Australia To Deny Some Benefits To Parents Who Refuse To Vaccinate Their Kids

Australia has an interesting new idea about how to encourage parents to vaccinate their children.


Australia is about to take an interesting approach toward encouraging parents to vaccinate their children:

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Sunday that the country is to adopt a “no jab, no pay” policy to deny some government benefits to parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.

The policy change comes amid a debate over immunization for children, with some parents believing — despite overwhelming medical evidence to the contrary — vaccines against deadly diseases are dangerous.

The anti-vaccination movement has coincided with the resurgence of measles, a preventable disease, in some European countries as well as in U.S. states such as Colorado and California.

“It’s essentially a ‘no jab, no pay’ policy from this government,” Abbott told reporters in Sydney. “It’s a very important public health announcement. It’s a very important measure to keep our children and our families as safe as possible.”

Under current Australian laws, parents who have conscientious objections about immunization can claim child care and welfare payments.

If the measures are passed, those parents would be denied the payments — which include child care rebates, benefits and family tax benefit supplements — reportedly missing out on up to $11,500 per child annually.

Parents unwilling to vaccinate the children on medical or religious grounds would still be allowed to tap into the benefits, although under tighter eligibility requirements.

Social Services Minister Scott Morrison said there were no mainstream religions that had registered vaccination objections with the government.

The new measures, supported by the Labor opposition, have to be passed by Parliament and would come into force at the start of 2016.

Australia has vaccination rates of over 90 percent for children ages 1 to 5 years.

But the government said more than 39,000 children under 7 were not vaccinated because of parental objections. That’s an increase of more than 24,000 children in the past decade.

Abbott said his government was “extremely concerned” about the risks such actions posed to the rest of the population.

“The choice made by families not to immunize their children is not supported by public policy or medical research, nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of child care payments,” Abbott said in a joint statement with Morrison.

There will be some who might argue that cutting off or limiting public benefits for families based on decisions that the parents make, even decisions as ill-informed and dangerous as refusing to vaccinate their children from preventable and dangerous diseases, is a hard-headed approach that unfairly punishes children for decisions that their parents make. While there might arguably be some merit to that argument, it strikes me that the Australian government is on to something here when it comes to policies that are obviously designed to incentivize parents to follow recommended vaccination schedules rather than actually punish anyone. After all, the ideal outcome from a policy like this would be that vaccination rates will go up and nobody would lose the benefits they can claim under Australian law. In some sense, then, this policy isn’t really any different from the many restrictions that government’s here in the United States put on recipients of Federal or State dollars, and the manner in which government spending is often used to influence private behavior.

Here in the United States, the most common way that governments use to try to encourage parents to vaccinate through the school system. As a general rule, and unless the parents have been granted an exemption if one is permitted by the law, an unvaccinated child will either be denied admission to public school or, more commonly, required to stay home in the event that there is an outbreak of disease in a school they are attending. Those policies have been consistently withstood court challenges, most recently in New York City where a Federal Judge upheld a Board of Education policy that barred unvaccinated children from attending school during documented outbreaks. Additionally, the general authority of state and local governments to either quarantine those infected with a dangerous and easily communicable disease has been consistent upheld by the courts could back to the 1905 Supreme Court case Jacobson v. Massachusetts. Even with these policies, though, there are still people who fail to vaccinate their children, sometimes for supposed religious reasons but more recently because of their reliance of pseudoscientific nonsense, including the entirely discredited claim of a link between childhood vaccinations and autism. That suggests that some other means may be necessary to deal with the public health issues that these parents create, which has manifested itself most recently in the form of a spike in measles cases despite the fact that the disease had been essentially eradicated thanks to aggressive vaccination policies.

I’m not aware of any jurisdiction in the United States where something similar to what Australia is planning to do has even been suggested, but perhaps it’s worth considering. After all, if a parent discovers that they’d lose their child tax credits and other benefits if they insist on taking medical advice from the likes of Jenny McCarthy, then perhaps they’ll realize that their is a price for their stupidity. Although, one would have thought that their concern for their child’s health would have been enough of an incentive for them.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. grumpy realist says:

    I’m enough of a bitch that I would do the same for welfare and birth control.

  2. DrDaveT says:

    There will be some who might argue that cutting off or limiting public benefits for families based on decisions that the parents make […] is a hard-headed approach that unfairly punishes children for decisions that their parents make.

