Ms FICARRA (Georges River) [12.21 p.m.]: This motion is very timely, as previous speakers have said, because of the low rate of immunisation not only in New South Wales but throughout Australia. Since the beginning of this year six babies have died from the effects of whooping cough. It is clearly established in the medical and scientific community throughout the world that immunisation is the single most cost-effective means of preventing a number of serious diseases, and achieving high rates of immunisation in the population as a whole prevents the spread of diseases. The Opposition has called on the State Government to enforce existing laws which ban children who have not been immunised from attending school during disease outbreaks. The Opposition would like that regulation strictly enforced, and all teachers and parents should be aware that there are existing rules and regulations that should be enforced. Compulsory immunisation legislation would force parents who have been lazy, ignorant or ill informed to immunise their children; it would help to eradicate diseases such as whooping cough and measles; and it would prevent the cross-infection of children who have not been immunised.Children have been the very innocent victims of the tragic and unfortunate circumstances that have occurred and that have received considerable media attention this year. Compulsory immunisation legislation would allow the State Government to target immunisation promotions towards specific groups. With only 53 per cent of children under the age of six years fully immunised, such drastic measures are needed to protect our children from complacency and laziness. Diseases such as whooping cough and measles have killed more than 220 people in recent years, despite the fact that they are preventable diseases and should have been eradicated decades ago. The only answer is to enforce compulsory immunisation across the country to protect children whose parents do the right and responsible thing. Compulsory immunisation would have many benefits, from helping to eradicate those diseases to preventing cross-infection.I congratulate the Federal Minister for Health, Dr Wooldridge, who has shown a lot of political, social and medical sense in his campaign to improve our poor immunisation rate. He has set the target for raising rates to 95 per cent by 2001. Current levels have reached crisis point with the rate of 53 per cent being so low that the long-term health of the nation is now being put at risk. For example, Indonesia has an immunisation rate of 100 per cent, while in Britain the rate is 95 per cent. Diseases such as measles and whooping cough are in the process of being cleaned out in countries with a high immunisation rate, but are on the increase in Australia. Dr Wooldridge has foreshadowed a wide-ranging campaign to improve immunisation rates and there will be a trial of immunisation booths in shopping centres, weekend events where parents can have their children immunised, and Australia’s first immunisation research centre. The program has been allocated funding of $32 million in the next two years. Part of the focus of the campaign will be to redress the poor follow-up rates after the first immunisation. The driving force behind the program is Dr Wooldridge, who asserts correctly that the Commonwealth has to take the lead. His initiative reverses the former Government’s decision taken in 1987 to transfer responsibility for running the programs to the States.
Thanks and I will have more information on these issues soon.