Standing up for Canberra

Social Services Legislation Amendment (No Jab, No Pay) Bill 2015

I rise today to join with my colleagues and those opposite to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (No Jab, No Pay) Bill 2015. That was a very powerful speech from the member for Solomon there. Obviously, she is a bit upset because she must know of someone who has lost their child to whooping cough. As she said, nothing could be more shocking, horrifying and terrible than watching your child die of whooping cough.

So I join with my colleagues right across the chamber to support this legislation. This legislation will ensure that children fully meet immunisation requirements before their families can access childcare benefits, the child care rebate or the family tax benefit A supplement. It builds on the work that Labor did in 2013 to further tighten immunisation requirements within the family payments scheme.

When we were in government we made important changes to family payments, to lift immunisation rates— including linking the family tax benefit end-of-year supplement to immunisation. This is what this is all about. This bill builds on those reforms. The Leader of the Opposition also wrote to the then Prime Minister in April of this year, offering bipartisan support to increase immunisation rates across Australia. We also announced our support for this measure shortly after it was announced in this year's budget.

Labor is committed to strengthening immunisation rates so that all Australian children have the best chance to grow up strong and healthy. The importance of immunising our children cannot be underestimated. It is estimated that vaccinations currently save up to three million lives worldwide each year—three million lives worldwide each year! Immunisation is the safest and most effective way for parents to protect their children from disease, and one of the most important public health measures we have at our disposal. The Australian Medical Association, the National Centre for Immunisation Research & Surveillance and countless other experts all agree that immunisation is the safest and most effective way for parents to protect their children from disease.

Immunisation remains the safest and most effective way to stop the spread of many of the world's most infectious diseases. When a person is vaccinated their body produces an immune response in the same way their body would after exposure to a disease, but without the person actually suffering the symptoms of the disease. When that person comes in contact with that disease in the future, their immune system will respond fast enough to prevent the person actually developing the disease.

When levels of immunisation in a community are sufficiently high, the risk of specific diseases can fall so low that even those who are too young or too sick to be given a vaccine will not be exposed to it. It is this communal, or 'herd' immunity that can save countless lives. Likewise, those who choose not to immunise their children are exposing other children to potentially fatal diseases—diseases that can be avoided through immunisation. This is what is quite often overlooked by these people.

I would just ask everyone in the chamber to cast their minds back to the 1960s and 1970s, before the major vaccination campaigns. Diseases like tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough killed thousands of young children each year. Today, deaths from these diseases are extremely rare in Australia—although there is a worrying trend that whooping cough is now coming back again—and in the rest of the developed world. This is because of immunisation. We want to get to a situation where enough people in the community have been immunised so that infections can no longer spread from person to person and a disease can die out altogether.

We have seen this happen with smallpox, which was declared eradicated in 1980 after a concerted campaign of surveillance and vaccination led by the World Health Organisation. Or measles, which last year the World Health Organisation declared had been eliminated in Australia. These are extraordinary achievements! Extraordinary —eliminating these evil diseases that have killed so many people over many years. Or polio—the Global Polio Eradication Initiative has been successful in reducing polio cases, with only a few isolated cases remaining in the developing world.

Just on polio, I just want to touch on what was etched in my brain when I was a young girl. My mum, who is now in her 70s, went through the polio epidemic that was around in the 30s, 40s and 50s in Australia. She told us when we were little of stories of the baths in Melbourne being closed down, of theatres being closed down and you could not go to the movies because of the polio epidemic. Schools were closed down and when she went back to school once it had been reopened she found that a number of students were no longer there because they had been paralysed by polio. I know that my husband's uncle contracted polio around that era when he was a child and has lived with the crippling legacy that is polio ever since.

If the anti-jab campaigners met with the people who actually have to live with the consequences of no immunisation, who have to live with the consequences of contracting polio, particularly as a young child, they would see the challenges and the battles that they have to face. I remember reading books about young children having to be in bed for months and months as a result of the disease and the fact that they could not have a normal childhood. They could not run and play because they had been crippled by the disease. Their education was stunted in many ways and their opportunities were limited as a result. This is something that can be avoided through immunisation. As I said, since I was a child my mother told me those stories of the baths being closed down, of the school being closed down and of those children returning who were crippled, it has been etched in my brain that immunisation is absolutely vital to keep Australians safe, to keep our young people safe, to keep our older people safe and to keep the world safe. Those stories were incredibly powerful. Seeing Chris's uncle every time with that crippled, stunted leg as a result of the fact that he contracted the disease is horrifying.

