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

Written on the 12 November 2015

 

22 October 2015

COUNCIL 

Second reading  GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)

 

I am pleased to rise to speak on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (No Jab, No Play) Bill 2015. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 to increase immunisation rates for young children in the community. As someone who is strongly supportive of vaccination programs and ensuring that we are protected, I and as Ms Wooldridge has already stated the coalition will not be opposing the bill.

Under the proposed no jab, no play legislation all parents and guardians seeking to enrol their child in an early childhood service in Victoria will be required to provide evidence that the child is fully immunised for their age, is on a vaccination catch-up program or is unable to be fully immunised for medical reasons. Conscientious objection will not be an exemption, as has been highlighted by previous speakers.

As I have said, I am fully supportive of vaccination programs. They are one of the most effective interventions to prevent diseases worldwide and in our own communities. I have previously worked as a nurse and midwife and have seen children coming into paediatric wards with the severe effects of whooping cough, respiratory diseases and complications from measles, and I have also seen young pregnant women with tuberculosis and the terrible health conditions they have to put up with because they have not been immunised or exposed to vaccination programs.

This point is beautifully highlighted in a timely article on polio by two eminent and distinguished Australians, Sir Gustav Nossal and Dr Fiona Stanley, which was published on Monday. The headline is 'We Need One Last Push to Eradicate the Misery'. The authors talk about Australia leading the way in pushing for the eradication of polio and the fact that a Rotary program 35 years ago began that campaign. We are close to achieving a polio-free world, and the article goes on to outline the benefits of that. It states that the:

world will reportedly reap financial savings of nearly $70 billion over the next two decades, proving what's possible when the global community comes together to improve children's lives.

As we know, various vaccination programs are available in this country. I have spoken about the benefits of herd immunity within the general community, which will occur if we get those vaccination rates up. I have to pay tribute to the previous Minister for Health, who with others worked on achieving Victoria's immunity rate of around 93 per cent.

Ms Mikakos The former health minister who cut the whooping cough

Ms CROZIER I will take up Ms Mikakos's interjection. These rates are something the state should be very proud of, and I hope her government does not let them slide.

I will return to the bill. The department's website states that the government wants to achieve this objective but, as has previously been stated in this debate by Ms Wooldridge, the rhetoric does not match the reality. The department's website states that:

The Victorian government has proposed new legislation known as 'no jab, no play' which requires all children to be fully vaccinated to be enrolled in child care and/or kindergarten in Victoria unless they have a medical exemption.

As I have stated, I am fully supportive of this initiative. However, when you look at the bill, there are a number of exemptions.

A huge number of children will potentially be exempted from this program, which means we will not reach the herd immunity we are aiming for, nor will we achieve the benefits that come from having those high rates. Children will potentially slip through the gaps. I will read from new section 143C, which is headed 'Exemption early childhood services'. It states that:

(1)   Subject to subsection (2), the person in charge of an early childhood service is not required to comply with section 143B in relation to a child if

(a) the child and the child's parent are evacuated from their place of residence due to an emergency within the meaning of section 3(1) of the Emergency Management Act 2013; or

(b)   the child is in emergency care within the meaning of section 3(1) of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005; or

(c)    the child is in the care of an adult who is not the child's parent due to exceptional circumstances such as illness or incapacity; or

(d)   a parent of the child states that the child

-  is descended from an Aborigine or Torres Strait Islander; and

-  identifies as an Aborigine or Torres Strait Islander; and

-  is accepted as an Aborigine or Torres Strait Islander by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island community; or

(e)    the child is in the care of a parent who is the holder of

-  a health care card issued under section 1061ZS of the Social Security Act 1991 of the Commonwealth; or

-  a pensioner concession card issued

-  a Gold Card, being a card issued to a person who is eligible

-  a White Card, being a card issued to a person who is eligible

(f)    the child's birth was a multiple birth, (being the birth of triplets or more); or

(g)   a circumstance specified in the guidelines

 

I make that point because those exemptions include an enormous number of children.

