Government Works to Win Over Disillusioned Senators Concerned with Vaccine Mandates

By Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
November 21, 2021 Updated: November 22, 2021

The Coalition government is working to bring two disillusioned senators back on board after they vowed to withhold their vote on government legislation in Parliament in response to vaccine mandates.

Vaccine mandates have finally taken centre-stage on the federal political scene in the final sitting weeks of Parliament after the prime minister weighed in and spoke out against forcing Australians to take the jab.

However, Simon Birmingham, the federal finance minister of the Liberal-National Coalition, said the government would not overhaul any mandates.

“The government won’t be dictated to. We will do as we’ve always done, which is work with our health advisors,” Senator Birmingham told ABC Radio on Nov. 22.

“What I urge any parliamentarian to do is not to hold one issue to another unrelated issue. Each piece of legislation ought to be considered on its merits.”

But, Birmingham said the party would respect the stance of the senators.

“It is a time-honoured tradition of the Liberal National Party … that we allow our MPs to cross the floor without being tossed out of the party,” he said.

“However, it’s a right that should always be used sparingly, and I would urge any member of parliament to not conflate unrelated issues.”

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said discussions were ongoing.

“We will continue to present to the parliament important pieces of legislation,” he told the Seven Network on Nov. 22.

Frydenberg said vaccine mandates were an issue for the states.

Last week, South Australian Liberal Senator Alex Antic joined his colleague Queensland Senator Gerard Rennick in pledging to withhold their vote over vaccine mandates and concerns around the safety of the inoculation.

“Australians deserve the freedom to choose their own medical treatment and way of life,” Antic wrote on his Facebook page on Nov. 12.

“It is not reasonable for Australians to be discriminated against based on their decision to submit (or otherwise) to a medical procedure,” he added.

Pauline Hanson of the One Nation party has also promised to disrupt any government attempts to pass legislation.

“I’m going to cause so much mayhem in that parliament, as Scott Morrison is doing to the Australian people,” she said last week in comments obtained by The Courier Mail.

The government currently holds 36 out of 76 seats in the Australian Senate.

Outside of bills with broad bipartisan support, the government relies heavily on support from the crossbench—and every Coalition vote—to pass new laws.

Parliament is due for its final sitting this year from Nov. 22.

State governments are currently responsible for issuing vaccine mandates. However, the federal government could step in—based on its constitutional authority—to override the states.

The move, however, would be politically challenging, given that vaccine mandates also play into the government’s national roadmap to reopening the country—which relies heavily on increased vaccination rates.

Further, with a federal election due, stepping in to supersede a state government’s efforts to vaccinate the population could set up a clash with state premiers—who have enjoyed popular support in response to their handling of the pandemic. Four incumbent leaders have won resounding election victories in the past year.

Last week, however, Prime Minister Scott Morrison began speaking out against compulsory inoculations, which came soon after the Senator’s Antic and Rennick publicly announced they would withhold their votes.

“We’re not in favour of mandatory vaccines imposed by the government. Businesses can make their own choices under the law, but we’re not about telling them what to do or telling Australians what to do,” he told reporters.

The prime minister has also attracted criticism from the opposition leader for not being more forthright in condemning allegedly “violent” protests in Melbourne last week.

“The prime minister should be capable of just showing leadership, not being weak, and saying these comments, and this behaviour is unacceptable in Australia in 2020,” Albanese told ABC Radio.

“I hold the prime minister responsible for failing to call out unequivocally, the violent and extreme comments that are made, the taking of gallows, the threatening of Labor MPs and premiers and independents.”

Last week, protestors gathered in front of Melbourne’s Parliament against the state’s impending Pandemic Management Bill. A group of protestors paraded a set of gallows during the protest, while some MPs have reported receiving death threats.