Anti-vaccination parents could be denied government benefits in Australia
Essentially a 'no jab, no pay' policy, Australian PM Tony Abbott says
Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children will miss out on government benefits of up to $15,000 per child under a new measure announced by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Under current laws, families with children who are not immunized can still receive annual childcare rebates and other benefits if they have a personal, philosophical or religious objection.
Abbott said the rules would now be tightened to only allow a small number of religious and medical exceptions, but he would not say how much the move was likely to save.
"This is essentially a 'no jab, no pay' policy from this Government," Abbott said.
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"It's a very important public health announcement, it's a very important measure to keep our children and our families as safe as possible."
Social Services Minister Scott Morrison said he only expected a very small number of families to be exempted from the new policy.
Morrison said parents seeking a religious exception would need to be registered with their church or similar organization.
"That's the only basis upon which you can have a religious exception, and there are no mainstream religions that have such objections registered so this would apply to a very, very small proportion of people," he said.
"It'd be lucky to be in the thousands, if that."
"The choice made by families not to immunize their children is not supported by public policy or medical research, nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of childcare payments," Abbott added in a joint statement with Morrison.
Safety of children paramount in public policy: Opposition
Under the policy which the coalition took to the last election, and which is supported by Labor, "conscientious objection" would no longer be allowed for parents who refuse to vaccinate their children but still want to receive child care payments and family tax benefit supplements.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was a sensible step.
"We believe fundamentally in the science of vaccinations and we fundamentally believe that policy should be made by the best evidence and the best science," he said.
"And we would say to the Liberal Government, we're pleased that you're agreeing with our position and yes we will cooperate to make sure that the safety of our children is what is paramount in public policy."
Jo Briskey from advocacy group Parenthood has also welcomed the move.
"Well this will hopefully increase the rates of immunisation, which unfortunately are starting to fall behind the rates that are safe for our community," she said.
"So we're hoping to see less parents choosing not to vaccinate their kids."
Australia has vaccination rates of over 90 per cent for children aged one to five years.
But the government said more than 39,000 children aged under seven were not vaccinated because of their parents' objections — an increase of more than 24,000 children over the past decade.