Qantas’ no-vaccine-no-fly mandate is absolutely legal — and not the first of its kind

Qantas-CEO-Alan-Joyce

Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce. Source: AAP/Biance De Marchi.

Qantas passengers travelling internationally will have to prove they have had a COVID-19 jab to fly on the airline, CEO Alan Joyce has confirmed.

Qantas is one of the first major corporations to introduce the mandate.

Despite some alarm over the announcement, vaccine requirements are absolutely legal in Australia and the norm in many industries. But how likely is it that other organisations will follow suit?

You’ve forgotten how normal this is

University of Sydney medico-legal expert Professor Cameron Stewart told Crikey the legislation allowing Qantas to introduce the vaccine mandate is not new.

“The contract between Qantas and its customers, and the terms of service of the airline, can determine things like a dress code and the way people behave,” he says.

“There are individual freedoms mandating these things. If I own the place or the plane, I get to decide who gets into or onto it.”

Sporting events, racecourses and ticketed events can all refuse entry and set requirements for customers.

Vaccines are also a requirement to work in many professions. Health workers need to be protected from most diseases, and plumbers have to be up to date on their Hepatitis B vaccinations, Stewart says.

Companies will have to allow exemptions for people with conditions preventing them from being vaccinated, lest they run afoul of anti-discrimination laws.

“We need to be wary of pandemic exemptionalism,” Stewart says.

“This stuff isn’t new … the laws that are there have been there for a while and are operating very well.”

What about public spaces?

If private companies can introduce vaccine requirements, can governments do the same?

According to Stewart, the answer is yes.

Local councils could implement a vaccine mandate for anyone entering a library, for example, because they own the space.

State governments could likewise implement one for entry to public spaces — though this could get controversial.

“There might be stronger arguments against public spaces, though these are likely to be more political than legal,” Stewart says.

Will other airlines follow suit?

Airlines might not have to introduce mandates themselves, with the Australian government flagging vaccination as a possible condition of re-entry into the country.

Shortly after Joyce made the comments in an interview with A Current Affair last night, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced it was developing a digital health pass to help governments verify health and vaccine information for passengers.

University of Technology Sydney behavioural economics Professor Lionel Page told Crikey some airlines may use the requirements as a way to target customers.

“Those who are risk-averse might want to fly on Qantas, where they feel safe, while non-risk adverse passengers might take other airlines,” he says.

“You may have a sorting of passengers.”

Whether customers turn away from the airline or support it comes down to a perception of fairness, Page says.

“If you think it targets you and feels unfair, you may react negatively.”

This article was first published by Crikey.

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