Liberal leader Jeremy Rockliff and the party's candidates.
LiberaJeremy Rockliff (white shirt) has defended Bass candidate Julie Sladden (2nd left of premier). Image by Ethan James/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Premier stands by anti-vaccination mandate candidate

Ethan James February 21, 2024

Tasmania’s Liberal premier is standing by a medical doctor state election candidate who has spoken out against vaccination mandates and refused to get a coronavirus jab.

General practitioner Julie Sladden was among Jeremy Rockliff’s 35-candidate self-proclaimed “team of the decade” announced on Tuesday ahead of the March 23 poll.

Dr Sladden, who is running in the northern electorate of Bass, believes the COVID-19 vaccination mandate had “trodden over” informed consent.

“I was forced to close my ¬≠practice in the wake of the mandates back in 2021 … because I simply refused to get jabbed,” she said in a video posted online in early February. 

“That was a personal decision for me, but I also had a very strong ethical opposition to the mandates.”

Mr Rockliff said Dr Sladden’s views were part of the “broad church” of the party. 

When asked how broad was too broad, Mr Rockliff said he welcomed a range of views.

“We have announced candidates from all walks of life,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Liberal leader Jeremy Rockliff with supporters and candidates.
 Liberal leader Jeremy Rockliff says his team includes candidates from all walks of life. Image by Ethan James/AAP PHOTOS 

“That’s what Tasmanians want, they want real Tasmanians prepared to step up and stand up for their communities.

“I’m very proud of our team, every single one of them.”

But AMA Tasmania said it was “highly concerned” about Dr Sladden’s pre-selection and the message that would send to Tasmanians.

“It is untenable for any government trying to urge Tasmanians to follow the best clinical advice and vaccinate to have one of its own undermining that message,” association Vice President Annette Barratt said.

Doctors have a responsibility to “ensure your medical opinions are based on peer-reviewed evidence”.

“COVID vaccines have saved lives and continue to do so,” Dr Barratt added.

The Liberals, who have been in minority government for nine months, are chasing a fourth term in office after calling an early election more than a year ahead of schedule.

In the 2021 state election campaign, Liberal candidate Dean Ewington withdrew from the race after his comments describing coronavirus restrictions as silly received media coverage.

“I’m focused on our team. I’m not focused on the past,” Mr Rockliff said. 

He said Dr Sladden, who has also raised concerns about vaccine side effects, would be a passionate advocate for rural health.

Labor MP Dean Winter said his party had serious concerns about Dr Sladden’s candidacy. 

“Whilst Jeremy Rockliff was health minister … she was calling out Jeremy Rockliff’s own policies,” he told reporters. 

“We’re still encouraging people to get boosters for COVID. We’re (soon) going to be encouraging people to start getting a flu jab.

“We’ve got a candidate who is … against the public health advice.”

Dr Sladden has been contacted for comment.

Tasmania’s lower house is being restored from 25 to 35 members at the election, with seven MPs to be elected in each of the five electorates. 

Opinion polls have indicated it will prove difficult for either major party to form a majority government. 

The Liberals on Wednesday pledged to halve bus fares for a year from June if re-elected at a cost of $14 million.

Labor promised to match the commitment and also announced a scheme aimed at helping renters. 

Under the plan, the party will provide $1000 to 2500 homes for energy-efficient upgrades when the landlord provides a matched contribution.