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Thursday, 15 October 2015
Page: 7785

Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (13:01): I rise to speak on the Australian Immunisation Register Bill 2015 and the Australian Immunisation Register (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2015. Labor strongly supports these bills and, in particular, their purpose, which is to give us a truly comprehensive national vaccination register. These bills achieve this by establishing a new consolidated legislative framework to manage and expand the two existing immunisation registers. These bills also broaden their scope to capture all vaccinations given, from birth to death, through general practices and community clinics.

Labor is committed to strengthening immunisation rates so that all Australian children have the best chance at growing up strong and healthy. The establishment of a national immunisation register of school-based vaccinations will assist all parents to do the right thing by their own children and, very importantly, their community's children. It will also send a very strong message to those who are refusing to vaccinate their children that we, as a society, reject that approach. Whilst Australia does have good immunisation rates, with about 92 per cent of all five-year-olds fully vaccinated, immunisation rates must continue to improve, because all too often we hear of outbreaks amongst the most vulnerable people and, tragically, totally avoidable deaths due to a small number of Australians who are not vaccinated. We have seen this most recently with the outbreak of measles in the USA and, tragically, here in Australia with the outbreaks of whooping cough.

I have a personal interest in this as my sister fell victim to the polio outbreak when she was a very young child. I have seen the consequences of the medical procedures that she had to go through. She is now a woman in her late 60s, and the consequences of that polio are still borne by her every single day. That is why my family have always been strong supporters of immunisation. As parents, my husband and I never questioned it when our children were immunised. And, when our third grandchild was being born, before we flew to WA, because of the concerns over there with whooping cough we made sure that our vaccinations were updated. So I am a very strong supporter of vaccination, as are my colleagues here. As Senator McLucas said, it is unusual, unfortunately, when it comes to health that we are able to support the legislative frameworks that the government have implemented since they have been in government. They do not normally have a good track record when it comes to health, but on this occasion we stand with them because this will be a great benefit to the entire community.

Labor believes that parents, of course, should have the final say in making health decisions about their child. But, when it comes to immunisation, there is strong public interest to ensure that children are immunised, and that cannot and should not be ignored. There are strong arguments against this measure from those claiming that it is an attack on their rights. I do not have any sympathy for those arguments, because parents still have the right to not vaccinate their children. But to me this is a no-brainer. This is something that will be beneficial to all children and, most importantly, to the wider community.

There is no compulsion to vaccinate and no attack on parental rights here—just a clear signal that parents should vaccinate, and, if they do not, there is a financial penalty. The science on immunisation is clear and there is strong evidence that this legislation will lead to greater outcomes for the entire community. The changes being made by this legislation are not just about ensuring that children are up to date with their shots and that we have an accurate register. They are also about making sure that adults have the information they need to ensure that their protection continues after they leave school, because parents, as we all know, come into contact with others who do not keep their immunisation up to date and are at just as much of a risk as our children are when it comes to vaccination.

So this bill actually makes more than one change. From 1 January 2016 the existing Australian Childhood Immunisation Register will expand to collect and record vaccinations given to young individuals under the age of 20 years, and then, from September 2016, it will be expanded to cover all vaccinations from birth to death. The bill also replaces the HPV register with the Australian School Vaccination Register, which will record other adolescent vaccinations administered through the school programs. Finally, the Health Insurance Act 1973 and the National Health Act 1953 will be combined to provide the ongoing data management for both registers.

Labor definitely welcomes these bills and supports the opportunity to act and improve the outcomes for all Australians. But because this government has not had the best record for improving health outcomes in Australia over the last two years, which has been spoken about in this chamber very often, we will work to ensure these changes are implemented in a way that will increase immunisation rates among vulnerable children and for the greater good of the community. We know that Prime Minister Abbott, when he was minister for health in the Howard government, had a terrible record. In fact, we know that he gutted health by a billion dollars, and unfortunately when he became Prime Minister of this country he continued with that very poor record in providing world-class health for this country. That has continued, along with all the other bad policies of the Abbott government, although they have a new captain of their ship. It is a good step in the right direction to be able to join with the government and say, 'Congratulations,' but we will be working to ensure this legislation brings the best outcomes for the Australian community.