Health and Child Wellbeing Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 | Second Reading

Ms SULEYMAN (St Albans) (14:16:51) — I rise to speak on the Health and Child Wellbeing Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. The bill ensures that Victoria’s child immunisation laws are absolutely up to scratch and that they protect every child in Victoria. This will make it harder for dodgy healthcare providers to operate in our state. This bill will also strengthen and clarify existing legislation to improve its operation. Specifically the bill will strengthen and simplify the no jab, no play scheme. It will also implement compulsory reporting of all children who are brought to hospital with various conditions, in particular anaphylaxis, and will crack down on dodgy doctors by improving the power of the health complaints commissioner to bring healthcare providers to prosecution.

The no jab, no play legislation has existed since 2016. It makes sure that Victorian kids are immunised before they attend kinder. As a proud aunty of an eight-year-old and a five-year-old, I have had the firsthand experience of seeing my niece and nephew going through the immunisation process, so I understand wholeheartedly the importance of making sure that every child is protected and immunised before they get to kinder, during their stay at kinder and also through their primary school years. By next year it is expected that 95 per cent of schoolkids will be immunised as a result, and this is fantastic for our community. The high rates of immunisation are vital to ensuring that diseases and illnesses are not spread in Victorian schools. I am extremely proud of the Brimbank community’s high statistics when it comes to children that have been immunised. Over 80 per cent of kids in Brimbank are protected, so this means that the legislation does work, and it does save lives.

The proposed amendments will just simplify the scheme and of course all the requirements. The amendments centralise proof of immunisation to an Australian immunisation history statement, which is easily accessible by parents online. It is important for parents to be able to have access to this sort of information online and also via Centrelink. The amendments also allow for checks to be conducted on a regular basis to make sure that schoolkids continue to be immunised and also, most importantly, to remind parents and carers to do so if children are not immunised.

Another key element of the bill is the compulsory reporting of cases of children that do have a number of diseases, and let me say that in these amendments is something that the coroner recommended: that this mandatory reporting system be established. Unfortunately this comes after the tragic death of a child due to him drinking mislabelled milk. We have all heard some pretty horrible and quite sad and tragic stories of babies and children that have lost their lives due to incorrect information, so it is important that the reporting continue. It will allow the department, when there are cases that are not quite right, to investigate and most importantly to take immediate action to make sure that these incidents do not occur. We must do this to protect the lives of the most vulnerable in our community, and they are our babies and children.

As I have previously said, there is a lot of false information relating to immunisation, and it saddens me that many parents are being tricked and misled into thinking that immunisations could actually harm their children. As we have heard from speakers today, and I say this again, there is absolutely no evidence that immunisation harms children. This is a myth that does damage and can have serious effects to the extent of someone losing their life. So Victorian parents need to be aware and be vigilant about dodgy doctors and health providers who choose to ignore the facts and encourage the spread of preventable diseases. This is not medicine. It is an absolute lie and no better than a witch tale, and it is hurting vulnerable Victorian children and destroying families.

Earlier this year the Andrews government established the office of the health complaints commissioner, and one of the powers of the commissioner is the ability to investigate and prosecute all health providers. This is an important step. In its first five months the commissioner has reported receiving a 500 per cent increase in complaints about health service providers compared to the previous year. The message is getting out there. These new laws also give the commissioner the power to name risky providers in order to protect other parents and the public from dodgy health services. This is key, I believe, to making sure that other parents and, most importantly, our community are aware of these dodgy practices.

It is important that the commissioner has the power to prosecute health providers. There is no point having a commissioner who just investigates and names dodgy operators. Those who are breaking the law or providing misleading advice that can take someone’s life must be prosecuted. The bill makes it clear that the commissioner can take serious action in order to protect Victorians and our most vulnerable. As an aunty, I know that the most precious things are our children, and we owe every single vulnerable Victorian and every single child and infant protection. We must as legislators protect them against these dodgy healthcare providers. We will put a stop to those who harm Victorian kids and stamp out dodgy operators.

In my electorate of St Albans, in Brimbank, we saw that in October more than 500 new babies were born at Sunshine Hospital. There is no doubt that the western region corridor continues to grow at a rapid pace. This is more than 100 more births than at the same time last year, and that is why the Andrews Labor government is delivering the new Joan Kirner Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and I am very proud of that. It is so important that we marry this up with good legislation that protects our children and makes sure that there is an opportunity for every child to be protected against unnecessary preventable diseases by being immunised.

I am very happy to see this legislation being tightened up. The Andrews Labor government is taking childhood immunisation very seriously. This is a serious issue in our community. We are taking real action to stamp out dodgy health providers. They should not exist, but the ones that do exist should feel the full force of the law. Since the introduction of the no jab, no play legislation almost 95 per cent of school kids will be immunised. That is a significant number, and we need to make sure that we continue to monitor these numbers and increase them so that we have 100 per cent immunised. That is the result we should be aiming for. This policy works. This policy saves lives. I thank the Minister for Health for bringing this bill to the house.