Parliament: Speeches on Bills

South Australian Public Health (Immunisation and Early Childhood Services) Amendment Bill

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: While I would be the last person who would want to take away from the importance of immunisation in terms of its positive impact on public health, I have been contacted by parents who are concerned about this bill because of the way it seeks to enmesh the medical practice of immunisation with the right of a child to education.

Early childhood is one of the great frontiers of discovery of our time. Neuroscience is giving us a greater insight into the importance of this as an incredible time for brain architecture. Engaging children in early childhood services holds benefits that set the course of their lives, literally, including reducing their involvement in the criminal justice system.

So, there are economic imperatives for ensuring that all young children are actively engaged and involved with early childhood education services. This is a time of life when engaging the child also includes engaging their parents, which is something that tends to drop off over the years as children move into primary and secondary school years.

In the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, childhood deaths from infectious diseases such as measles, diphtheria and polio were common. Vaccines have dramatically reduced the rates of many childhood infections. Deaths from vaccine preventable diseases (VPDs) are now very rare. Their incidence has fallen sharply because of successful immunisation programs. Medical advances through immunisation have prevented disease. The Dignity Party supports positive public health measures that are proven to improve health outcomes for the population.

Through the lobbying that has come before me on this bill, I have decided to offer amendments that put forward the views of people in the community. These include the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), who have written, I believe, to all members, who would have received a copy of their letter to the Communicable Disease Control Branch of SA Health. The RACP letter expresses concern and in particular states the following:

The RACP is very concerned about section 96C of the Amendment Bill, which proposes to deny attendance not only to child care, but also to pre-school, to children who do not meet Australian immunisation requirements. In the older preschool group, any incremental benefit from this proposed measure in strengthening protection against vaccine-preventable diseases (VPDs) is miniscule, as Australia has high overall rates of immunisation and children over 2 years of age have received most vaccines and boosters. This means any increase in protection for other children from exclusion of incompletely immunised children from pre-school is negligible, whereas that the detrimental effects of lack of access to early childhood education and care on a child’s long-term development are potentially very large.

This correspondence further recommends that making full documentation of immunisation status compulsory at each new enrolment would ‘significantly strengthen’ South Australia’s already robust protection against vaccine preventable disease outbreaks.

The amendments that the Dignity Party is putting forward are a way of including in our debate the voices of families who wish to be able to make an informed decision, who wish to make choices without coercion and who find the tying of the medical practice of vaccination into the hitherto unrelated area of early childhood education and care to be unacceptable, including those in the medical profession through the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Many of these families are parents of children who have had some vaccinations. Many of those families are people who are in close contact with their general practitioners about the issue of immunisation, many of whom see themselves as being very separate to the general anti-vax debate.

The Dignity Party and myself, I want to clearly state, are not against the evidenced-based practice of immunisation against VPDs. But we sound caution because there is a need to actively encourage early childhood education, and tying it to vaccination is likely to be discouraging to some families and may result in a disengagement or a lack of engagement from services, and it will make very little difference to our already high level of vaccine compliance. There is no question in my amendment about the exclusion of under-vaccinated children if a current outbreak is active.

We certainly do not want this to be a blanket measure, but we do want there to be some room for the medical practice of immunisation and the very well-supported educational practice and development practice of child education and welfare and care to be more nuanced for the long-term benefit of young children and young people in this state.