The government's website says:

'We are having this vaccination rate and this is going to be the benefit for all children' and,

'You have to have this done to be enrolled in an early childhood education setting unless you have a medical certificate', but this is not correct.

I want to make these points because the government has a habit of saying one thing and doing something completely different.

Nevertheless, I will return to issues of early childhood, for which I have responsibility, with regard to this bill. I will be raising concerns in the committee stage. The early childhood sector has responsibilities

Ms Mikakos interjected.

Ms CROZIER I will come back to the 16 weeks. I have an email from the early childhood sector which states that they absolutely support the public health policy intent but they are concerned about the public education implications. Their concerns are that children are going to be penalised.

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms CROZIER Are members finished? If Ms Mikakos will allow me to go back to the bill

Honourable members interjecting.

Ms Lovell On a point of order, President, my colleague Ms Crozier is trying to give her contribution but she is being howled down by the minister on the other side of the chamber, who has had an opportunity to put her side of the debate to the chamber during the second-reading debate.

Ms Shing On the point of order, President, Ms Crozier has not taken up the interjection. It is open to her to do so or not do so. We all find ourselves in the position of entertaining objections and interjections in the course of our contributions, so to that end there is no point of order.

The PRESIDENT Order! Stop the clock. In fact give the clock another 2 minutes. I make the point that interjections are unruly full stop and are really not entertained by the Chair at all on any occasion. As we know, there is a certain tolerance in the house for interjections, but it is true that I do not expect persistent interjections and intervention and attempts to distract the member. The occasional interjection or comment is fair enough. As Ms Shing says, there is an opportunity for a speaker to take up interjections if they wish, but to have a fairly incessant commentary during a speaker's remarks is not in the interests of the proceedings of the house and is totally disrespectful to the member on their feet. To that extent, I do uphold the point of order. Ms Crozier has 2 minutes back on the clock.

Ms CROZIER As I was stating, some concerns have been raised with me. As I have said, people in the early childhood sector support the public health policy intent but are concerned about the public education policy implications. I think we are all in agreement that children need and benefit greatly from early childhood care, from both an educational and a social interaction point of view. Because as many Victorian children as possible will be attending early childhood education services, the last thing we want is to have children not attend because of their immunisation status. That is the concern raised with me by various early childhood service operators and others who are heavily involved in the sector.

Their concern is that if parents do not have their children immunised and vaccinated, then the children miss out, and what happens to those children? Those concerns are valid, and I think that the children are the ones who are going to lose here, not the parents. If we look at the legislation brought in by the federal government in relation to this matter, the parents are penalised rather than the children. I want to raise that point.

As I said, I am fully in support of immunisation and vaccination programs because I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of children not being vaccinated or immunised. I return to the point that the World Health Organisation has stated that the two most effective measures that can be undertaken to assist developing countries are to have clean water and to have vaccination programs. I think we are all in agreement with that, but it is about how this is implemented. As we know, the bill highlights a number of exemptions, so potentially a number of children will be falling through the gaps. I have raised those concerns, and I will be raising a couple more during the committee stage of the bill.

Another concern I have is about particular areas of early childhood services having to monitor which children have or have not been immunised or vaccinated. I understand it is the responsibility of people in early childhood services to provide information to parents, but what does that do, and how do we monitor that? How will those early education services be able to follow up those children who potentially will be missing out on the benefits of early education?

I am also concerned about vulnerable children, a number of whom are noted to be in areas of disadvantage. I spoke about this earlier this week in relation to a reading program and the enormous benefits that a simple reading program can provide to children. Again, it goes to the point of the benefits of early childhood education. I note that the onus is on people in an early childhood setting to take reasonable steps, within 16 weeks after the date on which a child first attends the early childhood service, to ensure that an immunisation status certificate for the child is provided by a parent of the child. That is an issue that I will be seeking more clarification on in the committee stage of the bill, in relation to the monitoring and follow-up of that process and to ensure that that happens.

Nevertheless, I note that the intention of the bill is to increase immunisation rates for young children in the community and I fully support that intention. I hope we can maintain those immunisation rates across Victoria, and I also hope we can maintain the attendance of children at early childhood services across the state.

 


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