National Cabinet held its weekly meeting on Friday, with lockdowns, rapid antigen testing and the issue of mandatory vaccinations on the agenda.
The meeting between Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state and territory leaders was held a day after Victoria was plunged into its sixth lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Victoria joined Greater Sydney and South East Queensland in lockdown – with half of Australians under stay-at-home orders.
Mr Morrison said the Solicitor-General shared his advice on circumstances where employers may be seeking to require employees to have vaccines, or where a business may seek to deny access to a premise or service to those who are or who are not vaccinated.
“It is not the intention of the Commonwealth nor of the states and territories to create any special laws in these areas,” the Prime Minister said.
“The only area where that has occurred to date has been public health orders around quarantine workers.
“The advice makes clear that there are matters regarding discrimination law and unreasonableness of any direction made to an employee and that reasonableness goes over four tiers and all of this is explained through the Fair Work advice.”
Mr Morrison said Australia did not have a mandatory vaccination policy.
“We do not have that. We’re not proposing to have that. That’s not changing. But an employer may make a reasonable directive to staff and if they do so, they will have to stay consistent with the law,” he said.
The Prime Minister said the government will look to expand the use of rapid antigen testing as a public health measure to battle the virus.
“It is an important tool to be used at the right state of the process and it’s being used right now in essential workplaces, it’s being used now for medical workers in major care facilities and has a specific purpose at this point,” he said.
“There will be further work done to prepare for those phases (of the pathway out of the pandemic) and how rapid antigen testing can be better used in those phases but for now, will be continue to be used in a targeted way and continue to work with the Therapeutic Goods Administration to see more of those tests coming available.”
Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said while there where “worrying signs in terms of unlinked cases” in the Sydney COVID-19 outbreak and there was “clearly a need for a circuit breaker”, case numbers had been suppressed.
“Pleasingly that outbreak is being suppressed,” he said.
“We would have expected without the vaccination, and without the lockdown and without the other measures that are in place, this would have been much higher rates of illness, hospitalisation and death up to now. And that hadn’t been the case.”
After last week’s National Cabinet, Mr Morrison outlined vaccine targets Australia needed to achieve to reopen the economy, restart international travel and learn to live with the virus without widespread restrictions.
The vaccine targets, which forms the pathway out of the pandemic, was “fully agreed to” on Friday, the Prime Minister said.
Australia is currently in the suppression phase and will move to Phase B once 70 per cent of the eligible population is vaccinated, followed by Phase C when 80 per cent of the eligible population has received both doses.
Meanwhile, previously withheld ‘secret’ National Cabinet documents may soon be made available to the wider public.
The Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruled in favour of Independent Senator Rex Patrick declaring the committee is not protected under Freedom Of Information legislation.
The judgement, delivered by Federal Court judge Richard White on Thursday, said the National Cabinet had not been established as a committee of the Morrison Cabinet and as such could not be included under the “secrecy exemption” of the FOI ACT.