THE HON TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
REFUSING TO VACCINATE CHILDREN IS NOT A CONSCIENCE ISSUE
For hundreds of years some have refused to be conscripted and fight in wars they disagreed with.
Often, it was because of a deep religious or ethical conviction that war itself was wrong. Other times it was an objection to a particular war. Muhammad Ali, for example, wouldn't fight in the Vietnam War. He said: “I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality. If I thought the war was going to bring freedom and equality to 22 million of my people they wouldn’t have to draft me, I’d join tomorrow. I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail, so what? We’ve been in jail for 400 years... No Vietcong ever called me nigger."
Conscientious objectors have suffered for their beliefs. Some have served in dangerous non-combatant roles such as bomb disposal, as stretcher bearers or ambulance drivers; risking and even losing their lives alongside soldiers.
Others have spent years, even life, in prison. Depending on the time, and the country, some have been executed for refusing military service.
All shared a religious or ethical belief, and all were prepared to suffer for that belief.
That’s why the term ‘conscientious objector’ is so completely inappropriate for people who refuse to vaccinate their children.
No major religion has a prohibition on vaccination.
Vaccine refusers think they know better than doctors and scientists. In doing so they put at risk the health of their own children, other kids, and anyone who genuinely can't be vaccinated.
When I was health minister, Labor added several new vaccines to the schedule and made important changes to family payments to lift immunisation rates; including linking the Family Tax Benefit end of year supplement to immunisation. This, along with the hard work of Labor's Medicare Locals, helped increase the coverage rate amongst five year olds from 83% to 90% during our time in office.
In the last couple of days, Tony Abbott has adopted the policy Labor took to the 2013 election to further strengthen the vaccination and immunisation regime. It’s Labor policy that builds on our hard work in Government, and we welcome it
There's something else we should do too. Again, when I was health minister, I instructed the language used by government should change from ‘conscientious objector’ to ‘vaccine refuser’. There is nothing conscientious about parents irresponsibly denying their children, and other children, the protection vaccination brings.
Since coming to Government, Tony Abbott has dumped the change in language. That’s very disappointing, and I think it sends the wrong message.
So whenever you are talking about vaccine refusers, call them what they are. Don't give them a title that elevates the choice they're making to anything close to ethical. It's not.
This article was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday the 15th of April 2015.