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14 May 2015

The Federal Government expects to save more than half a billion dollars by withdrawing childcare payments and tax benefits from parents who do not keep their child’s vaccination coverage up-to-date.

Indicating that it expects tens of thousands of families to fall foul of its No Jab, No Pay policy, the Government has projected $508 million in savings under the measure by 2018-19, surprising pro-vaccination activists and concerning the AMA.

In a crackdown on parents who refuse or neglect the vaccination of their children, the Government has announced that the only authorised exemption from the vaccination requirements of the Child Care and Family Tax Benefit Part A schemes, which provide childcare subsidies of up to $205 a week, an annual $7500 rebate and tax supplement worth $726 a year, is on medical grounds.

While endorsing measures to encourage parents to ensure their children’s vaccination is up-to-date, AMA President Associate Professor Brian Owler said it was a concern the Government was planning to make such extensive savings, not least because of what it implied about the number of parents who were not ensuring adequate immunisation protection.

“What we should be saying is we need to make sure that we do get all those children vaccinated, and we should be aiming to actually continue to spend the same amount on those sorts of Family Tax Benefits,” he said.

The AMA President said although the Government’s changes would be likely to result in some savings, it was “a concern that clearly that amount of savings has been banked, given that that means that a child won't be vaccinated”.

The Government’s savings estimates imply that families would lose entitlements covering around 150,000 children under the changes, far more than the estimated 39,000 children of people who have lodged a conscientious objection to vaccinations.

A/Professor Owler said the number was surprising and alarming.

“I think it's fair to say I would be surprised if it was 150,000 children,” he said. “We know that the number of conscientious objectors is around 39,000. So, to say it is going to be 150,000, I think, is a concern.

“I think our aim should be to make sure that all of those people get their children immunised.

“If it is that number of people, we should really be saying, well, how can we invest even further to make sure that the message gets out there around vaccination, and that we make sure that people do the right thing by their children, do the right thing by everyone else in the community as well, and get their children vaccinated.”

In the Budget, the Government provided almost $162 million over five years to add vaccines to prevent shingles in the elderly and diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough in toddlers to the National Immunisation Program from next year.

As announced last month, the Government has also provided $26.4 million for $6 incentive payments for doctors to chase up the parents of children who have fallen behind on their vaccinations.


Adrian Rollins

Published: 14 May 2015