Now, the No Jab, No Pay immunisation policy is being altered, with new legislation being introduced
Yes, under the changes, parents’ tax benefits will be reduced each fortnight, rather than the present system that withholds a lump sum at the end of each year. We’re joined to talk about this now by the Social Services Minister, Christian Porter, in Canberra.
Minister, good morning to you.
So explain how this change will work and how you believe this fortnight penalty will work better than the annual one at the moment?
Well, the No Jab, No Pay policy and the cashless welfare card that was mentioned in your news bulletin are all about the Government trying to move away from this old-fashioned welfare style system that used to push money out the door without really expecting enough in return, to having stronger mutual obligations.
And with No Jab, No Pay, we’ve had very good success in increasing immunisation rates, but what we’re doing is moving to a system where the ‘no pay’ component is brought forward so that a family that doesn’t do the right thing and fails to have a child vaccinated could stand to lose $28 a fortnight, rather than this withholding of a supplement right at the end of the year, and we think that that immediacy provides a fortnightly incentive and reminder which will even further lift up vaccination rates. We’ve had great success so far.
Okay, and what ideally is your target in terms of rates?
MINISTER PORTER: Well, the target is what doctors rather unglamorously call herd immunity of 95 per cent of the relevant age groups amongst children. So when we hit that 95 per cent mark, that means that we’re fairly much guaranteed not to see resurgence of diseases like polio and whooping cough. The reason that we brought this policy in in the first place is because we were hitting vaccination rates of beneath 90 per cent, and that was actually causing the resurgence of diseases that we had not seen in Australia in decades. There were many people actually opposed to No Jab, No Pay, and said it wouldn’t work and that the linking of welfare payments to behavioural change in terms of getting kids vaccinated would be ineffective. They’ve been proved, I might say, spectacularly wrong because this has been an outstanding success so far.
But we think that this strengthening and making more immediate of the potential loss of money is going to mean that even more families choose to get their kids vaccinated and go through that organisational process, and we’ve had 210,000 families so far who weren’t having kids vaccinated who now are.
Does it worry you, at the same time, that we still have this – thankfully albeit very small, but at the same time vocal – minority of parents who simply just don’t vaccinate their kids?
MINISTER PORTER: Yeah, well there’s two groups that seem to historically not vaccinate their kids. There’s objectors on philosophical or completely wrong-headed grounds to vaccination – call them anti-vaxxers if you like – and then there are just a lot of Australian families who had fallen out of the habit and who hadn’t seen it as a priority. We’ve actually managed to improve the behaviour of both those groups. Of course, there are always going to be some people that determine, for reasons that are utterly wrong-headed, that vaccination shouldn’t happen. It absolutely should. We’re not going to convince all of those people, but what this policy has shown is that if you do have the ultimate sanction of withholding a welfare benefit – in this case Family Tax Benefit – that you can change the behaviour of groups in the community. As I say, 210,000 families, the vaccination rates are going up steadily towards that 95 per cent. We will get there. And in one great example of the success of this policy, for five-year-old Indigenous kids the vaccination rate has tipped over that 95 per cent, and for that age group for Indigenous kids, their vaccination rates are actually higher than for non-Indigenous kids, which is a fantastic outcome and one that I want to see us replicate right across Australian society.
Okay. A couple of quick issues before you leave, Minister. You’d be aware your Nationals colleagues are calling for the cashless welfare card to be rolled out to all unemployed people in rural and regional Australia. It’s currently the subject of trials in certain locations. Is this where the Government is heading?
Well, we haven’t got a plan of that nature at the present time. We’ve got two trials that are well advanced and have been subject to a very thoroughgoing review – one in Ceduna, one in the East Kimberley in my home state. We’ve announced a third trial in the Goldfields, again in WA, and a fourth trial site will be announced soon. I absolutely understand the National Party’s enthusiasm, and I thank them for it, because with the two trial sites that we’ve had running now for some time the evaluation reports have been overwhelmingly positive.
This card is working to improve individual lives in these communities. There is less alcohol being consumed, there are less drugs being consumed, there’s less gambling, there’s greater purchases of fresh food and clothing for children. No one pretends it’s a panacea or a silver bullet to every problem, but it is clearly working. So we will evaluate the next two trial sites and make further decisions at a later point. But I must say that so far, with the great work of Alan Tudge, the Human Services Minister, we have finally found something where there is demonstrable, observable, and measurable improvements to individual lives on the ground that were being wrecked by alcohol and drug consumption.
And finally, you’re also the Minister responsible for setting up this compensation scheme for victims of sexual abuse. We’re seeing all these horrible stories coming out from the royal commission. It’s going to be an opt-in system. Are you worried that there hasn’t been so much opting in so far from the states and territories?
Well, we’re getting there. It was always going to be an opt-in system, because the Commonwealth Government simply doesn’t have the power, other than with respect to the ACT and Northern Territory, to compel other state jurisdictions, or indeed churches or charities, to come into the scheme. But I have been in months of very detailed and complicated negotiations with the churches, the charities, the states. I’m confident that we’ll have a high level of opt-in. But we are designing the system with two fundamental features, one obviously to maximise the amount of opt-in so there’s as much national consistency as possible, but more fundamentally, and primarily, we are designing a system that is in the best interests of the victims of abuse, and then we very much hope that organisations, churches and charities, will do the right thing by those victims and opt into this scheme, and I’m confident that will happen.
Some states are concerned, though, about the potentially very large compensation payments as they would apply at state-run institutions. If you don’t get a high level, as you say, of opt-in, can this scheme fly at all?
It will fly, and we’re very well-advanced. The first draft of the legislation has gone out to the states and territories. The second version of the legislation will go out to those same bodies and others very shortly. Of course, there are going to be concerns along the way about the design, and it’s intricate and it’s complicated, but ultimately this is a system designed to do the best by victims. And what the royal commission said, and what we think is utterly critical here, is that the system be what is known as a responsible entity pay system, so that the requirement and the responsibility to pay redress to a victim rests on the organisation – whether that’s a government or a church or a charity – who was responsible for the abuse, and that is the critical linchpin that will underpin the design of the system. And that is something that all states and territories, and churches and charities, have to – and I think are – accepting.