Anti-vaccination groups in Ballarat are urging their followers to target businesses attempting to follow the latest government requirements on vaccine passports, in efforts to thwart the new system.
The Courier has accessed messages and emails for both the 'Businesses ALL welcome: Jabbed and NOT Jabbed' Facebook group and the 'Awake Ballarat' Telegram group which advocate making fake bookings at businesses enforcing the state government requirements, as well as resisting wearing masks, harassing companies advertising vaccinations, and vandalising public property signposting COVID-19 safety protocols.
Members of the group also advocate booking for vaccinations and not showing up.
Using euphemisms such as 'health choices' and relying on wildly-varying, ersatz-lawyerly interpretations of whether mandates and mask use are legal under WorkSafe, OHS, and a smorgasbord of state, national, international and common laws and treaties, members argue vaccines are a risk, masks cause increased carbon dioxide in the workplace and compliance with government mandates is, in fact, breaking the law.
They urge an aggressive response to requests for mask-wearing, with one poster saying he "nearly had a punch-on in APCO" with government representatives.
"(W)here is your government service contract... how much are you getting paid to ask where my mask is... STAY IN YOUR LANE... none of your business," he allegedly responded, while another suggested she was "the only person I know in Ballarat who doesn't wear a mask or follow the Satanic Death cult".
While the groups may be an unrepresentative minority overstating their impact, their online harassment of businesses through social media affects staff, especially when it becomes personal.
One business which had staff targeted on social media said the efforts of anti-vaccination passport groups usually faded if they were ignored.
The business owner, who asked not to be identified in order to deflect further focus on the business and social media attacks on staff, said his investigations led him to believe there were very few people actually in Ballarat who were involved.
"If a person has a real problem with our business, they will speak to us face-to-face," the owner said.
"Once these people who get on Facebook and attack businesses realise they are not getting any traction, the air goes out of their tyres pretty quickly; they disappear. It's the same few people trying to cause trouble, attack staff for doing their job.
"We've had a bit of this here, but I think 95 per cent of people in Ballarat understand how hard it is and why we need to do it. The others like to pile on; I suppose it gives them something to do."
One of the organisers of the Awake Ballarat Telegram group - which currently has over 200 members - laid out their strategy in an email.
"The whole thing is a crock and anyone complying with the mandate is breaking the law. If you want to know which law takes precedence just look at the penalties - disobeying the mandate might get you fined, the others will send you to jail.
"Business owners who go along with this mandate are leaving themselves wide open to lifetime compensation claims for vaccine injury, COVID deaths, workplace stress and all kinds of human rights issues that are well established in workplace law. We can turn that to our advantage."
He goes on to devise a complex blueprint involving long induction processes for government inspectors attending businesses to enforce vaccination recording, and advises the business owner to "get aggressive with the authorities."
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission says while 'political belief or activity' is a protected attribute under the Equal Opportunity Act, and many in the community may consider their views on vaccinations to be political views, it is unlikely that a claim of discrimination regarding mandatory vaccination on the basis of 'political belief or activity' would be successful under the Act.
The Courier understands Awake Ballarat approached a City of Ballarat councillor seeking and offering support in resisting the new regulations. The councillor has been sent questions regarding the approach.
The state government's new Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment Bill 2021, tabled yesterday will set new parameters for public health orders including shifting responsibility from the CHO to the Premier, an independent committee to scrutinise and make public key decisions.
Under the changes those who fail to comply with a health order and know or act in a way that would lead to a "serious risk" to the health of others, could face a jail sentence of two years or a $90,000 fine, while businesses could be fined $455,000.
Heath authorities including Commonwealth and state chief health officers have repeatedly maintained that approved vaccines have met with the highest medical standards in the country and are safe and vital protection for the community from COVID-19.
Australia's vaccine rollout co-ordinator John Frewen said the new campaign "Spread Freedom" is focused on that last 10 to 15 per cent of the nation who are yet to come forward and get vaccinated.
"It is designed to really highlight the close links between vaccination and either regaining those freedoms that we all want to enjoy, or protecting those freedoms in the states where we haven't yet seen outbreaks," Lieutenant-General Frewen said.
"If you want to be fully protected before Christmas, then you need to start coming forward now to get that first dose to get the whole process done."