Legal expert questions suspension of Victorian Member of Parliament for refusing to show proof of vaccination

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An advocate for constitutional reform in Australia warns that an MP in northern Victoria has potentially had his political freedoms hampered, after being suspended from parliament for refusing to show proof of vaccination.

Northern Victoria Liberal Democrat MP Tim Quilty will be suspended until the second sitting day of the 2022 parliamentary year.

Victoria became the first Australian state to demand that all MPs be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be expelled from parliament.

Last week, the Victorian Upper House of Parliament voted to pass a bill requiring MPs and their staff to show proof of their immunization status or be excluded from the building.

The move came as the deadline for essential workers in Victoria to receive at least one dose of COVID-19 was also passed.

About a million workers in dozens of industries will now have to prove that they have received a dose of the vaccine or have made an appointment by October 22, unless they have a medical exemption.

Charles Sturt University lecturer in law Dr Bede Harris said he understood the decision to suspend parliamentarians who refused to show proof of vaccination was unprecedented.

“It is the first Australian court to do so,” he said.

“So many different countries have taken so many different approaches.

“I haven’t heard of lawmakers being excluded on the basis of or not being vaccinated, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened somewhere.”

A case to argue

Dr Harris said it was possible to oppose the suspensions, based on the implicit freedom of political communication.

The High Court ruled that an implicit freedom of political communication exists as an indispensable part of the system of representative and accountable government created by the Constitution.

“In applying (the suspension) to this legislation, is the question of limiting the implicit freedom of political communication? ” he said.

“Well, that is certainly the case with a member of Parliament who is suspended because he refuses to be vaccinated.

“And it does so because it is of the essence of representative government that people are represented by their MPs in parliament, and that their MPs can express their views on behalf of their constituents.”

He said a main argument rests on whether the suspension was an appropriate punishment.

“I understand that Mr Quilty and the other MPs have been suspended until the second sitting day of 2022.

“During this time he is unable to attend parliament and hold meetings in the parliament building, so yes, I think there is definitely some sort of defensible case here.”

Mr Quilty said he did not regret his position, even if it meant he would be excluded from parliamentary business.

Victorian MPs and their staff are required to show proof of their immunization status or be excluded from the parliament building.(ABC News: Amy Bainbridge)

“I am disappointed that 31 deputies voted in favor of this strangulation of democracy, and only four of us opposed it,” he said.

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