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SA Police Commissioner fronts mandatory vaccination Supreme Court hearing

South Australian Police Commissioner Grant Stevens has testified at the Supreme Court trial concerning various workers' right to work, including nurse and sidelined AFLW player Deni Varnhagen.

The plaintiffs' challenge to South Australia's COVID-19 rules resumed with the state's police commissioner giving evidence.

Ms Varnhagen, who plays for the Adelaide Crows, also works as a casual registered nurse but has lost shifts since refusing a COVID vaccination and is challenging the state's mandate that health workers be inoculated.

South Australian police chief and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens arrived at court on Wednesday morning after the matter was delayed because he has been too unwell to appear previously.

Loretta Polson, solicitor for Varnhagen, said outside court at the start of the trial that Mr Stevens should "take a Panadol" and come to court despite his illness.

Simon Owen QC, appearing for Varnhagen, questioned Commissioner Stevens over whether he decided, without proper scientific evidence, to require health workers to be vaccinated three times as the Omicron variant spread.

Mr Stevens said authorities relied on an "iterative" process of "ongoing consultation" to make decisions about how to handle the pandemic.

Though the commissioner said he could not recall every conversation he had, he broadly relied on health advice about how best to manage the hospital system, testifying:

"It's important to appreciate that I have no qualifications or experience that would enable me to go behind the chief health officer's advice.
"And by and large I accept the advice that's provided but where I have questions about the appropriateness of a direction, those questions are asked."

Mr Owen questioned whether a decision to alter other requirements for police officers could have also been applied to healthcare workers.

The directive allowed officers who had not been vaccinated to attend hospitals and other healthcare settings if they undertook a rapid antigen test and wore appropriate PPE.

Mr Stevens said management of the hospital system was the responsibility of Chief Health Officer Nicola Spurrier and in his view a one-size-fits-all approach would not work.

"The environment of the healthcare setting is different in terms of exposure to COVID-19 for vulnerable people in the system," he said.

Justice Judy Hughes has heard evidence from vaccine scientist Nikolai Petrovsky and state government virologist Professor Steve Wesselingh.

Varnhagen's legal team sought to question senior bureaucrats who were involved with implementing the vaccine mandate as part of the SA Emergency Management Act.

Chief Health Officer Nicola Spurrier was accompanied by a police escort as she was heckled outside court, when she was excused from taking the witness stand.

Varnhagen has been forced to work as a labourer after losing her regular work, the court has been told.

The 29-year-old Crows midfielder was shifted to the club's inactive list after she refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

When the case was initiated, fellow litigant Craig Bowyer told Flow listeners the case could set a precedent and entitle workers to a significant collective compensation claim.

Hear the full interview with Craig Bowyer on the Flow podcast player below:


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