New 'no jab, no pay' laws hit parliament

New legislation to reduce fortnightly welfare payments for parents who do not immunise their children has been introduced to parliament.

The federal government is ramping up its "no jab, no pay" policy, with new laws to dock welfare payments by $28 a fortnight for parents whose children do not meet immunisation requirements.

Under legislation introduced to parliament on Thursday, fortnightly Family Tax Benefit Part A payments will be reduced for each child that has not been vaccinated from July 1 next year.

It will replace the existing system under which end-of-year supplements are withheld for children whose immunisation is not up to date.


The cuts over the course of the year equate to the yearly payment, but the government is hopeful the change will give parents an immediate incentive to have their children immunised.

Social Services Minister Christian Porter told parliament, "The government considers there is no excuse for parents who, for no valid medical reason, choose to not immunise their children. 

"These parents are not only putting their own children's health at risk but they risk the health of every other child."

Families will be given a 63-day grace period if a child does not meet the requirements.

Immunisation rates have risen nationally since the first no jab no pay measures were introduced in January 2016.

But Cassandra Goldie, CEO at the Australian Council of Social Services, credits another approach.

"GPs are now paid an incentive payment to remind parents to immunise their children," she says.

"We think that actually why we are seeing improved immunisation rates across the country, that is the health approach, we know that GPs are a really important part of the picture and we suspect that's what's working."

As of June, 93.79 of one-year-olds, 90.86 of two-year-olds and 93.55 of five-year-olds were fully immunised.

It still falls short of the 95 per cent herd immunity, the level required to slow or stop the spread of disease.

For some parents, like Mum Cara, reaching that threshhold is important but she says punitive measures aren't a fair approach.

"If you have people who aren't vaccinating, it does affect the health of other kids and it puts vulnerable people at risk.

"But equally to target people who are struggling to make ends meet, is really targeting the wrong people."

Grandfather Albert Hartnett says the new laws target his community. 

"There's a good percentage of Aboriginal people on unemployment benefits or some Centrelink benefits," he says.

"The government, when they trial different policies and legislations, they also seem to target the socially disadvantaged." 

Human Services Minister Alan Tudge conceded it was much more difficult to coerce wealthier families into vaccinating their kids.

"Obviously we've got one significant lever and that is the welfare dollar and we're utilising that and have been having tremendous impacts," he told Sky News.

"But there's still a little bit to go, which is why Christian Porter has changed the parameters slightly to have a more instantaneous outcome."

The measure will save the government just under $23 million.

The legislation also proposes a number of changes to child support arrangements.

European countries cracking down

Some European countries are also moving toward tougher legislation, many in response to a earlier this year.

Italy passed a law that makes 12 childhood vaccinations mandatory. 

In France, as of 2018, will be compulsory and in Germany vaccine-hesitant parents can be fined.

German-born mum Anja Wendt told SBS she's aware of other measures in her home-country.

"I know in Berlin, for example, a lot of parents don't do that [vaccinate]. I'm pretty sure you have to explain at childcare and school why you don't do it and you might be excluded." 

4 min read
Published 14 September 2017 at 10:50am