The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to public debate around vaccine incentives and mandates, including a proposal from Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese for a $300 payment for those vaccinated against the disease. Linking vaccinations to government payments is not a new policy idea in Australia—immunisation requirements for family assistance payments have been in place for decades. Rather than offering an incentive payment for families to immunise children, these requirements apply a financial penalty for those whose children are not immunised.
This FlagPost sets out the current immunisation requirements for family payments and provides a brief history of these requirements.
Current immunisation requirements
Immunisation requirements apply for eligibility for Family Tax Benefit Part A (FTB-A) and Child Care Subsidy (CCS):
Services Australia uses information held on the Australian Immunisation Register to check children’s immunisation status. Families have a grace period of 63 days to meet the requirements after receiving a notice from Services Australia.
To meet the requirements, a child must be immunised in accordance with the age-appropriate childhood schedule (birth to 4 years) or on a catch up schedule according to the current Australian Immunisation Handbook. A child may also have an exemption from meeting immunisation requirements. Approved exemptions include:
- medical contraindication
- natural immunity
- where the child is a part of an approved vaccine study
- a vaccine is temporarily unavailable
- the child has been vaccinated overseas or
- when Services Australia determines the child meets the immunisation requirements—this power can be used in special circumstances, such as where meeting the immunisation requirements might put the child or individual at risk of family violence.
Introduction of immunisation requirements for family payments
Immunisation requirements have been attached to family assistance payments since 1998. The Howard Government’s Immunise Australia: Seven Point Plan introduced immunisation requirements for child care payments (then known as Child Care Assistance and the Child Care Cash Rebate) and for an increased rate of the Maternity Allowance. The plan included financial incentives for GPs to obtain high immunisation levels for children attending their practice, immunisation targets, education and research initiatives. Then Minister for Health, Michael Wooldridge, stated:
What we are proposing here is not some two-week media campaign of feelgood messages, but a total change in the way the community looks at vaccine preventable illnesses and takes responsibility for doing something about it.
The Maternity Allowance, a supplement paid for the birth of a child, was first introduced in 1912 and was a precursor to the payment that became known as the Baby Bonus (pp. 10–13). As part of the Immunise Australia plan, the Maternity Allowance was split into two instalments: the first instalment of $750 was paid at the time of birth and a second payment of $200 at 18 months of age but only if the child was fully immunised (or exempt from the immunisation requirements). This second instalment was named the Maternity Immunisation Allowance (MIA).
The immunisation requirements for Child Care Assistance and the Child Care Cash Rebate required children to meet the relevant age-specific immunisation schedule or be exempt.
There were exemptions for medical reasons and for those who submitted a conscientious objection to immunisation (Child Care Legislation Amendment Act 1998 and the Social Security and Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Family and Other Measures) Act 1997). There was also an exemption specifically for members of the Church of Christ, Scientist.
Changes to Maternity Immunisation Allowance
In 2004, Maternity Allowance was replaced by Maternity Payment (renamed as Baby Bonus in 2007) but the MIA remained as a separate payment (p. 12). In 2009, MIA was converted into two equal payments paid when children met the 18-month and 4-year old immunisation requirements.
Immunisation requirements for FTB-A supplement
From 1 July 2012, immunisation requirements were added to the eligibility conditions for the FTB-A supplement and the MIA was abolished. The FTB-A supplement is a lump sum paid after the end of the financial year to families who receive FTB-A during that financial year.
The FTB-A supplement requirements were different from those that applied to the MIA—families needed to have their children meet the relevant immunisation schedules when they turned one, two and five years old to be eligible to receive the supplement for that financial year. The FTB-A supplement requirements had the same exemptions as child care payments did (then the Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate).
No Jab, No Pay
In April 2015, the Abbott Government announced that it would close off conscientious objection and religious exemptions from the immunisation requirements for eligibility for the FTB-A supplement, Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate. The removal of these exemptions, and a new requirement for children of all ages to meet immunisation requirements for the FTB-A supplement (including children older than four years), were included in the 2015–16 Budget as part of a package of measures aimed at boosting rates of immunisation—the policy was known as No Jab, No Pay. The changes commenced from 1 January 2016, and included free catch up vaccinations for older children who had not received all the required NIP childhood vaccinations.
Requirements changed from FTB-A supplement to FTB-A fortnightly instalments
In the 2017–18 Budget, the Turnbull Government announced that it would extend the No Jab, No Pay measure and reduce the fortnightly payments of FTB-A recipients whose children do not meet the immunisation requirements (p. 157). Then Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, and then Minister of Health and Sport, Greg Hunt, explained the rationale for the policy change in a joint media release:
Reducing fortnightly payments, rather than withholding the supplement at the end of the year as occurs at present, will serve as an ongoing and immediate incentive for parents to get their children immunised.
The change removed the immunisation requirement for the FTB-A supplement. Those who only claim FTB-A as a lump sum at the end of the financial year have their payment rate reduced for any periods during the year their children did not meet the immunisation requirements.
The new policy commenced 1 July 2018.
Child Care Subsidy retained immunisation requirements
CCS replaced Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate from 2 July 2018 but retained the same immunisation requirements.