    What better basis can you suggest, other than “decisions that their parents make”? Decisions the kids make? Random lottery? Eye color?

    ALL children are at the mercy of the decisions their parents make, for years and years and years. How is this any more hard-headed and unfair than that?

  3. Franklin says:

    @grumpy realist: Wait, you wouldn’t offer birth control to parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids? I was thinking about free sterilization!

  4. Peacewood says:

    On the one hand, I remain irritated at constant attempts by governments to tell the poor what to do.

    But vaccines are a public necessity. I suppose on balance I’m okay with it.

  5. grumpy realist says:

    @Franklin: I simply think the we should say No birth control, no welfare freebies.

    (I also think that governments — state or federal– should offer everyone some form of work-to-be-done-in-exchange-for-minimum-wage, even if it nothing more than picking up trash or picking crops. For everyone who is willing to work, we should provide something. But it should actually require work–not lazing around on your ass and watching TV.)

  6. DrDaveT says:


    I remain irritated at constant attempts by governments to tell the poor what to do.

    Me too. But this isn’t that — this is telling everybody what to do, rich or poor. Very egalitarian.

    As you note, it’s not paternalism; it’s public health.

  7. SKI says:

    @grumpy realist: Are you really suggesting that people who receive some form of welfare shouldn’t be allowed to have children?

  8. DrDaveT says:


    Are you really suggesting that people who receive some form of welfare shouldn’t be allowed to have children?

    OK, I’ll bite.

    Are you really suggesting that people who can’t support the kids they already have (if any) should go have more? Everyone is worse off in that situation — the parent(s), the kids, the taxpayers, society. Sentiment aside, kids are a luxury that not everyone can afford.

  9. grumpy realist says:

    @SKI: It’s the people who have decided to receive welfare in lieu of spending their time at government-provided work who shouldn’t have kids. Remember my wish for work to be available to anyone who wants it, as well.

    If you want to work and have kids, fine. If you want to sit on your ass and do nothing but still receive benefits, no kids.

    (I’d treat food stamps and other stuff as separate stuff to be provided to anyone who wants them.)

  10. Grewgills says:

    @grumpy realist:
    That leaves us with a lot more hungry kids living in more squalid conditions. That is leaving aside the invasive nature of determining if the people are actually using said birth control. It seems to me your solution is far worse than the problem. It’s not exactly eugenics, as it isn’t genetically based, but it is the class based equivalent and given it will fall more heavily on minorities it shares way to much with that failed philosophy.

  11. grumpy realist says:

    @Grewgills: How so? We use implantable birth control already. The only people who wouldn’t be on board with this are those who don’t want to work but still want to have kids. Remember–if you want kids, you can always sign up for government-supplied work and get paid for it.

    Or are you saying that the bulk of the poor population is so lazy that they would prefer to sign up for welfare rather than sign up to work?

    (I’d add other support structures: daycare for people who work with kids, additional training (for every hour you work, you get an hour of training and assistance). Free birth control for anyone who wants it. Oh, and by the way–taking care of people IS work and should be paid for..)

  12. Blue Galangal says:

    @grumpy realist: Somewhat tangential to that wish list of yours (particularly the daycare portion), I’d ask those “pro-family” politicians to put their money where their mouth is: if it’s so darned important to them that one parent stays home with the new little taxpayers kids, give that parent Social Security credit for every quarter s/he’s home with said kids. Yeah, I know that has nothing to do with welfare, etc. I’d just like to see a politician who claims to be pro-family espouse a concrete policy that could benefit that intact, 2-parent family, complete with stay-at-home parent, that they hold up as the gold standard. (If sparkly ponies are in the offing, increase the EITC while they’re at it (single parents also eligible, with a hefty daycare allowance), and if unicorns have been spotted, free preventive healthcare, including vision and dental, for all children under the age of 5. Vaccines, of course, are required unless medically contraindicated. Thus I return to the topic at hand.)

  13. Grewgills says:

    @grumpy realist:

    How so? We use implantable birth control already.

    So those particular forms of birth control would be required? No pill? No nuva ring?

  14. An Interested Party says:

    Are you really suggesting that people who can’t support the kids they already have (if any) should go have more? Everyone is worse off in that situation — the parent(s), the kids, the taxpayers, society. Sentiment aside, kids are a luxury that not everyone can afford.

