CLP opposition accuses NT Labor government of dismissing corporate concerns over COVID-19 vaccine mandate

The Northern Territory opposition has accused the government of ignoring concerns among local businesses as the deadline for Northern Territory’s comprehensive COVID-19 vaccine mandate is on the way.

From next Saturday, 13 November, all Territory workers who interact with vulnerable people, work in areas at risk of an outbreak or perform work considered “critical” must have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine according to one of the broadest vaccine mandates in the country.

The mandate has bipartisan support, but has become a focal point for local protests against pandemic restrictions, including at a church service over the weekend in which CLP leader Lia Finocchiaro was ravaged.

Concerns have also been expressed in some parts of the local construction industry, with industry groups questioning the time frame for compliance as well as the burden on employers to monitor their employees’ vaccination status.

A large group of people are protesting outside the Northern Territory Parliament House building.
Large crowds have been shown protesting against the mandate in the weeks since it was announced.(ABC News: Jano Gibson)

On Wednesday, Ms Finocchiaro said the government was “piling crushing pressure” on the employers required to implement the mandate because it had failed to accelerate low vaccination rates in some remote communities.

“The business community wants support, and now is the time for the Prime Minister to outline how companies are expected to implement his vaccine mandate,” she said.

Ms Finocchiaro said the government should outline industry-specific support packages to help employers prepare for the mandate to take effect.

Close-up of scaffolding.
Construction companies are preparing for staff losses when the mandate takes effect, according to industry groups.(ABC News: Elise Pianegonda)

The housing industry this week questioned the timeframe for the implementation of the mandate, saying the construction industry is already struggling with labor shortages and supplies.

“In the same way that we have been affected in the last year and a half by other factors, [the mandate] will only add to that, “said NT CEO Luis Espinoza.

A survey of 116 construction companies conducted by Master Builders NT showed that more than 68 percent of respondents said they would lose workers when the mandate started, and more than half said they needed clearer explanations of which workers there are. should be vaccinated.

Michael Gunners budget
Sir. Gunner says the mandate is necessary to protect vulnerable territories.(ABC News: Michael Franchi)

In a speech on ABC Radio Darwin on Wednesday morning, Mr Gunner said he believed “the rules were clear”.

“There are a lot of vulnerable people out there. They can’t choose to be vulnerable,” he said.

“If you work in a situation where you come into contact with vulnerable people, you must be vaccinated.

The mandate was first marked in mid-September when the government outlined its COVID-19 roadmap, while a one-month deadline for workers was set for 13 October.

Sir. Gunner said the mandate covered the vast majority of public sector employees, but he was unsure how many refused to get the jab.

“That number will come out around November 11, 12 or 13,” he said.

‘Lax vax rollout’ blamed for mandate, says opposition

The NT government missed its target of reaching 80 percent double-dose vaccine coverage in early November, pushing plans to introduce home quarantine back to later this month.

Sir. Gunner also confirmed this morning that the number of people participating in a home quarantine pilot program in the Northern Territory was less than half the originally expected number.

The government announced last week that about 130 people would participate in a month-long ordeal of home quarantine across Darwin and Alice Springs before a wider launch in late November.

However, the government has declined to say how many people were part of the trial when it started, the day after it was announced last week.

A woman wearing a surgical mask standing on the balcony of an apartment.
Isabella Marovich-Tadic was one of the first to tap on the shoulder to be part of the home quarantine attempt.(ABC News: Hamish Harty)

On Wednesday, Mr Gunner told ABC Radio Darwin that he was not worried that the number of participants was in the “mid-40s”.

“I have not asked about the numbers. I have asked about how the test goes. We are testing the test, there are many tests here,” said Mr. Gunner.

“Currently, I have not received any negative feedback.”

In remote parts of the territory, vaccine coverage remains low, with less than 40 percent of people over the age of 16 fully vaccinated in the greater Big Rivers and East Arnhem regions.

Responsibility for vaccine vaccination in remote communities is shared between the territory and federal governments in cooperation with Aboriginal health organizations.

In 25 of the remote communities where NT Health administers jab, the full vaccination rate is still below 50 percent.

“Michael Gunner’s words about protecting our most vulnerable are hollow and do not match the efforts he should have made at the start of the vaccine rollout,” Finocchiaro said.

“He has completely failed.”

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