Australia’s compulsory vaccinations law ‘not blackmail’ for tennis stars, says minister

Transport minister Jacinta Allan has strongly denied claims that Australia’s mandatory vaccination law is “blackmail” against some of the nation’s top tennis players.

During a fiery debate in federal parliament, Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie claimed the new vaccine law, which took effect on 1 July, was linked to players who have withdrawn from the Australian Open because of concerns over the meningococcal vaccine.

“I listened to Tennis Australia’s head of player services, Rob Green, yesterday saying it is this policy that is forcing our players to either pull out of the Australian Open or accept a substantial pay cut as compensation for their decision to not play,” Sharkie said.

“I’m pleased to hear he has provided me with some figure, which, according to the annual payment cap, is about $20,000 per player.

“And from what I gather a couple of them are taking up that option already, which is, I don’t think, a good thing when as I understand it the vast majority of players actually haven’t seen a benefit to playing here in Australia.”

Sharkie was supported by others in the Centre Alliance party, including Senate leader Motoring Enthusiast Andrew Wilkie, who claimed the government was unfairly forcing the stars to make sacrifices.

“Is this an efficient and rational way of governing Australia? Is it an efficient and rational way of legislating? Or is it an attempt to blackmail these players?” Wilkie said.

Labor senator Murray Watt said he didn’t believe Sharkie’s claim that the mandatory vaccination law was targeted at the world’s top tennis players.

“Is it also directed at those players with mothers?” Watt said. “Certainly as a woman it’s very disappointing that the women who are the future leaders of this country are undermining that message.”

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But Victorian sports minister Jacinta Allan rejected the claims that the new law was designed to “blackmail” tennis players.

“This is just ridiculous,” Allan said on Monday. “This has no relevance whatsoever to the debate here at all. We’re not blackmailing anyone. It’s stupid, it’s offensive.”

Allan, the Victorian premier, has said the government was “seriously concerned” about the rate of meningococcal disease in the state.

The deputy head of the Australian Tennis Association, Brett O’Dorie, said the reality was that the stars that Australia is on the hunt for were not playing in the country because of the additional costs involved with coming to the country.

Australia’s top ranked players, Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic, recently pulled out of the tournament because of concerns over the vaccine.

Kyrgios said he wouldn’t be surprised if the same players skipped Wimbledon because of the policy. He has previously stated that he won’t have the meningococcal vaccine because he believes it can make a person sick.

Australian players have also boycotted playing at home in Australia to protest against the mandatory vaccination law. The only tennis player from any country who has chosen to play in Australia is Maria Sharapova, who entered the Australian Open without having received the meningococcal vaccine.

She faces an investigation over whether the former boyfriend of her former coach was working with a banned substance.

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