With the Senate in chaos over split positions on mandatory vaccinations, a rogue senator has claimed a win that could benefit thousands of people.
The federal government has lowered the threshold for Australians seeking compensation in the event of adverse Covid-19 vaccine reactions.
It’s a move Health Minister Greg Hunt says will provide unvaccinated Australians more surety that they will be protected should they become injured after their first or second dose.
From Wednesday, the threshold has been lowered to $1000, down from $5000.
“Reducing the threshold for access to the scheme from $5000 to $1000 will ensure more people can claim for eligible costs, including lost earnings and care costs, providing greater levels of comfort to those yet to make the decision to vaccinate,” he said.
“This provides additional support and confidence for Australians as part of the vaccine rollout.”
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has records of tens of thousands of adverse reactions to the Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna Covid-19 vaccinations.
Coalition senator Gerard Rennick, who threatened to abstain from voting on legislation until the government took stronger action on state-enforced vaccine mandates, is understood to have seen this as a “win” in his fight for greater protections.
While on the surface it appears a deal was struck in order to gain Senator Rennick’s support on procedural motions in the Senate, Mr Hunt said the government had been considering the policy change for “a number of weeks now”.
Senator Rennick has caused a headache for the government in the upper house this week after he crossed the floor to support One Nation leader Pauline Hanson’s vaccine discrimination Bill, which sought to strip states and territories of their power to enforce vaccinations and protect unvaccinated Australians from prejudice.
Senator Rennick and senator Alex Antic had committed to abstain from voting on government legislation until their demands were met.
Senator Rennick is understood to have said he is committed to continuing to abstain from voting until more is done.
Senator Rennick told the ABC on Tuesday that he was fighting for people who had been “significantly impacted by the vaccines”.
“Some of these people have got injuries that will linger for months, if not years,” he told Afternoon Briefing.
“They are obviously going through health issues, mental health issues as well as financial issues.
“We owe it to those people who signed up and got the vaccine that we look after them as well.”
Senator Rennick, who is not vaccinated, regularly posts stories of people negatively impacted by vaccines on his Facebook page and has attracted widespread criticism.
Senator Rennick said he still wanted the federal government to abolish the power of states and territories to mandate vaccines, which he said could be done under the constitution.
“I want a solution here … I want the premiers to stop playing games with these mandates and people’s health and playing politics,” he said.
“We’ve done a very good job at having low Covid deaths and a high vaccination rollout. I think we should use that success now to open up.”
Senator Rennick has routinely said he was concerned about the “thousands” of people who would lose their jobs in his home state of Queensland when vaccines became mandatory in some settings from mid-December.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been critical of state-based vaccine mandates but has not voiced his support of Senator Rennick’s position.
It comes after a chaotic night in the Senate on Tuesday, in which Senator Rennick did not attend the chamber to vote on a motion, meaning the government whip automatically paired him with the party’s position.
Senator Rennick eventually returned to the chamber and asked for a revote without detailing why he had missed the initial vote. His request was denied.
Liberal senator Anne Ruston told the Senate on Wednesday that both senators Rennick and Antic had since written an email, saying they “sought to be paired with the government on all non-legislative votes”.
Labor senator Kristina Keneally said Senator Rennick had no “courage in his conviction”.
“This is the absolute shambles of the government that is splintering in the Senate before our very eyes,” she said.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Senator Rennick had “every right to have a barney with his Prime Minister”, but his actions on Tuesday had reached a new low.
“To not take seriously your job in this place and to not stand up and be clear about how you are being paired – are you being paired because you want to or because the whips have done it on your behalf?” she said.
“I’d be pretty annoyed … I’d be questioning whether you can really trust what’s going on your front bench and with your Prime Minister.”
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