Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (No Jab, No Play) Bill 2015

Mr J. BULL (Sunbury) — It gives me great pleasure to rise to contribute to debate on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (No Jab, No Play) Bill 2015. Before I begin my contribution I want to reflect on the contribution of the member for Dandenong, who mentioned her Aunty Kate. What stood out to me in that contribution is that there can be an element of complacency that arises when we are talking about vaccinations. That is certainly the case for my generation but less so for my parents’ generation and, I would like to hope, for the generation after mine. We should always remember that there are countless examples throughout time of vaccination rates being far lower than they are today, and as a result there was a spreading of disease resulting in death.

It is true to say that Victoria and Australia are fortunate that our vaccination rates are what could be described as quite good, but they certainly could be improved. The bill makes good on a policy commitment we took to the last election. It enshrines in law our no jab, no play policy. The science is clear: vaccinations save lives.

Before I go to the bill I want to reflect on some of the findings I came across while researching the legislation and looking at other jurisdictions and countries across the world. Countries that have high vaccination rates have high survival rates. Countries that have advanced vaccination programs have better health outcomes and significantly lower rates of death and disease. The vast majority of the community understands this, and it goes to the heart of the bill. As I have mentioned, we are fortunate as a state and a nation to have good immunisation rates, but the bill works to enhance those rates.

In my research I came across some findings. Online in 2013 Vaccine Nation stated that the BBC had recently reported on the global growth of immunisation but highlighted that 1.5 million children still die from diseases that could be prevented by routine vaccines. So it is 1.5 million children globally, which is quite startling. In 2013 it reported that the Central African Republic, with a vaccination rate of less than 50 per cent, has suffered from violence and insecurity over the past year and has seen a declining rate in vaccination figures as a result of political instability. As a result of this, 1.2 million people were cut off from basic services. This nation is one of the poorest countries in the world and has been plagued with instability since it became independent in 1960. Tens of thousands of people were forced to flee following unprecedented levels of violence.

What we often see in places that are dealing with great instability and political conflict are health systems that are certainly not up to the standard of ours. The findings reported that:

Measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children. Mass violence and armed conflict … has left millions of people without access to basic health care, with hundreds of thousands of children at risk from a disease that can spread rapidly amongst deprived communities …

There are 1.5 million children around the world who still die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases, as I have mentioned, and it is estimated that between 2 million and 3 million children per year are saved through vaccination programs. If we look at North America and much of Europe we see that vaccination rates are 90 per cent and above, but they are below 50 per cent in some African nations and other nations on other continents.

In Victoria vaccination rates are high by international standards, as I have mentioned, at 92 per cent, but they have stalled over recent years. The government knows that it can do a lot more to improve those rates, and the legislation before the house is designed to do exactly that. Currently the routine vaccinations given through the national immunisation program are diphtheria, influenza type B, hepatitis B, measles, meningococcal C, mumps, whooping cough, polio, rotaviral gastroenteritis, rubella, tetanus and chickenpox. The government wants to ensure that as many children as possible benefit from the policy and are protected from these preventable diseases. In all, 3254 early childhood education and care services that support 260 000 children will benefit from the policy.

The Andrews government has consulted widely on the legislation through the Department of Health and Human Services and local healthcare providers as well as local government authorities. Many have come out in support of this bill. Kindergarten mum Susie Forbes was quoted as saying:

When you take your kids to day care you have to consider the fact that not vaccinating your children not only puts them at risk of serious illness, but also other children, pregnant women and infants too young for jabs …

Under this legislation new rules will come into effect from 1 January 2016. However, those who are enrolled with an enrolment confirmed in writing by 31 December 2015 will not be impacted by the proposed legislation.

The bill also removes conscientious objection as an allowable exemption category, bringing the legislation into line with a similar move recently announced by the federal government, which a number of members have spoken about today, as part of its no jab, no play policy. By removing that provision this government is protecting not only individuals but also others in the community.

This goes to the heart of what many in the community have been asking for — that is, removing the risk to their children caused by those who conscientiously object. The bill aims for wider protection with what is called a ‘herd immunity’, which in the case of measles is when a 95 per cent immunisation rate is met. If we can see the trends and the graph rising to indicate that immunisation rates are on the increase, that will be a wonderful health outcome for our communities. It will mean that children who cannot be immunised for medical reasons through the exemption that is allowed under the legislation will get the benefit of the policy by having a greater chance of protection against these horrible but preventable diseases.

A number of bills that have come through the house have addressed some community issues, such as the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Amendment Bill 2015, which we debated yesterday. In my contribution yesterday I mentioned the fact that Parliament does deal with these issues as they arise. It is also worth stressing that in looking for desired health outcomes, a bill such as this is extremely important in improving health rates right across the community and the state. This is a bill I am very proud of.

With this legislation the government is also bringing forward the whooping cough vaccination program to deal with the growing spike in cases of the deadly disease. It is a disease we need to ensure that we respond rapidly to and make sure we are on top of. The government has invested $8.4 million over four years to ensure that more than 80 000 doses will be available for free for parents of newborns and expectant parents. It has expanded eligibility for the program beyond that which previously applied before the Liberals axed it. It is fair to say that there was great disappointment and concern in the community when the program was given the chop. Labor members campaigned hard against the Liberals, who cut this program. It is very important that it is back and will work hand in hand with this bill. The bill is about a broader and stronger health focus for the community. It is a bill I fully support and commend to the house.