Federation Chamber - PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS - Immunisation

10 September 2018

I rise today to support this motion. I thank the member for Macarthur for his work on this issue, and I thank the member for Bennelong for seconding the motion. As a registered nurse, the importance of this motion—moved by a doctor—is not lost on me. It outlines the success that vaccines have had in preventing disease and saving lives. As a mother of four, I feel incredibly fortunate, as indeed all of us should feel fortunate, to live in an era where vaccines now save the lives of two to three million children worldwide every year.

Immunisation support is one of the most proven and cost-effective investments in global health, human security and international development. Vaccination represents an excellent access point for strengthening health systems, based on the goal of universal coverage. While it's easy to get caught up in the meta when talking about this topic, it's worth remembering that those two to three million children who receive life-saving vaccines are more likely to have the opportunity to grow up, follow their dreams and live a long and productive life.

Australia has a successful story to tell when it comes to vaccination. We were among the first countries to introduce vaccines against polio and measles. As a nurse, I have cared for people who have lived in iron lungs for decades, for years and years—all their adult lives well into their 50s—as a result of polio. Not many people would be able to experience meeting someone who's lived their entire life in an iron lung, but I have. I guess I should be grateful that not many people have had that experience—because of vaccinations we don't see that very often anymore—but as the member for Macarthur said, things like that that are out of sight are also out of mind, and we need to be ever vigilant. My own father suffered terribly from tuberculosis, another disease that is extremely preventable by simple vaccinations and, as we heard, has often in very recent times raised its ugly head here.

Our First Nations community also has a fantastic story to tell. Five-year-old Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children have higher immunisation coverage than non-Indigenous children of the same age. Coverage for these five-year-olds is on track to meet the 96 per cent immunisation goal set in the implementation plan for the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan 2013-2023, and one-year-old children have coverage rates also exceeding the 88 per cent goal in the plan. That is a fantastic outcome.

Globally, Australia has played a significant role. We are consistent contributors to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, who have supported the vaccination of more than 640 million children and saved an estimated nine million lives. Australia also co-sponsored a resolution at the 70th World Health Assembly in 2017 to accelerate access to vaccines, calling for the extension of immunisation services beyond infancy, increasing domestic financing and strengthening international cooperation to achieve global vaccination goals.

On a more personal note, I am in awe of the way vaccines have developed in my lifetime and career. When I was a little girl mums used to have chickenpox parties so the kids actually got chickenpox over and done with. I got chickenpox so severely I was almost hospitalised. Pustules were in my throat. I couldn't swallow. I was dehydrated. They were in my ears and on the inside of my eye cavities. It was terrible. They were so dense in my hair it became a bloodied, matted mess. I was only five years old, and I remember it well! My poor mother set up a camp bed in my room so she could observe me during the nights. Why would any mother want their child to be that sick when there is absolutely no need? Chickenpox of course is not life-threatening, but so many preventable illnesses are. We never again want willingly to see a situation where parents put their children through experiences like that.

As a nurse working in the 1980s and 1990s we did not have to deal with seeing huge numbers of children being struck down by or dying from preventable diseases. Now, as the motion states, there is more work to do: 1.5 million children die each year from vaccine-preventable disease. That is why we are calling on the government to participate in planning to accelerate progress on making vaccines available to all children, including through the Gavi mid-term review and work with countries now receiving polio support and with multilateral agencies to ensure the transition from global polio eradication initiative funding results in increased resources for other health and vaccination programs.

Australia has a great story on supporting global vaccination programs, and this should continue. It is something we can be proud of.