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Police, staff go to court to challenge state's vaccination mandate


About 50 Queensland police officers and staff members have taken their fight over a COVID-19 vaccine mandate to the Industrial Relations Commission, claiming the directive is invalid.

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More than 55 police and staff members have been suspended for not complying with Commissioner Katarina Carroll’s directive for 17,200 in the force to have jabs.

In September Carroll directed staff have at least one vaccination shot by October 4 and a second dose by January 24.

But barrister Thomas Allan – representing 39 officers and 10 staff members – told the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission on Thursday that Ms Carroll failed to comply with certified agreements and the relevant award, failed to consult over the directive, and made a directive that was beyond her powers.

Three of the applicants gave evidence in the Industrial Relations Commission hearing attended by about 50 people on Thursday.

The court also heard from Deputy Commissioner Douglas Smith who said consultation before the directive was issued included a meeting with five unions on September 1.

The police commissioner’s legal representative James Murdoch QC told the hearing it would be “stupidity” to suggest the organisation could consult with thousands of staff individually, or without dealing with unions.

Asked whether there had been an increase in staff with concerns about their well-being since the directive, Smith said a number had raised welfare issues in the exemption process.

Murdoch also called specialist infectious diseases physician Dr Andrew Redmond, who said vaccination aimed to prevent acquisition of disease or the development of severe manifestation of disease.

The Queensland Police Union has joined the government in responding to the action by the officers and staff, which has received more than $122,000 in support through crowdfunding.

“We are not pro- or anti- the vaccine – this is not a pro- or anti- vaccine matter,” a GoFundMe page states.

“It is a question of whether our employers, on behalf of the government, can authorise civil conscription and interfere with the relationship between a patient and their doctor by mandating a vaccine.”

Carroll previously said any staff member who failed to meet the deadline would be suspended for a week on pay and then asked to show cause why they should not be suspended without pay.

Under the police direction, exemptions can be given for health or religious reasons or in exceptional circumstances.

Police said they are working through internal records to identify members who had not received at least one COVID-19 vaccination and do not have an approved exemption.

As of Wednesday, the 36 officers and 24 staff members had been suspended, but since then one officer and one staff member had complied with the direction and had their suspension revoked, a spokesperson said.

A total of 438 employees were yet to officially record their vaccination in line with the commissioner’s direction.

“The majority of those are not in the workplace due to a variety of reasons including maternity leave, pre-retirement leave and leave due to medical issues,” the spokesperson told AAP on Thursday.

It appeared there had been no significant change in resignation rates, with police unable to provide specific numbers of members who had quit due to the vaccine mandate.

The Industrial Relations Commission bid is separate to a Supreme Court challenge involving police and healthcare workers.

Legal representatives in that matter will argue over whether the court has jurisdiction regarding mandatory vaccines in a two-day hearing next week.

Officers behind the legal challenge are fighting a direction they say “impairs, affects or removes their fundamental common law rights”.

During a review in the Brisbane Supreme Court earlier this week, Justice Jean Dalton extended a suspension of the mandate for those workers who are applicants in the proceedings.

The full bench of the Commission is expected to hand down its decision within a week.

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