’m not sure why we get so many cases involving Queensland Ambulance, but today’s post reports on another one – Bishop v State of Queensland (Queensland Ambulance Service)  QIRC 292.
Ms Bishop was an emergency medical dispatcher. Pursuant to the Code of Practice and QAS HR Procedure – COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements (13 September 2022) Ms Bishop was required to provide evidence to confirm that she had received required COVID-19 vaccinations, or apply for an exemption. Ms Bishop applied for an exemption, which was denied. Ms Bishop applied for an internal review of the decision. That review confirmed the outcome that her application for an exemption was refused. She then applied for an external review, and this decision is the Industrial Relations Commission determination of that external review (-).
This type of appeal is not a hearing ‘de novo’ that is the QIRC does not get to make a fresh decision based on the Commissioner’s own assessment of the merits. This a judicial review where the Commission’s role is to determine if the decision on the internal review was ‘fair and reasonable’ (, ).
An exemption under the policy would only be granted in ‘exceptional or extenuating circumstances.’ I will not repeat all of Ms Bishop’s concerns, but the QAS position (at ) was ‘… it is clear from the material that Ms Bishop is hesitant about receiving the vaccine, but that vaccine hesitancy is not an exceptional circumstance.’
The Commission restated a principle that many people who have sought to challenge workplace vaccine mandates fail to grasp. That is (at ):
… an appeal against a decision to refuse an exemption application is not an avenue to appeal the vaccination policy or to debate the science which supports the COVID-19 vaccinations. Those are matters to be considered through other avenues …
The QIRC cannot enter into the debate about whether or not the vaccines are effective or the risk/benefit. Those decisions are made by others such as relevant ministers and the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
The Commission accepted that the COVID vaccination policy was a lawful direction. When considering her application for an exemption QAS considered her individual circumstances but (at ) there are ‘no reason to determine that Ms Bishop’s individual circumstances are such that she should be exempted from the requirement to be vaccinated.’
The internal reviewer considered Ms Bishop’s argument that the policy infringed her human rights (protected as they are by the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld)) and determined that they were ‘satisfied that any limits on human rights engaged are justified by the need to ensure the readiness of the health system in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, to protect the lives of employees, patients and the community they serve and to discharge the QAS’s legal obligations’.
The Commission affirmed (as have others see for example Kassam v Hazzard discussed in the post – Requiring COVID vaccines for emergency workers (April 1, 2022)) that workplace requirements do not make vaccines mandatory. At  Commissioner Pidgeon said:
Ms Bishop retains the capacity to determine if she will consent to receiving the vaccine. It is open to Ms Bishop to determine whether she will comply with the direction of her employer in the knowledge that this may have consequences for her employment.
People talk about informed consent. Telling people that their choice – to accept a vaccination or not – does not deny informed consent. It gives them information they need to help make that choice.
The Commission determined (at ) that during the internal review the decision maker:
… provided a detailed response addressing the grounds raised by Ms Bishop in her request for internal review. The internal review decision included detailed consideration of the initial decision … refusing Ms Bishop’s request for an exemption. I am satisfied that the Internal Review decision has addressed the matters raised by Ms Bishop in a fair and reasonable way.
Rejecting the appeal is not the end of the matter, it simply confirms that Ms Bishop does not have an exemption. It is now up to her to decide whether to comply with the policy or refuse to do so with whatever employment consequences that may bring.
And for two more cases raising similar objections, and with the same outcome (ie the decision to refuse the exemption was upheld) see:
- Fawcett v State of Queensland (Queensland Ambulance Service) No 2  QIRC 314 (11 August 2022);
- Brown v State of Queensland (Queensland Ambulance Service)  QIRC 312 (09 August 2022); and
- Boehm v State of Queensland (Queensland Health)  QIRC 321 (08 August 2022)
This blog is made possible with generous financial support from the Australasian College of Paramedicine, the Australian Paramedics Association (NSW), Natural Hazards Research Australia, NSW Rural Fire Service Association and the NSW SES Volunteers Association. I am responsible for the content in this post including any errors or omissions. Any opinions expressed are mine, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or understanding of the donors.