Scott Morrison’s suggestion that small businesses should decide for themselves when it comes to vaccine mandates undermines state health orders, but it also creates yet more confusion for small business owners, leaving them “flying blind” once again.
In parliament on Monday, the Prime Minister said it should be up to small businesses whether or not they choose to serve unvaccinated customers or impose vaccine mandates on staff members.
While he voiced his support for vaccine mandates among those who work in healthcare, and the right of other businesses to require vaccines, “it is not the Commonwealth government’s policy that they should be told to do that, wherever that is in the country”, he said.
“We support mandatory vaccines for health workers, for aged care workers, for disability workers … those who are working with vulnerable people,” he added.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
“But when it comes to what happens in somebody’s business, we believe businesses should make that decision.”
The comments came in response to a challenge from Labor Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers, who questioned Morrison’s earlier comments that criticised the upcoming changes to restrictions in Queensland.
When the state hits an 80% double-vaccination rate, or on December 17, restrictions will ease for fully vaccinated people only, meaning business owners and staff will have to check customers’ vaccine certificates on arrival.
Morrison reportedly said people should be able to “get a cup of coffee in Brisbane without showing their vaccine certificate”.
That’s despite similar rules applying in both Victoria and New South Wales.
The Prime Minister’s latest comments contradict health orders in various states and territories.
But Alexi Boyd, chief executive of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA), tells SmartCompany it also breeds yet more confusion for small business owners.
Public health orders have created some clarity around vaccine mandates, Boyd explains.
They answered questions about which employees and customers had to be vaccinated, and in which industries, and about who could and could not return to the workplace — all clarifications COSBOA had been calling for as the reopening roadmaps were announced.
Morrison has effectively unravelled that without providing any framework to help business owners make mandate decisions, Boyd says.
“It’s not fair for the government to be pushing this onto small businesses when they have not provided clarity around the legal liability,” she explains.
“They’re flying blind.”
Decisions made at both state and federal government levels affect businesses day-to-day. In the earlier stages of the pandemic, rules for businesses were changing almost by the hour, Boyd says.
Business owners have had two years of navigating regulations they have never had to deal with before, as well as a whole lot of red tape and paperwork related to support measures.
That’s before they had to comply with reopening roadmaps, vaccine mandates and health orders.
“To turn around and say, ‘well, it should be simple’ is not really a recognition of all businesses have been through in the last few months,” Boyd says.
“We are watching closely and listening carefully to what politicians have to say.”