    It’s interesting how tax policy is used to reward people who have children…in the end, all people who can’t support the kids they have shouldn’t be encouraged to have any more…

  15. Monala says:

    @grumpy realist: No one is able to sit on their ass and receive benefits these days, unless they’re disabled. All welfare programs across the nation have a work requirement (usually 20 hours per week), and have ever since welfare reform was enacted 20 years ago.

  16. stonetools says:

    Heh, this where libertarian ideas of unbounded individual freedom collide with what some conservatives call Big Science and what rational folks call reality. The logic of vaccination is that it should be universal, and it is interesting to see Doug line up on behalf of folks urging that vaccination should be made mandatory on public health grounds.

    Libertarians earlier lost the fight in the areas of seat belt and car safety laws and of anti smoking legislation. Looks like the fight will soon be lost in the area of vaccinations. Next up, gun safety policy…

  17. SKI says:

    @grumpy realist: The “realist” part of your name may need to be re-thought given that you seem to be out of touch with what is actually reality. 😉

    We don’t have “government provided work” in this country for people on welfare. We have government mandated work for some limited types of welfare but that is very different.

    It seems to me that you are suggesting that we should adopt a variant of the Soviet model where the Government would be the employer of last resort and failure to work would be a crime (or at least a civil penalty).

    I don’t think you have considered the insane amount of problems that accompany such an approach or how such “idealized” fantasy worlds have played out in actual human history (or the character of the states that have gone down that path – if everyone who has done what you think should be done are tyrannical in nature, that should give you some pause)

  18. Tillman says:

    @SKI: I think the government should train people to be computers — train them on an abacus, teach them the math they’d be doing for the department they’d work for, and send them packing on their way. No, don’t provide graphing calculators, make that a student expense you can write off some of. Sure, he’s slower than the nonliving digital version, but he’s way more user-friendly. I mean, in grumpy’s scenario (and I recognized fairly early on that grumpy’s scenario might be a utopian one), that guy is literally only working so he can legally reproduce. In her society, we’re talking something close to a basic income or negative income tax that provides enough for people who don’t want to bother working to get by but would appreciate not living in squalor. These are the people who could be comfortable with their Etsy store full-time if they didn’t have so many other bills that force them to be part-time micromanufacturers or whatever. Dudes who don’t really need much to be comfortable, and whose drive or ambition isn’t as high as it takes to earn a living they’d consider comfortable. People automated out of the economy. These people could found new businesses if they find they have a talent for that crap, or managing others who have a talent for that crap, and those businesses would make sweet, sweet taxable income.

    As the economy becomes more automated and social contact with humans a sign of better customer service, a luxury itself, new markets will open up where human contact becomes the commodity you’re selling, and layabouts of to-day will find themselves more wealthy in the future as the economic needs of the future that can’t be thought of to-day are realized by their slacker dreams. I mean compared to the robots and the thinking algorithms doing their one super-specialized task, humans can’t compete. But creating those sorts of things can’t be brute-forced or scaled down, while there’s always going to be some schmuck who’d prefer talking to a breathing person who is servile to them than talking to an impersonal voice-activated telephonics system.

    Besides, grumpy’s thing was that layabouts can’t reproduce, not that they’re criminals. Unless reproduction becomes so essential it becomes a crime to be virginal. Jesus, this is all a weird young adult dystopia book in the making.

  19. grumpy realist says:

    @SKI: I admit it is a gedankenexperiment, but I’m wondering what would happen if we had a government-as-employer-as-last-resort. I trip over enough beggars every day on my route from subway station to work that I keep wondering how many of them would continue to be there if employment was provided as an alternative. (I work in downtown Chicago and my path takes me by both of the large train stations.) Oh, and YES let’s increase the minimum wage while we’re at it.

    I also don’t see how withholding bennies from people who refuse to work is “treating them as criminals.” If we were to insist that they get on a work gang or throw them in gaol, that would be one thing. But this is simply saying: if you don’t contribute to society, no extra benefits for you and you’re on your own. If you want to be a layabout AND get a stipend, THEN you also have to be on birth control so as not to reproduce.

    (Due to present law on freedom of reproduction, this sort of requirement would probably not be allowed, but then present-day law considers it’s a First Amendment right for beggars to accost me in the street no matter how many of them there are that I have to wade through, which is another thing I’m grumpy about. I think their activities should fall under commercial speech since they’re asking for money money money and be much more restricted, but SCOTUS disagrees with me.)

  20. grumpy realist says:

    Here’s the sort of thing that I am definitely against.