Sonya Feldhoff: Well here today on Friday, March 11th, we’re a week away from the deadline for parents to get their children vaccinated before being involved in the whole no jab, no pay policy that the Federal Government has launched in a bid to try to see our immunisation rates jump. Now we are aware that there are some delays in processing some of the paperwork associated with this, so where does that leave you if you have in fact already had your children vaccinated, and yet the paperwork hasn’t gone through? Will you lose your Child Care Rebates and the other family care benefits associated with these? In a moment, we’re going to speak with the Local Government Association who have their centres out there that are providing these immunisations for free. We’ll speak with a local GP and the man on the Australian Technical Advisory on Immunisation, Dr Rod Pearce, but first let’s start with the minister, the Federal Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham. Minister, good afternoon.

Simon Birmingham: Good afternoon Sonya, and good afternoon to your listeners.

Sonya Feldhoff: Now we’re talking to you because Child Care Rebates fall under the Education portfolio. Is that correct?

Simon Birmingham: That’s right. Child Care Benefit and Child Care Rebate both are delivered through policies under my department.

Sonya Feldhoff: Okay, so next Friday is the deadline to get this information in. We’re aware there are some delays. First of all, when- what sort of delays are you talking about?

Simon Birmingham: Well, we’ve seen a wonderful response since these laws were legislated late last year, which has actually seen huge numbers of people getting their children vaccinated, which is of course exactly what we wanted to see, and it’s really about lifting the number of people vaccinated and children vaccinated to what the experts see as a critical level for what they call herd immunity of around 95 per cent, and we’ve seen amongst very young children a lift in the rate from about 90 per cent to 92 per cent, and a reduction in the number of conscientious objectors by around 25 per cent in South Australia. So that’s very good news.

That has, however, as you alluded to in your introduction, put a bit of a strain on the processes that are applied at a local level in terms of actually keeping up to date with the records of children’s immunisations. So what we had originally said is that we would give people until the 18th of March this year to catch up on their child’s vaccinations before losing any Child Care Benefit, Child Care Rebate, or Family Tax Benefit payments. That still holds. However, we will continue payments beyond the 18th of March for those who may have paperwork that is still working its way through the system. That means they’ll keep getting their payments and have nothing to fear. If people know that they have, however, not had their children immunised and got up to date, then they will be at risk of accruing a debt. We will bring down the deadline of course as soon as we know that the systems are up to date, but we will provide a bit of an extended grace period of sorts there. However, it’s not really a grace period in that people will only get to keep the money if they’ve done the right thing and had their child immunised.

Sonya Feldhoff: Okay, so this actually poses a danger for those who haven’t had the vaccinations done will get money that under this policy they’re not entitled to, and will then owe the Government money back. Is that correct?

Simon Birmingham: That’s right, Sonya. If people who are receiving Child Care Benefit, Child Care Rebate, or Family Tax Benefit have not had their children immunised or are not clearly in the pathway to getting them up to date and are still in receipt of those payments without having notified Centrelink and the Department of Human Services of their situation, then they are at risk of accruing a debt from March 18, which of course is next Friday.

Sonya Feldhoff: Are there- is there anything that people perhaps in that latter category, those who don’t choose to immunise their children, even with this policy, that they can do to avoid a debt like that?

Simon Birmingham: No, there isn’t. The only real grounds for exemption that continue to exist now are genuine, medically authenticated grounds for an exemption.

Sonya Feldhoff: Yeah, but if they’re aware that you’re now continuing to pay and don’t want to accrue that debt and they notify you and say well, I’m a conscientious objector, please don’t keep paying me.

Simon Birmingham: They should absolutely get in touch with Centrelink and that will be processed promptly, I’m confident.

Sonya Feldhoff: Okay. Now with the case that I’m aware of, it seems like the paperwork processing is around two months behind. Does that sound right from what you’re familiar with?

Simon Birmingham: It varies a little state to state, and that seems a surprising period of time to be honest, so that would be right at the extreme end, I’m sure. And certainly the state authorities who handle these registers have assured us that they’re working as quickly as they can to try to get them up to date.

Sonya Feldhoff: Is that based on the centres where the immunisations are being had are perhaps a little slow in passing on that information, or is that at the core when you’re entering this in the database?

Simon Birmingham: There’s obviously a process for everyone there, so there are- our understanding is that the main delay is in updating of the databases which are handled through the different states and territories. But of course, they need to be getting prompt and timely information from those delivering the services on the ground. We are providing additional support to the states and territories to try to help them to get those databases up to scratch as quickly as possible though.

Sonya Feldhoff: All right, Minister. Look, thank you very much for that. The Federal Minister for Education and Training, Simon Birmingham. So if you’re in that position, if you have had your children vaccinated but are getting letters as I’ve seen one that would suggest that you’re not up to date as having had your children vaccinated on their database, it will happen. When it happens, you will keep getting paid and you don’t need to worry about being cut off at this point.