As mum said, when she used to take us as babies to the little infant welfare centre and get us immunised, it used to be very distressing to her as a young mother. Babies cry because it hurts and sometimes they get a bit fevery afterwards. Despite the distress that it was causing to us as children and babies and to her as a new young mum, she knew that the benefit not just for ourselves but also for our community and our nation was significant. I did not hear my colleague the member for Kingsford Smith's story but I did hear the member for Solomon and it is incredibly concerning when you hear cases of children falling ill or in some cases dying due to diseases that could have been avoided if their parents had got them immunised.

For example, low domestic immunisation rates for measles in some parts of the United States saw the disease reemerge last year, prompting officials to actually issue a warning. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, there was a record 668 US measles cases from 27 states last year, mostly in unvaccinated travellers travelling to endemic regions or to areas experiencing a large ongoing measles outbreak. This was the largest number of cases since eradication was declared in 2000. We are seeing this resurgence as a result of people not being vaccinated. It was the largest outbreak to occur in unvaccinated Amish communities in Ohio and totalled more than 383 cases. There has been similarly a re-emergence of other preventable diseases like rubella, mumps, whooping cough and polio. It is so important that we immunise our kids and protect them against these preventable diseases. By immunising your child, you are protecting more than just their health; you are reducing the opportunity for that child to pass that disease onto another, especially to young babies who may not yet be fully immunised.

I was discussing this legislation with a dear friend of mine, who, unfortunately, is undergoing a battle with cervical cancer, and she recounted the story of her dear friend, Gay Davidson, who was a well-known Canberra journalist here and her husband, Ken, who lost their daughter Kiri after she contracted measles. Kiri had not been immunised because, according to my dear friend, Gay was an anti-vaxxer; she opposed immunisation. Kiri died at the age of 13 from complications after getting the disease. After her daughter's death, Gay became a prominent public campaigner for immunisation against measles. She worked with successive Commonwealth health ministers in promoting what became the national Bicentennial Measles Campaign.

Any death of any child for any parent is just devastating and it took a significant toll on Gay. Her health suffered significantly. She continued to work for some time but her health suffered and she did die, I regard, prematurely as a result of the guilt, the knowledge and the trauma of losing their child, particularly when she had been such a strong, as I understand, anti-immunisation advocate and the fact that she in a way felt that it was her fault that that her daughter had died from a disease that could have been prevented through immunisation.

Measles does take its toll in so many ways and I think that Gay Davidson's experience and response highlights how devastating it can be for families to lose a child to a disease that could have been entirely prevented through immunisation. Imagine if you had a child or little baby who died as a result of someone not immunising their child. Imagine the trauma and the horror of living with that.

All I can say to those anti-vaxxers out there is: homeopathic preparations do not provide natural immunity; nor does being fit and healthy. Only conventional vaccinations produce a measurable immune response. So all I can say is: vaccinate your children.

Modern vaccines are extremely safe, and serious reactions to them are rare. In development, vaccines are rigorously tested on thousands of people in progressively larger clinical trials, and they are not included in the National Immunisation Program until they have been approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to ensure they meet strict safety guidelines and are evaluated to ensure that they are effective, comply with strict manufacturing and production standards and have a good safety record.

Once a vaccine is in use, its efficacy and safety are continually monitored by the TGA—so it is not just a set-andforget environment; the TGA is continually monitoring these vaccines—and by vaccine sponsors through further clinical trials and detailed surveillance of disease and vaccine adverse events. They are constantly looking at the effectiveness of these vaccinations and they are doing that through these clinical trials and also the surveillance of the disease, as I said.

So I reiterate to those who are against immunisation: the vaccines for the 16 infectious diseases that are currently included on the National Immunisation Program are subjected to some of the most rigorous vaccine testing and registration processes in the world. They are safe.

Labor believes that the only exemption to the community expectation that children are immunised should be on medical grounds, and this legislation includes room for those exceptions, such as when a general practitioner has certified that vaccinating the child would be medically contraindicated, or that vaccination is unnecessary because the child has natural immunity from having contracted the disease in question.

In conclusion, I offer Labor's support to this legislation, which requires children to meet their immunisation requirements in order for their families to access family benefits. It is sensible legislation that will increase the immunisation rates of Australian children—something that will have an overwhelmingly positive impact on our society. Immunisation is the safest and most effective way for parents to protect their children from disease, and I encourage all parents to do the research, and I encourage all parents to immunise your kids.

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