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Monday, 22 March 2004
Page: 26807

Mr CIOBO (5:22 PM) —I can think of nothing worse than for a parent to lose a child. That loss would be especially profound if a parent lost a child to a preventable disease. In this day and age, thanks to many modern medical marvels, parents increasingly have the opportunity to vaccinate their children against preventable diseases, including pneumococcal disease. I take this opportunity to congratulate the member for Throsby on bringing this private member's motion to the House. It is important that this has been listed for discussion and it is important that this debate takes place, as far as possible, in a bipartisan way. The reality is that there are many on both sides of the chamber who strongly support and urge for the expansion of a pneumococcal vaccination program to be available to all families.

There are many examples of ways in which government, if it were willing to provide free and comprehensive cover, could provide for and ensure increased safety for children. There are many examples of ways in which government could ensure through using taxpayers' funds that our children had a better start in life and an opportunity to go forward with good health. However, the reality is that it is not always possible for government to provide each and every one of those opportunities through taxpayers' funds. It is regrettably a consequence of competing priorities. One thing is for certain and that is that more is available through good economic management and the solid surplus that this government has been running since 1996 to ensure that when Australian taxpayers pay their taxes they know that that money is no longer being wasted on interest payments and instead can go into important programs such as a national immunisation program.

I am very proud of the Howard government's record with regard to the national immunisation program. I have been somewhat disappointed to hear the poison tongues which some members opposite have brought to this debate. That seems to be unnecessary and a little self-indulgent. Since the Howard government was elected, immunisation rates have increased significantly. In fact, the Australian government has increased expenditure on vaccines 11-fold, from just over $13 million in 1996 to an estimated $143 million this year. Since the introduction of the Howard government's Immunise Australia Program, immunisation coverage rates have increased to an all-time high, with over 90 per cent of children at 12 months of age being fully immunised. This is an important threshold to have met and I am pleased that the Howard government, through careful economic management, a balanced budget, and one which ensures that taxpayer funds can be used most effectively, is able to ensure that most Australians have access to the kind of program that we would like.

In this debate I would also like to clarify the fact that under the national immunisation program, and in particular the limb entitled the National Childhood Pneumococcal Vaccination Program, this government has been providing the pneumococcal vaccine to those children most at risk. The reality is that 91,000 or so children have been eligible to access the free vaccine. Under the NCPVP, free pneumococcal vaccine to children considered to be most at risk of contracting or suffering the complications of pneumococcal disease has been there. It has been there through the conjugated vaccine Prevenar for the primary course and the polysaccharide vaccine Pneumovax 23 for booster doses. The vaccine is provided free through the national immunisation program, and three doses of Prevenar are required to fully immunise a child under the age of 12 months. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation, or ATAGI as it is known, made a series of recommendations in November 2002. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)—Order! The time allotted for private members' business has expired. The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 104A. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.