This is a great story. It’s, I think, a victory of public policy. More than 140,000 parents have had their childcare payments axed after they failed to vaccinate their children.
The Federal Government has revealed the alarming number of irresponsible parents who are leaving their children unprotected against dangerous diseases: 142,793 parents who haven’t immunised their kids, or had them immunised, rather, have now been cut off from receiving up to $15,000 in childcare payments as part of the Government’s No Jab, No Pay policy.
Now, this is what we want, and really those of us that are concerned about how much money is being spent by the Government in the area of welfare or income support should be cheering when we see a policy like this that makes complete sense actually working.
The Health Minister is Greg Hunt and he’s on the line. Good morning, Minister.
And good morning, Luke.
Good to talk to you, but concerning, isn’t it? Even though we’ve flushed out some people who don’t get it, but the fact that there’s 142,793 that haven’t pursued vaccination for kids under five, that is a real worry.
Yes, so, there’s good and bad news here. The good news is that in just over a year the policy’s led to almost 200,000 new kids being vaccinated and that means safety for those kids, but safety for all the other kids around them, particularly newborns, who might not have had vaccinations yet.
The bad news is that there are still some, as you say, over 140,000, who haven’t done this. But around the country the vaccination rate has increased quite dramatically to over 93 per cent and, amongst those on family tax benefits and childcare benefits, to over 94.5 per cent.
So, in other words, the policy’s really working but I suspect that as those people who haven’t vaccinated their kids discover that, and there have been plenty of warnings, that they’re not getting payments, the numbers will rise again and again and again.
It’s tough love but I think it’s absolutely responsible.
A hundred per cent correct. Other than this, what other methods, what other policies do you have in place to try to encourage vaccination?
So, the vaccines are free for all kids under the National Immunisation Programme. If you’ve missed out by the age of five, there’s still free catch-up vaccinations to age 10 and for anybody under the Family Tax Benefit Programme, so, by definition, the lower income earners, right up to the age of 19.
Then at the state level, and we’re working very closely with all of the states and territories, many of them have got in place educational policies that, if your kids aren’t vaccinated and they are at a kindergarten and there’s some sort of breakout in the state, let me give you the example of South Australia, and I do support this policy, then the kids will have to go home if they’re at risk of catching mumps, measles, rubella, the sorts of things that we vaccinate for, if there is an outbreak.
At the end of the day, it’s about protecting your child, but also protecting all of the other kids. It is a tough policy, but boy, when there are 200,000 additional vaccinations, and the numbers are going up, that’s the best way of protecting the general population of kids, and in particular babies, who might not have been vaccinated.
I couldn’t agree with you more. What about areas like, I note, the Gold Coast Hinterland have amongst the lowest vaccination rates in the country. So what do you do, geographically, if you’ve got an area like that, to turn the numbers around?
There are two particular areas that stand out as the lowest in the country, the Gold Coast Hinterland and Adelaide City.
Some of the highest vaccination rates are actually in the Northern Territory and amongst Indigenous kids and communities, where there’ve been really systemic programmes.
So I think the best thing we can do is work directly with the state governments and the local councils, and I’ll be approaching both of them now that we’ve got this data, to say, we need a really strong local immunisation campaign, through the schools and through the kindergartens.
Whilst we don’t operate them, the states do, we can work with them and all of the states have been very supportive. So, there’s no politics in this.
Liberal, Labor, whatever the persuasion of the state government, they all know that this is about public health and protecting the vulnerable kids. So, we will work in particular with the relevant councils and with the state governments to try to drive up those figures more.
Yeah. One quick one before you go, although I don’t know if you can answer it quickly, but I’ll put it to you.
The AMA is warning our public hospitals are in a constant state of emergency because of inadequate Federal Government funding.
Now, I know you’ll tell me, and I’ve heard the Prime Minister, the former Prime Minister, the former Health Minister and various others tell me, that year on year we are spending more and more on health.
Yet, we have people enter the debate who say we’ve got to be spending more. Well that’s fine if you’ve got a tree with hundred dollar notes hanging off it.
But in the reality that is the one in which we live, you’ve got a finite resource which is money from taxpayers. So, surely the answer isn’t just more money.
Are you confident that within your portfolio it’s being spent as best it can be?
Look, I think you can always do better. That’s the honest answer. So, our federal expenditure on state hospitals, the states own and run the public hospital network, is going up, as you say, from $17 billion to 18, to 20, to 21 billion over the current four year period, on a per annum basis.
But what I’m looking to do is to work with the states on being more efficient and I think that they can be.
And all of the advice that I have had is, whilst we have an outstanding health system by global standards, you know, really near the top of the tree, and I want to take us to the point where we can legitimately claim that we have the best health system in the world, of course we can do better.
And that’s the combination of the new systems, I’ve seen a dramatic transformation at my local major public hospital, which is the Frankston Hospital.
You have a brilliant public administrator who’s worked in the private system. You’ve got new systems that have been put in place, much faster throughput.
That’s an example of how it can be done brilliantly. I think Sue Williams, who’s the head of Peninsula Health, is a national model of how to run a hospital system.
So we need to encourage more people in with that experience on both the public and private side, and then to work cooperatively with the states on incentives for better outcomes in hospitals. That’s my approach.
Yeah, okay, good as gold. All right, Greg, appreciate your time, have a great weekend, mate. Nice to talk.
Take care. Cheers.