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Thursday, 16 October 2003
Page: 21647

Ms GILLARD (2:36 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and it refers to the recommendations of the National Health and Medical Research Council and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation that all Australian babies be vaccinated against the deadly pneumococcal disease. Given the minister's special responsibility for children, what does he say to the 10,000 families in his own electorate of Richmond with weekly incomes of less than $500 who will now face a bill of $500 to vaccinate their newborn babies against the deadly pneumococcal disease as a result of the government's refusal to fund this vaccination?

Mr ANTHONY (Minister for Children and Youth Affairs) —I thank the member for Lalor for her question. It was shame she did not invite me to the meeting that she had in Tweed Heads only last week. It was interesting that, with all those who attended—there were meant to have been hundreds there, but I think there were 50 or 60—there was not one comment about bulk-billing or about the fall in bulk-billing. Indeed, the terms were very general, particularly about hospitals—

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The question goes to the health care of babies, and I do not think it is a thing that should be politicised in this fashion.

The SPEAKER —Order! I presume the point of order is relevance. I was listening closely to the minister's reply. It is not unusual for ministers to have some preamble to the answer, but he ought to be coming to the question of immunisation.

Mr ANTHONY —Thank you, Mr Speaker. Health is an issue of concern to all Australians—and of course it is of concern to the good residents of Richmond. It is interesting that, on the points raised earlier in the House about other medical issues, a lot of the fear and drama painted by the Labor Party was unfounded.

But on the issue of immunisation—to answer the question—it is interesting to note that, when we came in to government, the level of immunisation was at the lowest of the OECD countries. When Labor left the treasury bench in 1996, it was at 71 per cent. It was this government that introduced the regime to ensure that more Australian children were immunised—indeed, 91 per cent. As for the actual answer to your question, I think the Minister for Health and Ageing quite adequately answered it in response to the previous question.