2GB Sunday evening with Natalie and Michael
MICHAEL PACHI: We’re joined on the line by the Federal Social Services Minister, Christian Porter. Mr Porter thanks for your time.
MINISTER PORTER: Pleasure Michael.
MICHAEL PACHI: So take us through what happens from this Friday, No Jab, No Pay.
MINISTER PORTER: Yeah, so it’s a critical date. From this Friday, where the childhood immunisation register is up to date and we’re confident that it’s up to date, if you’re not appearing on it then your payments, childcare subsidies will stop. In some instances, there’s been a lag in updating the registers in some states, and we’ll continue to pay. But if you have not had your child vaccinated by March 18 or you have not entered into a catch-up schedule, you might be paid for a short number of weeks until the register is up to date but then your payments will stop and you would have incurred a debt in between March 18 and the date the register gets up to date. So it’s a very critical date and the news so far has been outstanding because over the last year there’s been very significant improvement and this is even before the policy has come into force. So the mere announcement and formulation of the policy over the last year, parents have been preparing, doing the right thing and vaccination rates have improved very significantly.
NATALIE PETERS: Do you think it’s directly because of that threat and do you think it is almost disappointing in a way that it is threat of financial hardship rather than perhaps health that’s motivating some of these parents?
MINISTER PORTER: Well I think it is the policy and the policy is working. There is nothing else in this environment that has changed over the last 12 months other than this very clear policy. The policy has been very well known and the media have been very helpful in getting the message out there and look the changes over the last 12 months for instance, the rate of immunisation for children has increased from 90.6% to 90, ah, 92%. Now that might not seem like a lot, but in the context of what we’ve been dealing with that is very significant because doctors talk about a herd immunity which is about 95% for critical diseases, and when you reach that magical 95% mark, that’s when you can be assured that children will be safe at primary school, in childcare centres. So that’s what we’re aiming for. And you are right, people, a large number of conscientious objectors – but also some people who just in our busy modern lives – needed this kind of policy for them to focus on something that really is important above other things.
MICHAEL PACHI: On hitting this 95% target Mr Porter, do we actually have enough vaccine in stock? No doubt there is going to be a rush this week, with parents ensuring that their kids have received their various vaccinations.
MINISTER PORTER: Well Michael, the good news is there has been a rush over the last six months so doctors have been experiencing that over the last six months, plenty of vaccinations. There is a little bit of a lag in some states in actually recording the fact of the child having their vaccination on what’s known as the Australian Childhood Immunisation Register, but that problem will be sorted out in the next several weeks. So look, it has all been going very well and as I say the results have been excellent. So another piece of information I can give you is the number of children in 2014 whose parents registered them as conscientious objectors was about 39,523. Twelve months later that figure has dropped to 30,092, so it’s almost a 10,000 drop in the number of parents registering their children as vaccination objectors, which again I think is a very, very positive outcome.
MICHAEL PACHI: And you’d expect that drop of conscientious objectors to continue as the year goes on?
MINISTER PORTER: I would. And I’d also expect that those parents who for one reason or another have sort of lost sight of the importance of vaccinations and have let other things get in the way of catch-up schedules and vaccinations, I think they will have their mind very sharply focussed over the next 12 months as well. But so far, so good – everything is travelling in the right direction very substantially.
MICHAEL PACHI: Okay Mr Porter, very quickly just on another issue. The PM, he marks six months in office tomorrow. Bill Shorten has been out there campaigning today saying that Malcolm Turnbull has been a huge letdown for many Australians. Now of course I know you’re going to disagree with that. But how does the government defend its record against these sorts of claims that Bill Shorten is making?
MINISTER PORTER: Well look I think it defends its record by pointing things that it has done in the last six months. Very shortly into that six month period Malcolm Turnbull put out a very substantial innovation policy which involved large amounts of expenditure but also a clever policy arranged around trying to provide people with incentive to invest in microenterprises and enterprises which involve technology start-ups. That happened within the first month or so. In the last several weeks we’re had very substantive reform to media ownership laws and frankly this is the type of reform that previous leaders and prime ministers have kicked the can down the road on. So I think you have to keep going out talking about the very substantive things that you have done in the last six months and there have been plenty of them.
MICHAEL PACHI: Do you think that if there is an early election, and I know the discussions are going to continue next week when Parliament resumes, and we’ve got the Senate reform laws that are going to be the focus of Parliament next week… but do you think that an early election would give the Turnbull Government a sense of legitimacy in the community, allow you to have your own mandate knowing that Malcolm Turnbull has won the election in his own right? At the moment, there is no doubt that the government is, that Malcolm Turnbull is in power on the coat tails on what Tony Abbott delivered, you know, since 2010.
MINISTER PORTER: Well Michael if I could coarsely summarise your question – is it good to win elections? It most certainly is…
MICHAEL PACHI: Yeah, but in terms…a lot of people would suggest that the last election, and most people in the 2013 election would have thought they voted for Tony Abbott and then of course Malcolm Turnbull won the leadership in September. Do you think that an early election would provide the Prime Minister with a sense of legitimacy going and moving forward?
MINISTER PORTER: Well look I’m not going to make comments about election dates or timing, the Prime Minister’s been, I think, very clear on the way in which that will be approached and it will be approached in an orthodox manner. But of course it’s very important, we think, that the election be debated on clear issues, and on clear lines I think. The Budget that you’ll see coming out in May is going to be very important in terms of delineating the choices that people have got. And one of the choices that they’ve got at the moment is a negative gearing policy which would, I think – and most experts agree – decrease the price of your house and existing housing stock and increase rent. And that seems to me to be a very unwise policy, and that will be one of the ones that people will be making a decision on when we head towards the election.
MICHAEL PACHI: How seriously do you think that Liberal Party, and the Coalition more in general, do need to take the challenge by Bill Shorten? He’s already declared himself the underdog. Does Bill Shorten pose a real threat or is this election very much for Malcolm Turnbull to lose?
MINISTER PORTER: I think all elections in the modern era are very, very tight and will be hotly contested. But as I point out, we’ve had, I think, six months of some pretty significant achievements. It’s always the case that you’ve got to go out and sell those achievements and as I point out, something as very significant as the type of reform we’ve seen in terms of media ownership, which previous government have just been unwilling or unable to tackle, has been tackled by Malcolm Turnbull’s government. We’ve got the Budget coming up which will be very important. But of course this election is going to be very tight.
MICHAEL PACHI: Ok Mr Porter, look thank you very much for your time tonight.
MINISTER PORTER: No problems. Thank you, Michael.