Guest Post: Bar Beach Swimmer – Who has the right to work?

Humours of an Election, William Hogarth, 1755

When and how does a citizen in a democracy lose his or her right to work?  Up until 18 months ago, the only reasonable answer to that question would have been because the person had been found guilty of a crime that carried a custodial sentence: with their freedom forfeited, gaol would have taken away all their rights including their right to work.  

However, across Australia, but especially in Victoria and NSW, thousands and thousands of Australians have lost their right to work because of a virus.  Though it’s not been the virus per se that has removed that right; no, their right to work has been taken away by the state in the name of their health. 

Convenient for the state though, is that its wheels continue to turn regardless of any lockdown: the public service and the politicians they serve remain at work, operating on a work-from-home-basis and carrying on doing whatever it is they do. 

No, the workers who are suffering today from government mandated denial of work rights are those businesses that are not deemed to be essential by the state or whose workers need to move from worksite to worksite, because, they’re told, there is a risk of them passing on Covid-19 when doing the daily grind.  What is truly sad is that most of these non-mandated workers own or work for small or medium sized businesses.  These are people who, in the main, do not have access to substantial funds to sustain them and their families: when they’re not working, they’re not eating. 

Is this reasonable?  Is this equitable?  Is this fair? 

For many Victorians, they’ve decided that it is not.  Marches and demonstrations against government controls, lockdowns, mandatory vaccinations and the denial of the right to work are now regularly occurring in Melbourne and on Tuesday culminated with CFMEU construction worker members, some becoming violent, taking over the streets over many hours with VicPol unable to take back control. 

Is there a moral dimension to work?  The marchers say, yes.  Lord Action – he of the famous adage – “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts, absolutely,” agreed, calling it ‘the moral foundation of the political economy.’  Quoting, Lord Acton, Fr James Schall (1928-2019) argues that ‘“the political economy”…rests on the connection of liberty with right, of right with duty, of duty with leisure and delight, and of all with transcendence’  (https://www.acton.org/pub/commentary/2015/09/02/moral-dimension-work).  The right to pursue that “good” – that “transcendence” – is the right to work.

In a democracy, there is something intrinsically distasteful and wholly abhorrent that one group of workers can be “granted’ the right to pursue the “good” while other workers, who also provide legitimate goods and services to people who want to purchase them, and do so in order to make their own decisions about how they will live their lives, feed their families, purchase their living arrangements and pursue their own interests, may not.  When those who’ve been “granted” that right to work also are the people who make the rules about who will work and who will not, it is even more disgraceful. 

15 thoughts on “Guest Post: Bar Beach Swimmer – Who has the right to work?”

  1. One of the most egregious phrases in the public servant Covid arsenal is ‘essential worker’. It’s the notion that some jobs are more important than others, and accordingly, if your job isn’t considered ‘essential’, you get relegated to not being permitted to earn a living.

    Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the public service views the notion of ‘essential worker’ from entirely the wrong perspective. It isn’t the substance of the job itself that is essential, rather it’s what the employee receives from their employment, including self-worth, which should be the primary consideration. That is, if an employee has a job that pays the bills and puts food on the table, then that person is an essential worker. It is fundamentally unfair to use arbitrary demarcations to decide who gets to feed their family and who doesn’t.


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  2. I don’t like to be pedantic, but I see Lord Acton’s quote misquoted so often it’s not funny.
    The quote is actually: “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”


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  3. All it took was one little enabling act, in our case a “health emergency” and politicians threw off all restraint on their behavior.

    The Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Reich is also known as the Enabling Act. Passed on March 23, 1933, and proclaimed the next day, it became the cornerstone of Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship. The act allowed him to enact laws, including ones that violated the Weimar Constitution, without approval of either parliament or Reich President von Hindenburg.

    The Supreme Court did nothing to challenge the legitimacy of this measure.

    ours..
    The Governor?General may make a declaration, called a national emergency declaration, in certain circumstances, including if the Prime Minister is satisfied that an emergency (whether occurring in or outside Australia) is causing harm that is nationally significant in Australia or in an Australian offshore area.

    If a national emergency declaration is in force, a Minister may determine that certain provisions of Commonwealth laws are modified in specified ways if certain conditions are satisfied.


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  4. Who has the right to work?

    That will be determined by the government.

    While we are party to several international covenants that assert the right to work, those covenants provide an out in that states may place limitations on those rights for the sake of the common welfare.

    I would expect that in any legal challenge to mandating vaccines as a condition of employment- and there have been a few mooted – the courts would rule that in the present conditions the common welfare overrides the individual’s right to work.

    If only we had a properly drafted Bill or Charter of Rights, we might have some protection at least against government overreach and timid courts. That was something John Howard – with a two house majority – could have but didn’t take up after successive Labor governments attempted but failed to get such a Bill through parliament. He refused to do so on the grounds that it would take power away from politicians!


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  5. Roger says:
    September 23, 2021 at 12:42 pm

    I would expect that in any legal challenge to mandating vaccines as a condition of employment- and there have been a few mooted – the courts would rule that in the present conditions the common welfare overrides the individual’s right to work.

    Does anyone have the details of the NSW Policewoman who took Hazzard to court for the right to decline the vaxx? The NSW Government backed down and settled out of court so I assume she’s still working for the plod and remains unvaxxed.

    The various governments need to have the police on side to enforce their draconian mandates, even if it means the plod retain the right to work unvaxxed.

    We’re all in this together.


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  6. Old bloke – the coppette’s matter was settled out of court for two very good reasons – a) so that it wouldn’t create a precedent and b) so that no one would be able to find out the terms of the settlement (which were presumably subject to confidentiality provisions).

    Having said that, you could always check her lawyer’s website to see if they have published any details on the outcome – and no, I have no idea who they are.


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  7. Last year and early in this “Covid Emergency” I remember putting up a comment on the Old Cat pointing out that no-one in the country would have realised that under the guise of a public health emergency all the rights of the citizen could be arbitrarily removed.

    To me, it still remains perplexing and frightening that such a thing has happened. In some ways I blame the lockstep support of the government(s) by the media, who’ve refused to report the facts in an unbiased way.

    But as a people we, too, are just as responsible, particularly in the long lead time that allowed some of this government overreach to happen.

    Roger, as a conservative I’ve always been hesitant about a Bill of Rights. My thinking has been along the lines that such an instrument could be used arbitrarily by a specific minority against the majority. I suppose at the time I thought that Australians’ rights – meaning each and everyone – were well protected and there were no human rights restraints on us anyhow.

    How misguided I have been! This politidemic has shown all too well that Australia does need a Bill of Rights and as quickly as yesterday.


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  8. Bar Beach Swimmer,
    Amazing how easy it is for evil little shits to seize power isn’t it?
    If they really were our betters I wouldn’t mind as much.
    They are a pack of poo pies.
    I didn’t vote for them.


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  9. Miss Anthropistsays:
    September 23, 2021 at 3:45 pm

    Amazing how easy it is for evil little shits to seize power isn’t it?
    If they really were our betters I wouldn’t mind as much

    Miss A, nah; the whole point of a democracy is that no-one is any better than the next bloke.

    Tim, thank you, I’ve already given that one to Muddy.


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  10. Victoria has a Bill of Rights. So does the ACT. Fat lot of help it has been.

    A Bill of Rights here is just an Act of Parliament, which can be amended, suspended or repealed anytime.

    Unless it is enshrined in the Constitution, it’s just a disposable piece of legislation like any other.


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