Social Services Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer
Parents who do not vaccinate their children will lose welfare payments of up to $2100 per child under a federal government policy set to be announced before the May budget.
Under changes that could save more than $50 million a year, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison is preparing to scrap a "conscientious objection" provision which allows anti-vaccination parents to still claim welfare benefits including childcare assistance and Family Tax Benefit A.
Fairfax Media understands the Family Tax Benefit A is worth up to $2100 per child.
Parents of about 39,000 children have signed "conscientious objection" forms that certify they have a "personal, philosophical, religious or medical" objection to immunisation. This form, which requires a consultation with a doctor or immunisation nurse, is necessary for the parents to receive Family Tax Benfit A. But access is means tested so not every one of those parents would be receiving the payment.
While the change has been discussed as a future budget measure, Fairfax Media understands an announcement is imminent.
Many pro-vaccination groups and doctors are expected to welcome the policy as a way of further encouraging people to vaccinate their children, but other immunisation policy experts argue it would not lift immunisation rates and would discourage discussions about vaccination with doctors.
The policy comes amid rising concern about whooping cough deaths and fears of disease outbreaks in some parts of Australia where many unvaccinated children live in small communities.
Mr Morrison believes proper immunisation of children against severe diseases protects them and other children from deadly diseases and as such should be a prerequisite for receiving taxpayer assistance. He said the rules need to be tightened.
Earlier this week, Mr Morrison said the current exemptions for access to welfare payments "clearly need to be tightened".
"We've got to think about the health and wellbeing of all the other children that are put at risk, and it's their health that also matters," he said.
"And in fact, you know, those parents have taken decisions to immunise their children, and that's obviously the sensible thing to do. We're a free country, and we're for free society, but that doesn't mean you get to take taxpayers' money if you don't want to go along with the rules."
Mr Morrison's office declined to confirm or deny the plan when contacted on Friday however on Thursday the minister said: "The government is reviewing the current exemptions on vaccinations that apply to family tax benefit payments and child care subsidies as part of the families package to be delivered this year."
"The government has made no announcement on the outcome of these considerations.
The federal Department of Health advises vaccination against "measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, polio and Hib vaccines protect more than 95 per cent of children who have completed the course".
"One dose of meningococcal C vaccine at 12 months protects over 90 per cent of children. Three doses of whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine protects about 85 per cent of children who have been immunised, and will reduce the severity of the disease in the other 15 per cent if they do catch whooping cough."