One Nation’s anti-Covid vaccination mandate bill has been rejected in the Senate, despite five government senators crossing the floor to support it.
On Monday morning Liberals Gerard Rennick and Alex Antic, who have threatened to withhold support from government legislation, voted for the bill contradicting the Morrison government’s aged care vaccine mandate and state government public health orders.
The rebel pair were joined by Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Matt Canavan and Sam McMahon, who has opened a fresh front of dispute with her own government, complaining her territory rights bill to restore legislative power on euthanasia had been bumped from the agenda to make way for the vaccine mandate debate.
One Nation leader, Pauline Hanson, and senator Malcolm Roberts signalled they supported their bill, but were not allowed to vote in the Senate as both attended parliament remotely from Queensland.
At a press conference, Scott Morrison played down the significance of the government division, explaining that the Liberal and National parties are “not run as an autocracy”.
“We don’t take people out of our party if we happen to disagree on an issue they feel strongly,” he told reporters in Canberra. “The government opposed the bill … and the bill has not been successful.”
The vote is a curtain-raiser for a difficult sitting fortnight for the government, which faces internal criticism of its religious discrimination bill, a crossbench revolt calling for a national integrity commission despite Coalition delay, and the prospect of its controversial voter ID bill being shunted to a Senate committee.
One Nation’s bill proposed banning discrimination on Covid-19 vaccination status in the fields of goods, services, facilities, employment, education, accommodation and sport.
The bill would have overridden state health orders requiring customers of businesses including retail and hospitality to be vaccinated, a centrepiece of reopening plans that have helped boost vaccination rates and keep vaccinated patrons safe in states with coronavirus outbreaks.
It also contradicted vaccine mandates linked to employment, including the nationwide requirement for aged care workers to be vaccinated, and more extensive mandates in states including New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.
Morrison told reporters the bill would have “threatened funding for hospitals and schools” and seek to “centralise power more in Canberra” which the Coalition had traditionally opposed.
“I respect the fact that individual members will express a view and vote accordingly and that’s what’s happened today.”
Introducing the bill on Monday morning, Hanson warned senators “if you don’t support my legislation, then you don’t support Australian democracy and freedom and you don’t support the right to choose”.
Canavan foreshadowed an amendment to carve out the aged care sector, but ultimately supported the bill, arguing “you should not need to undergo a medical procedure to earn a living”.
Independent Jacqui Lambie excoriated One Nation for the private senator’s bill, accusing the minor party of “using fear to make money”.
“It’s all about cash, it’s all about power, it’s all about One Nation seats, and that is all this is,” Lambie told the Senate.
Lambie said that people are free to choose not to be vaccinated “but if you make a choice, those choices have consequences” including that you “can’t work where you want to work”.
“If you want to work as a cabbie, you need a licence to drive a cab, [but] people without a licence are not being discriminated against.
“If you want to work in aged care, you need to have a flu vaccine – that has always been in place since before Covid-19 was even a twinkle in a Chinese bat’s eye …
“People have a right to choose, but you don’t have a right to put vulnerable people’s lives at risk.”
In November Guardian Australia revealed Rennick would withhold his vote unless the government improved the indemnity scheme for people who experience adverse effects from vaccines, including by removing a $5,000 threshold for costs before patients can make a claim.
In the Senate, Rennick added that he wanted compensation for loss of income and “in the case of healthy people with no underlying conditions, the onus should be on the government to prove that the injury is not caused by the vaccine”.
“Politicians should not be holding people to ransom with their health,” Rennick said. “They should not be held for ransom with their livelihoods.”
Labor’s Kristina Keneally told the Senate the opposition supports mandatory vaccines when based on public health advice and accused Morrison of “pandering to these extremist elements” by allowing debate on Hanson’s bill.
Debate on the bill was facilitated by the government, taking up private senator’s bill time that McMahon had argued should be spent on her territory rights bill.
In a statement, McMahon accused Hanson of having “hijacked legislation priorities” by threatening to withhold her vote unless it was debated.
“I am extremely disappointed this has occurred to all territorians,” McMahon said. “I was pushing along with other senior government leaders for this to occur, however Senator Hanson made it quite clear where her priorities were, and they aren’t [with] territorians.”
At the conclusion of debate, Hanson asked that her and Malcolm Roberts’ vote for the bill be recorded, but the government leader in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, explained that although their intention could be noted on hansard, it “doesn’t change the tally”.
Just the five government senators voted in its favour, with Labor, the Greens, Lambie, Stirling Griff and the majority of government senators combining to defeat the bill.