The Northern Territory Supreme Court has been asked to decide before Christmas Day whether a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for workers is legal.
- Three men have filed a legal challenge against the NT Chief Health Officer’s vaccination mandate
- The trio are unvaccinated and face the prospect of losing their jobs on Christmas Day
- They have asked the Supreme Court to hold an expedited hearing on December 23
Opponents of the mandate last week filed a legal challenge against the Chief Health Officer’s direction that required most workers in the NT to have had one dose by mid-November and a second dose by December 24.
Those who fail to adhere to the direction are forbidden from attending their workplaces, and face fines of more than $5,000 if they breach the order.
The court today heard the three men contesting the mandate faced the prospect of losing their livelihoods because of their decisions not to get vaccinated.
“The choice for the plaintiffs is either to remain unvaccinated and lose their employment, or to be vaccinated and to retain their employment,” their lawyer, Danial Kelly, said.
The three men — Ray Phillips, Conan Thomas Hammett and John Anstess — were stood down from their jobs last month, and challenged the mandate on five separate legal grounds.
The first and main argument is that the Chief Health Officer does not have the legal authority to prohibit unvaccinated people from attending their workplaces.
The four other arguments include claims the direction is unlawful and that it is “manifestly unreasonable” to categorise all Aboriginal people as being “vulnerable” to COVID-19.
Mr Kelly urged the court to grant an expedited hearing on December 23, in order to make a ruling by the following day, which is the deadline for the mandate.
But the Chief Health Officer’s lawyer, Lachlan Peattie, told the court his client was “strongly” opposed to holding the hearing so soon.
Mr Peattie said a similar challenge to vaccination mandates in Victoria was scheduled to take five months before going to trial.
He said the case was complex and would require multiple health experts to give evidence.
He also said if there was any need to hear the matter on urgency, it was the plaintiffs’ fault, as the Chief Health Officer had published his direction almost two months ago.
“The subject matter that we are dealing with is hardly trivial,” Mr Peattie said.
“There’s a great public interest in the general application of these directions.
“And it’s not a matter to be rushed because the plaintiff comes to this court late.”
Justice Sonia Brownhill said it was desirable to hear the case as soon as possible, but that both parties needed to be satisfied with the schedule.
Mr Kelly put forward the option that only the first argument in his clients’ case be heard on December 23.
He said doing so would avoid the need to hear evidence from health experts, as the hearing would focus solely on whether the Chief Health Officer had the legal authority to issue his direction.
The judge adjourned the matter for two days to hear submissions on Mr Kelly’s proposal.
Justice Brownhill, who until last year was the solicitor-general for the Northern Territory, also told the court she did not intend to recuse herself from any future hearings.
She said that while she had previously given advice to the government about the Public and Environmental Health Act, the advice was not about mandatory vaccinations in workplaces.
The case has been listed for mention on Wednesday.