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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23617

Mr LATHAM (2:16 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to today's call by the Meningitis Centre, which is represented in the gallery today, for the government to fund the vaccine against pneumococcal disease, a vaccine recommended for all babies by the National Health and Medical Research Council. Won't Australian families now face out-of-pocket expenses of up to $600 as a result of the government's decision not to fund this vaccine? Prime Minister, in the national interest and for the sake of Australian parents with newborn babies, why won't the government now have a change of heart and fund the pneumococcal vaccine?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition for the question. I start by reminding him that when we came to government the childhood immunisation rate in this country was at a Third World level. It was something like 56 per cent and it has now risen to 93 per cent. After 13 years of an allegedly compassionate, caring Labor government we had a Third World standard of childhood immunisation. It was sitting at 56 per cent, and one of the proudest achievements of the former health minister, Dr Wooldridge, was that we lifted that childhood immunisation rate. I am corrected—it actually went from 54 per cent to 92 per cent.

As far as meningococcal disease is concerned—pneumococcal, I am sorry. My own mistake reminds me of what we have done in relation to meningococcus as well as pneumococcus. In relation to the former we have already expended hundreds of millions of dollars to embark upon a nationwide immunisation campaign. In relation to the particular affliction that the Leader of the Opposition refers to, the decisions that have been taken by the government will guarantee that all of the seriously at risk groups will be protected.