Public Health Amendment (Review) Bill 2017

September 13, 2017

 I am delighted to contribute to debate on the Public Health Amendment (Review) Bill 2017, which relates to the important but controversial issue of vaccinations. From the outset, I make it clear that I support vaccinations. I have long supported the Labor Opposition's position on vaccinations and whether unvaccinated children should be permitted to attend childcare centres and schools. I had a conversation with a Campbelltown constituent who, after hearing Senator Pauline Hanson's comments on vaccinations in the Senate, will no longer support her. With all due respect to Senator Hanson, she yet again saw an opportunity for popularity but she was on the wrong horse on this issue as a lot of her followers are demographically diverse and her speech went against her. The constituent I spoke with was an elderly woman who had lost a child to a disease because a vaccination was not available when her child was ill.

A lot of people are alive as a result of vaccinations. People older than me, such as my parents and grandparents, baby boomers and others, have lived through times when children have died needlessly. Immunisation is science at work—work that began some time ago. The amendments in the bill are appropriate to ensure that stronger measures are put in place. That is why we on this side are supporting the bill that was introduced by the Government. The bill makes small amendments to the Public Health Act, but the key amendment will ban unvaccinated children from being enrolled at childcare centres, which I support. I am a firm believer that parents should have the right to raise their children as they see fit, but nobody has the right to endanger the lives of their child or other children by refusing to have their child vaccinated.

Recent reports, which show that the attendance of patients at New South Wales hospitals with vaccination‑preventable diseases, such as whooping cough and measles, has become prevalent, are an indication why we need to take these appropriate steps. Earlier this month it was reported that a northern beaches mother wants to set up a vaccine‑free day care centre, and in September 2015 a Lismore mother said that she wanted to set up a similar venture in her area. Both women have called for expressions of support to sidestep current laws which require children in childcare centres to be vaccinated.

In order to achieve herd immunity in Australia we must maintain a vaccination rate much higher than 90 per cent. Having a large percentage of the population immune provides a form of indirect protection from infectious diseases. As a father of two boys, I am a firm supporter of immunisation. We need to find ways to increase vaccination rates. If it requires us to fix loopholes, as these amendments will, I welcome such measures. We make no apologies for taking these tough steps to protect children, even if they are controversial. As with most matters that come to this place and in public discussions and debate, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I respect those who have an alternative opinion but, reciprocally, it is only fair that they respect those who strongly support immunisation.

It is concerning to see vaccination rates dropping to dangerously low levels in some areas. From memory, the far North Coast, the eastern suburbs and the north shore have the worst vaccination rates. The rates of immunisation for five‑year‑olds in various areas are: Mullumbimby, 52 per cent; Byron Bay, 73.2 per cent; Bondi, 86.8 per cent; the Sydney central business district, 70.5 per cent; and Burwood 81.4 per cent, or 2,134 five‑year‑olds fully immunised. These disturbing figures highlight why these amendments are required. I draw the House's attention to some definitions in the amendments. At part 2, schedule 1, the bill states:

Section 4 Responsibilities of local government relating to environmental health

Insert "private water suppliers, water carters," before "public" in section 4 (1).

Part 3, schedule 1 defines "private water supplier":

Section 4 (3)

Insert after section 4 (2):

(3)In this section:

private water supplier means a person who supplies drinking water in the course of a commercial undertaking (other than that of supplying bottled or packaged drinking water), being a person who has not received the water:

(a)any supplied drinking water referred to in paragraphs (a)‑(g) of the definition of supplier of drinking water in section 5 (1), or

(b)in the form of bottled or packaged water.

I note the discussions relating to the proposed amendments to section 79 of the Act, and I look forward to seeing what transpires in that regard. I refer to proposed section 39A, "Eyeball tattooing to be carried out by a medical practitioner or other qualified person". There are not many more sensitive parts of the human body than our eyes and we must take care of them. It is the role of this Parliament to ensure that safety measures are in place for eyeball tattooing, just as with any other procedure. It is beyond me why anybody would want to tattoo their eyes but, clearly, those people also need protection. The amendments in this bill will provide that protection. The public would be most interested in the proposed change to section 87 of the Act, "Responsibilities of principals of child care facilities with respect to immunisation". The bill omits section 87 (1) (a) to (c) and inserts instead:

(a)a vaccination certificate and, if the vaccination certificate does not cover some of the vaccine preventable diseases for which immunisation at the child's age is recommended by the NSW Immunisation Schedule, a medical certificate in respect of any vaccine preventable disease not covered by the vaccination certificate, or

(b)if a vaccination certificate is not provided—a medical certificate in respect of the vaccine preventable diseases for which immunisation at the child's age is recommended by the NSW Immunisation Schedule.

I draw the attention of members to new section 88, which relates to the responsibilities of principals during outbreaks of vaccine‑preventable diseases. It reads:

(1)The principal of a school or child care facility must, as soon as practicable, ensure that the public health officer is given notice in writing, in the approved form, if:

(a)the principal becomes aware that a child enrolled at the school or facility has a vaccine preventable disease, or

(b)the principal reasonably suspects that a child enrolled at the school or facility who is a child at risk has come into contact with a person who has a vaccine preventable disease.

The Opposition is supporting the bill and I will be watching its passage through the other House with interest. I acknowledge the Hon. Walt Secord, who has led this debate for some time. Taking a collaborative approach to amendments on these matters is for the benefit of all.