A public health order requiring certain people to be vaccinated if they want to go to work is not really a vaccine mandate, lawyers for NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard have told the NSW Supreme Court.
A group of 10 people is trying to overturn orders that require teachers and aged care workers to get the COVID-19 vaccine before they go to work.
They’ve also challenged a separate order that prevents authorised workers from leaving Sydney’s coronavirus hotspots unless they can prove they’ve received the jab.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs on Tuesday told Justice Robert Beech-Jones the orders were an attempt to coerce their clients into receiving a vaccination.
They say the orders are discrimination against a minority group, and that Hazzard had no power to sign off on them.
But Hazzard’s barrister, Jeremy Kirk SC, told the court the case wasn’t about vaccine mandates.
He said the rules were really a temporary restriction on movement, which the plaintiffs could avoid if they decided to get vaccinated.
“There is no requirement for vaccination,” Kirk said.
“There is a condition on the exception (to the stay-at-home orders) which people can take advantage of or not.”
Kirk said the state probably did have the power to force people to be vaccinated if “some terrible disease” like Ebola were threatening society.
But, he said, “Your Honour doesn’t have to decide (that).”
The plaintiffs’ lawyers launched an attack on the efficacy and safety of the COVID-19 vaccines.
But Kirk said that Hazzard had no duty to listen to the opinions of those who are anti-vaccination when there is a large body of evidence supporting the policy behind the public health orders.
The plaintiffs, who include aged care workers and a teacher, say their “fundamental rights” are being violated.
“Is there economic pressure? Yes,” Kirk said in reply.
“But … there are real choices to be made. The fact that there are real choices to be made is illustrated by the 10 plaintiffs who’ve made that choice.”
Teachers and care workers in NSW must be vaccinated by November 8, or they won’t be allowed on the premises of educational facilities.
Aged care workers also need to have received at least one dose before the end of the month.
Health care workers have until the end of November to get both doses.
The Supreme Court will continue hearing closing submissions in the case today (Wednesday).