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  • Writer's picturePete Jonson

It’s not hesitancy it’s refusal

Updated: Sep 2, 2021

John Stuart Mill in his famous essay On Liberty argued that the sole justification for interfering with the liberty of an individual is the prevention of harm to others. Mill’s liberty principle is the usual starting point for serious discussions concerning state interference with individual’s liberty in liberal democracies. You cannot kill another person, or rob him and you cannot drive at 200kpm through the CBD. These are the easy cases. There are harder ones – compulsory seat-belts and compulsory superannuation to name just two.

So where would Mill stand in regard to dealing with the current Pandemic? At the beginning of 2020 we did not know how lethal the virus would prove to be. Not did we have any effective vaccines. In those circumstances the only effective tools for impeding the spread of the virus were isolation and quarantine.

But now the situation is different. It is estimated that the death toll from the virus even if no preventative measures had been taken would have been about 30,000 Australians. 30,000 deaths is not good but then its nothing like the Black Death which is estimated to have killed a third of the population of Europe. And there are effective vaccines available – 6 million doses of Astra Zenica are just sitting there.

Mandatory vaccination in this pandemic is not something the Government considers appropriate and nor should it. That level of interference with the liberty of the individual cannot be justified by the morbidity and mortality associated with Covid. If we were in a Black Death situation however I think it would be. (More practically however if were in the midst of a Black Death pandemic I think there would be a rampage to get to those 6 million doses of AZ first!) Situations change cases. Its not primarily about interference with bodily integrity as is often suggested, rather it’s about the magnitude of the possible harm to others.

As I write my husband and I (fully vaccinated with AZ) are not permitted to cross the road to have dinner with our neighbours (also fully vaccinated with AZ). We would not be posing a risk of any significance to anyone. So why not? Our liberty is certainly being interfered with. If we had been locked down only for a week or two then arguably it would be justifiable but this has now gone on for months. It is now a significant interference with our liberty. And what about the restaurant owner who will lose his business, and the young couple who will lose their home? The lock-down is certainly an interference with their liberty. Why cannot the restaurant owner require both his staff and customers to be vaccinated and open up? They would not be posing a risk of any significance either.

The other advantage in liberating the vaccinated is that it would encourage the non-vaccinated to get vaccinated so they too could return to their normal lives. The time has passed when it can be credibly argued that large sections of the population are unaware of the dangers of Covid and the availability and efficacy of the vaccines. The term “hesitancy” that is used to describe these individuals is utterly inappropriate and inaccurate. When you head your horse into a jump and it stops dead that is not hesitancy it is REFUSAL.

Its fine if some people choose not to have the vaccine but governments should not continue to infringe on the significant liberties of the rest of us so that the risk of this section of the population contracting Covid is minimized. The Treasurer made the most useful contribution to the situation last week when he signalled that the money flow will cease when we achieve a 70% vaccination rate. The Prime Minister should set a concrete date for re-opening Australia whatever the vaccination rate.

Mrs T (alias Elizabeth Prior Jonson)


Fiona Prior explores crimes of passions and shifting social mores. More here.

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