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Vaccine mandate challenge heads to court

More than 100 essential workers and employers are challenging Victoria’s vaccine mandates in a fresh case before Victoria’s Supreme Court.

Melbourne couple Belinda and Jack Cetnar filed a case challenging the mandates last week, but after a judge recommended they get legal advice they’ve joined a larger action led by healthcare worker Simon Harding.

Mr Harding’s case against Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and acting CHOs Deborah Friedman and Benjamin Cowie is set for a directions hearing on Wednesday.

It involves 18 healthcare workers, 13 construction workers, nine people in education, 58 authorised workers and 21 employers.

Represented by Marcus Clarke QC, they want Victoria’s vaccine mandates quashed and an order made by the court declaring that they’re invalid.

They argue that health officials failed to give proper consideration to human rights and that the declaration is incompatible with Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights.

Documents filed in the Supreme Court allege health officials acted under direction and “at the behest of the Premier of Victoria and failed to give any independent consideration as to whether it was appropriate”.

The case also alleges the health officers acted “illogically or irrationally” in concluding that the vaccine mandate directions were necessary to protect public health.

One of the plaintiffs in the case is an employee of CSL, which manufactured the Astra Zeneca vaccine in Australia.

In a statement the company said it had strongly encouraged employees to engaged with scientific evidence validating the role of vaccines in reducing the severity of COVID-19 symptoms, including death.

A staff survey found 96 per cent of employees had received at least one dose of a vaccine.

The company said they were committed to helping a “very small group” of unvaccinated employees build their knowledge about the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, adding that they expect all employees to comply with the government mandates.

A trial on the issue was due to begin on Monday in the Cetnars’ case but was adjourned.

Ms Cetnar, a casual relief teacher representing herself and her husband, had also argued the blanket mandate didn’t consider the human rights of those it was imposed on.

She alleged there had been a failure to consider less restrictive means including rapid antigen tests and PPE.

“The proposed directives to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for school or childcare staff is not a proportionate response to the Covid-19 pandemic in circumstances where there is a 99.9 per cent survival rate and children mostly suffer mild effects from the disease,” she said in court documents.

The case, before Justice Melinda Richards, will be live streamed.

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