Federal Police Begin Sacking Officers Opposed to Vaxxine Mandate
By Peter Brewer
Allegations of breaches of the Commonwealth Privacy Act, unreasonable actions, pressure and coercion have been raised by sworn members facing termination from the Australian Federal Police in the wake of the organisation’s vaccination mandate.
The local allegations come in the wake of legal challenges to vaccination mandates in other jurisdictions, with South Australian Police Commissioner Grant Stevens this week telling the SA Supreme Court that he had worked with Chief Health Officer Nicola Spurrier to develop ways to reintroduce unvaccinated employees while mitigating risk to other police and the public.
However, the shifting of restrictions elsewhere has had no effect on the federal police mandate, which encompasses any personnel “who regularly attend AFP workplaces”, including “special members”, secondees, contractors, consultants and service providers such as cleaning and security staff.
Sackings have begun and more notices will be delivered in the weeks ahead for those not complying with federal police Commissioner Reece Kershaw’s order of 29 October 2021 made under the AFP Act.
A group of AFP appointees opposed to the mandate, all over the age over 50 and with an average of more than 20 years’ service between them, met with The Canberra Times to voice their concerns over their claims of the organisation’s handling of sensitive health information, lack of proper consultation internally, and “pressure and coercion tactics” employed against them.
They also claim they have been prevented from working and entering their normal place of work. Some are exploring their legal options given that in WA late last year, the Supreme Court granted an injunction to a police constable which prevented his dismissal for failing to comply with the Commissioner’s vaccination direction.
The AFP has denied any privacy breaches however, it is responding to one complaint about the disclosure of vaccination information.
A group of sworn AFP officers have expressed their concerns over how the organisation has handled the vaccine mandate. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
All AFP appointees were required to have received their first vaccination by November 8 last year and their second by February 14 this year, with a further demand for all appointees to have a booster shot.
The AFP said a formal risk assessment was undertaken last year which identified that AFP members were at significant risk of becoming seriously ill as a result of workforce exposure without “fulsome treatment of the COVID risk through vaccination”.
“Without taking this decision, the AFP faced becoming increasingly incompatible both operationally and administratively with key partners,” a police spokesperson said.
“Having an entirely vaccinated workforce will become an increasingly unavoidable necessity to maintain operational capacity and capability.”
As at April 7, 94.2 per cent of the federal police workforce was fully vaccinated and 95.2 per cent had received at least one vaccination.
Around 100 members of a total AFP cohort of around 8000 are understood to have chosen not to provide evidence of a COVID-19 vaccination. None have been offered voluntary redundancies, alternate duties as an alternative to termination, nor have they been offered medical discharges.
The AFP says voluntary redundancy is only offered to those who are “in excess to the AFP’s requirements”, and that employees who elect to take prolonged periods of leave “severely impacts the operational capacity of the organisation”.
Some of the privacy breaches alleged by members include the internal circulation and display of personal sensitive health information showing the names of members, vaccination status, type of vaccine, dates and informal advice issued to employees which identifies the unvaccinated members and not to associate with them.
The Privacy Act sets strict obligations on agencies on the collection, use, holding, disclosure of personal sensitive health information. Including transparency around use, sighting rather than collection and holding, “where reasonably practical”.
Federal police begin sacking officers opposed to vaccine mandate
It also requires a privacy impact assessment in the development stages of new policies that involve the handling of personal sensitive health information.
While the Privacy Act provides certain exemptions relating to the AFP as a law enforcement body when conducting “enforcement related activities”, the aggrieved the members assert that protection of public health is not a direct AFP enforcement activity and function.
Within the ranks of the federal police, Commissioner’s orders traditionally are deemed sacrosanct and under Section 40 of the AFP Act, it states unequivocally that an AFP appointee must not disobey or fail to carry out “a lawful direction, instruction or order” issued by the Commissioner or delegate.
The aggrieved appointees say there was no proper consultation, with about 11 days between the notice of intent to mandate and the mandate being made.
They say they are being “treated like lepers” within the organisation in contravention of the two of the AFP’s core values: respect and fairness.
“We were not expecting any favours from the organisation but we were expected to be treated with dignity and respect,” one sworn member, who spoke to The Canberra Times, said.
“I’m shocked they’ve pulled the trigger on this given that we are all long-standing, loyal employees, most of us with decades of experience.”
One member said that he could not understand why the organisation is taking such a “hard and fast” stance on vaccination to the point of terminating long-standing sworn members when mandates were easing across the country.
The group claim they are not “anti-vaxxers” and talked about receiving vaccines as part of their initial appointments to the AFP, and their deployment.
The interviewed members all report having a clean record regarding performance, behaviours and have had no investigations against them.
They say this is a “disproportionate decision” when there have been more serious breaches of Commissioners orders relating to such matters as security, harassment and bullying, where decisions to terminate were not made.