Leon Byner: But in the meantime, new laws allowing the Federal Government to withhold payments from parents who fail to vaccinate their children seem to have lead to an increase in vaccination rates. And to talk to the Minister for Education, let’s do so. Simon Birmingham, good morning.

Simon Birmingham: Good morning Leon and good morning to all of your listeners.

Leon Byner: Was the threat of duress the only way you could have convinced parents to vaccinate their children? 

Simon Birmingham: Leon, certainly it has been an effective way of reversing what has been a decline in some childhood immunisation rates. And there has been various campaigns and initiatives over a period of time operated by governments to try to encourage people to take that responsibility seriously. Now in the end this is working, the No Jab with No Pay policy that was legislated in the second half of last year and comes into effect now in the first half of this year has seen a reduction in the number of conscientious objectors to immunisation. A reduction in the order of 24, 25 per cent. Which is quite significant. With a lift overall in the rate of early childhood immunisation from around 90 per cent to around 92 per cent, which is pushing it towards that critical level that all the experts say we need of 95 per cent.

Leon Byner: Just for the record, Simon. What’s the excuse that might absolve a parent from immunising their child under this system where if you don’t you can…

Simon Birmingham: Essentially the only grounds now are genuine medical grounds authenticated by a medical practitioner that there is obvious evidence in terms of harm that could come from a vaccination for that particular child due to some other medical conditions that they may have. But otherwise it is essentially a blanket approach now that if you aren’t willing to meet the community obligation that your child be immunised and contribute to the overall health of children and the population as a whole, then the Government doesn’t feel an obligation to be paying family tax benefits or childcare rebates or benefits in those cases.

Leon Byner: And this will continue? How many more are you hoping that will immunise as a result of this policy?

Simon Birmingham: Leon, I would hope really of course that ideally every person and every child would receive immunisation where they can. Ultimately our aim though is to reach this critical level of 95 per cent because that is what scientists and researchers tell us gives what is eloquently known as herd immunity. That really ensures the level of the population who then won’t spread disease is so high that there is a very high likelihood of essentially eradicating some diseases and at least really ensuring they cannot spread. So 95 per cent is what we’re striving towards. We’ve seen, really before the policy has even come into effect, growth from 90 to 92 per cent, which is encouraging. March 18 is the critical date for parents to have immunisation updated if they haven’t done so already or be clearly in the process of getting them up to date. Otherwise they will stand the risk of losing those Government payments.

Leon Byner: Alright, now while I’ve got you there. The Prime Minister is in town at the moment, he’s going up to Whyalla today. And I know there’s been a lot of discussion about whether we’ll build subs, what ships we will or won’t build. But August 4th last year, there was a big article in the paper, in The Advertiser, saying best economic news for SA in decades – where the announcement of a continuous ship building program with Adelaide as the hub is the best and most concrete economic news South Australia has received in decades. Now when you put questions to the Defence Minister, or indeed the Prime Minister, on this, they don’t seem to be as certain as were you on that August date in the $40 million of investment in future frigates and offshore patrol vessels.

Simon Birmingham: Leon, everybody should be certain that the future frigates will be built in Adelaide. And that is a big big win and that has been comprehensively determined. There are competitive evaluation processes underway for both the offshore patrol vessels and the submarine project. We know from those, in particular with the submarines, whatever happens there will be many many more jobs in South Australia. But I remain incredibly optimistic and we need only listen to the language of Malcolm Turnbull in the last couple of days in announcing the Innovation and Industry Centre for Defence that is going to be based here in Adelaide- that he is completely committed to maximising the amount of Defence infrastructure and work that can be done in Australia. To ensure that spending on Defence doesn’t just make the nation secure, but actually makes us smarter, grows the industries and grows new businesses, especially in South Australia.

Leon Byner: Will there be another Defence announcement before he leaves?

Simon Birmingham: Before he leaves Adelaide this time? Look I wouldn’t suspect so. These all have processes to go through, which are well documented. We released the Defence White Paper just in the last few weeks, which confirmed and answered the question that many people had as to what number of submarines would be acquired in the future. And that is 12, which is great news for South Australia. Now of course the process is to finish that competitive evaluation process that the French, the Germans and the Japanese are participating in to ensure we get the best possible submarine design for Australia, the best value for money for tax payers and ultimately optimise local industry involvement.

Leon Byner: Alright, Simon Birmingham, thank you. The Minister for Education on a couple of pretty important issues for South Australia at the moment. Vaccination of your children or grandchildren and family and indeed the business of investment in our defence future.