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Tuesday, 8 May 2018
Page: 2600

Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (18:10): I rise to speak to the Family Assistance and Child Support Legislation Amendment (Protecting Children) Bill 2018. My colleague Senator Siewert has already spoken to the elements of this bill, which relate to the changes to child support. My comments this evening are made on behalf of Senator Richard Di Natale, who is currently in budget lock-up, and they relate to the No Jab, No Pay provisions within schedule 2 of this bill.

Currently, under the No Jab, No pay policy, which has been in place since 2016, families with children who fail to meet the full year immunisation requirements lose all or part of the family tax benefit A supplement at the end of the financial year. This bill amends the No Jab, No Pay policy, so that, rather than penalising families at the end of each year, the government will instead impose an approximate $28 reduction in FTB payments each fortnight from families with a child who do not meet these requirements. The measure is apparently designed to give families a most constant reminder to vaccinate their children and is billed by the government as a $22.8 million saving over the forward estimates, which is further to the $508.3 million in savings over five years from the initial No Jab, No Pay policy.

Vaccination, of course, is of vital importance to the health of the Australian people. Senator Di Natale, as colleagues would know, is a former doctor and public health professional. As he's said many times, he finds it hard to overstate the importance of vaccines to public health. Immunisation has been a revolution in health care. As many as half a billion people died from smallpox in the 20th century; yet this century the death toll from smallpox is zero. That is because the program of vaccination completely eradicated smallpox by 1979.

Australia, in particular, is a vaccination success story. The first vaccine was used here as far back as 1804 and since then more and more vaccines have become routinely used. Tetanus, diphtheria and polio were early successes. We've had a measles vaccine since 1969 and a mumps vaccine since 1981. All of these potentially life threatening conditions are now rare in this country. Children born in Australia today are protected from many more diseases, from chickenpox to human papillomavirus, thanks to safe and affordable vaccines.

Over time, there's been some complacency creeping in, as well as some really problematic misinformation circulated to undermine the rates of vaccine. It's absolutely critical that vaccination rates remain high, because part of the effectiveness of vaccination is in ensuring that enough of the population is immunised to protect those who can't be. We do, however, approach this measure with caution. There are growing questions from the public health fraternity about whether this is the most appropriate measure for raising immunisation across the population.

There are complex reasons for failure to vaccinate, with most of them coming from a lack of knowledge or accurate information, about vaccinations. Only a very small proportion—Professor Julie Leask's research shows that they account for only 1.52 per cent—of children are not vaccinated due to a conscientious objection of the family. The bulk of those who aren't fully vaccinating their children either are unaware that they haven't been vaccinated or are open to discussion and education with health professionals about the benefits of vaccination to the individual and to society. Indeed, those who are the so-called conscientious objectors are highly unlikely to respond to coercion and may well see it as further supporting their unfounded theories relating to vaccination.

As Professor Leask, doctors and public health groups have often cautioned, this measure only affects those families who rely on the payments for their family budgets, and penalising this group of already lower-income families due to a lack of education should be approached with caution. As we heard from the Public Health Association of Australia back in 2015 when we investigated the initial legislation, it's also critical to investigate and tackle the structural and practical barriers, including socioeconomic reasons, that exist and that explain why some children are not fully vaccinated. It's clear that vaccination rates will improve by reducing barriers to access, engaging with families and having further strategies that are specific, for example, to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Clearly, vaccination is critical and we must do more to engage with those who continue to fail to vaccinate their children and encourage them to do so. What is also clear is that, as we move into this policy space with an element of coercion, the government must investigate the introduction of a no-fault compensation scheme for vaccination. While vaccinations are incredibly safe and, indeed, life-saving for the vast majority of the millions of people who have them, it is true there are rare cases of adverse events, some of which can be serious. A no-fault compensation scheme would provide the safety net to families for the very unlikely event that something goes wrong. This measure, which would be paid for through a small levy paid by the pharmaceutical companies, is already in place in several countries around the world, including New Zealand, the United States, Britain and most European countries. It is time that Australia joined them.

The Greens will support the bill. We're committed to vaccination. We do note, however, that there are growing questions about whether this is the most appropriate approach to raising the rates of vaccination and that there are growing calls for a no-fault compensation scheme much like other countries around the world.

In conclusion, I move the Australian Greens second reading amendment on sheet 8424, standing in Senator Di Natale's name:

At the end of the motion, add "but the Senate calls on the Government to investigate the introduction of a no fault compensation scheme for the extremely rare occurrences of severe adverse events associated with vaccination."