of civil liberties and everyday freedoms is too high a price to pay. A democracy is not compatible with a two class society, pass laws and the equivalent of vaccination apartheid. Read again what she says: “These breaches may include limiting a person’s access to everyday goods and services, infringing on their privacy and autonomy, and restricting their freedom of movement and association.” Protecting democratic freedoms must always take priority over the excessive paranoia of the minority.

Jim Cox Jim Cox 9:02 pm 21 Sep 21

Businesses should be able provide a safe environment for both their staff and patrons. Bring it on.

whatwik whatwik 7:56 pm 21 Sep 21

Confidently guessing the overwhelming majority of us will read that as human rights for those who are vaccinated/ doing the right thing, so shouldn’t be a big issue in the ACT at all.

Kate Smith Kate Smith 7:10 pm 21 Sep 21

What steps are the conscientious objectors going to bring to the table in the interests of public health?

I am all for your choice but please offer something other than your right/ privilege to choose and offer some help in preventing the spread of this disease.

    Mircea Stancu Mircea Stancu 1:34 pm 23 Sep 21

    Kate Smith their right to not be exposed to a medical procedure they are feeling uncomfortable about.

    Kate Smith Kate Smith 7:06 pm 23 Sep 21

    Mircea Stancu this is not what I am saying. You do have the right to choose but what OTHER steps will people who make this choice do to protect themselves and other people who actually CAN’T be vaccinated

    Mircea Stancu Mircea Stancu 10:34 pm 23 Sep 21

    Kate Smith adult healthy humans take care of themselves.

    I like it how y'all speak in my name, and the name of others who can't be vaxed, but please don't.

    Because of can't be vaxed, I am specifically against this insanity. I don't want myself, OR OTHERS, to be treated as second class citizens. If you think a vax mandate will protect those who can't be vaxed, you really haven't been paying attention, my reading is very different.

    All humans need to care for themselves, myself included.

    Hence no need to enforce anything on my fellow man, and this squares nicely with my principles that you shall not coerce people into doing things to their bodies.

kenbehrens kenbehrens 6:25 pm 21 Sep 21

Double dose
Vaccinations Passports that allow the vaccinated to regain their lives would breach the unvaccinated’s Human Rights (because they would be excluded).
Without Vaccination Passports, we’ll need a higher vaccination rates – maybe 95% to enable safer gatherings.
The ALP/Greens Government could introduce legislation to abolish their Human Rights Legislation.
Problem solved and the crowd cheered.

Cube Starr Cube Starr 5:39 pm 21 Sep 21

Human rights commission is run by people wanting a world full of rainbows and unicorns.

    JeeKay Dee JeeKay Dee 1:03 pm 23 Sep 21

    Cube Starr or human rights? The name is right there on the tin.

    Hans Dimpel Hans Dimpel 8:25 am 24 Sep 21

    a world full of rainbows and unicorns would be good. sounds nice.

bladeau bladeau 3:58 pm 21 Sep 21

Pubs have “No thongs or singlets”, banks have “No Motorcycle Helmets”. Nightclubs refuse entry to inebriated people so, why should refusing entry to non-vaccinated people, to public venues be any different? Refusing entry in these circumstances wouldn’t be in breach of their Human Rights, if it were, my other examples would be as well.

    JC JC 5:43 pm 23 Sep 21

    It’s a fine line to be honest. Whilst a business does have right to set standards to enter their premises and the outright right to refuse people from entering, there is a line that gets crossed. An example you couldn’t refuse entry based on ethnicity. So question is where is the line?

    Ian Ian 2:29 pm 24 Sep 21

    Well currently the line is drawn by anti-discrimination legislation. So you can’t exclude people based on race, gender, sexuality, disability etc etc. Vaccine status is not protected, nor should it be.

Tod Davis Tod Davis 3:24 pm 21 Sep 21

I’m extremely pro vaccine however some of the rules being spoken about in NSW and Victoria make me somewhat uncomfortable

    Nat Teh Nat Teh 12:16 pm 23 Sep 21

    Tod it should.

    Hans Dimpel Hans Dimpel 8:26 am 24 Sep 21

    Tod Davis which rules and who is speaking them? Are you sure you aren't being influenced by rightwing conspiracy pages with an agenda?

Capital Retro Capital Retro 12:55 pm 21 Sep 21

Good grief! Do we really need this level of oversight?

Oscar Mike Oscar Mike 12:32 pm 21 Sep 21

Big pharma are trustworthy and always have the best intentions (for their $hareholders). Not once has Pfizer ever been caught for fraud or corruption, you don’t need to check that, just trust me the vaccines are safe, don’t do your own research just trust big pharma.

jwinston jwinston 11:18 am 21 Sep 21

Here we go…sigh

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