The federal government decision this week to remove family tax and childcare concessions to parents of unvaccinated children is another victory for a long-running campaign launched by The Sunday Telegraph.
The decision to remove the exemption for ‘conscientious objectors’ of vaccination is the second vaccination policy change the newspaper and its weekday stablemate The Daily Telegraph have seen following their No Jab, No Play campaign.
The campaign saw its first major victory in 2013 when the NSW government legislated to ban unvaccinated children from childcare centres.
“The Sunday Telegraph has run an important community health awareness campaign, ‘No Jab, No Play’,” Prime Minister Tony Abbott said in an opinion piece published in the paper.
“Today, I am pleased to announce the government will be introducing a new ‘no jab, no play and no pay’ policy for childcare support.”
Sunday Telegraph editor Mick Carroll says the change had been a long time coming.
“It has taken two years of aggressive campaigning to convince both state and federal governments to make serious policy change and we done so in the face of aggressive opposition and personal attacks from the anti-vax movement,” Mr Carroll said.
The federal government finally closed the conscientious objector loophole at the weekend, although the exemption remains for religious or medical grounds.
Sunday Telegraph deputy editor Claire Harvey said the campaign started when she was looking for childcare for her then soon-to-be-born child, and discovered parents could not provide peanut butter sandwiches, “but you can bring in diphtheria,” because of immunisation laws.
Editors knew their readers’ feelings on the issue from their response to stories on vaccine-preventable deaths, and were confident enough to launch a full-scale campaign, she said.
“So the first thing I did was get Jane Hansen, who’s a very dedicated reporter, to find out what we could actually campaign for – what would make a difference.
“Before we even published a single story I had a three-week newslist. I got reporters to get a victim of every disease that was actually preventable, from polio to measles.
“Once that initial three-week blast was over, the NSW government began introducing legislation into parliament, and then the stories started generating themselves. The momentum kept going.”
Ms Hansen and Ms Harvey made themselves available for interviews on the issue.
“I think one of the powerful things that newspapers can do is mobilise the support of other media,” Ms Harvey said.
The effort had boosted the campaigns of other pro-vaccine groups, said ParentHood spokesperson Jo Briskey.
“We’re always finding it beneficial to partner with the media to help put the pressure on the federal government,” Ms Briskey said.
“There was quite a similar campaign in The Courier-Mail and we’ve done some work with The Courier-Mail on the immunisation campaign in the past.”