Australia denies benefits to parents who won't vaccinate

Sydney - Australians who refuse to vaccinate their children will no longer receive child care subsidies and family tax benefits, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on Sunday. 

The widely anticipated government crackdown comes as Australia sees an increase in the number of so-called vaccine objectors.

"The choice made by families not to immunise 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.

The government will on January 1 remove a "conscientious objection" provision and permit exemptions only on strict medical or religious grounds, he said. 

Parents who cite religion would have to be affiliated with a religious group with a registered objection approved by the government. 

The rules would also be amended to require benefit applicants to show that children of all ages have been immunised, Abbott said.

Parents who vaccinate should have confidence that their children will not be at risk of contracting potentially life-threatening illness because of the objections of others.

About 97% of benefit recipients meet current immunisation requirements.

"However more than 39 000 children aged under seven are not vaccinated because their parents are vaccine objectors. This is an increase of more than 24 000 children over 10 years," Abbott said.

Recent outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and other diseases that are preventable through immunisation in various parts of the world have fuelled the vaccination debate.

The anti-vaccination lobby links childhood immunisation to conditions such as autism. 

US anti-vaccination activist Sheri Tenpenny cancelled a series of seminars in Australia in January over what she said on Facebook were threats from "pro-vaccine extremists".

On Wednesday, regulators revoked the license of a local charity that reportedly helped organise Tenpenny's visit, for promoting an unproven theory related to sudden infant death syndrome.

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