PM Jacinda Ardern rules out 'no jab, no pay' policy adopted in Australia

Jacinda Ardern is ruling out benefit cuts for New Zealanders who do not vaccinate their children, despite promising results in Australia. 

The Prime Minister confirmed on Tuesday she would not consider introducing legislation similar to Australia's "no jab, no pay" policy announced by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in 2015.

The Australian Federal Government imposed immunisation requirements for access to payments under the family tax benefit scheme, effectively punishing those who refuse vaccinations. 

It resulted in an increase of 174,000 children being immunised over the last year, ABC News reported, which Australia's Social Services Minister Anne Ruston said was heartening. 

Despite Ardern ruling out something similar, ACT leader David Seymour said he would support it, as well as Dr Lance O'Sullivan from Northland - the region with one of the lowest immunisation rates. 

O'Sullivan told Newstalk ZB he was in favour of a "firmer position" on vaccinating children in New Zealand, pointing to the current measles outbreak. 

The policy was considered by National when it was in power, but then-Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said it would breach people's right to refuse medical treatment. 

Seymour said vaccinating children is a parent's civic duty to stop epidemics like measles, which had officially been eradicated from New Zealand. 

Scepticism over the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccination was in part sparked by a 1998 paper published in a British medical journal by discredited former doctor Andrew Wakefield. 

The paper, which linked the vaccination to autism, was retracted in 2010 and labelled "dishonest" by a panel from Britain's General Medical Council. 

Ardern said on Monday that access, rather than scepticism, is the major issue preventing vaccinations across the country - a view parroted by the Ministry of Health director-general, Ashley Bloomfield. 

"We have an inequality and equity issue with people accessing the health services that they not only deserve, but that are made available to them, and for free," Ardern said. 

"That's why the Ministry of Health acted to put those additional nurses out into places where people who we need to target are congregating, be it churches or community spaces."

A health sector report on Tuesday found that time, the cost of transport, and "racism" has been preventing access to New Zealand's health sector services. 

Bloomfield said nearly 91 percent of two-year-olds have received their MMR vaccination in New Zealand, so the vast majority are vaccinated. 

He said the challenge was getting the number of vaccinations to 95 percent again.  

"Our experience in New Zealand when we had lower rates of immunisation was that if we made the vaccine readily available and provided good information to parents, then the vast majority of them - up to 95 percent and beyond - were quite happy to vaccinate their children."

He said GPs and those dealing with parents and young children are already obliged to provide "good balanced information and ensure that they are making available vaccination for children who are eligible". 

"It's not an issue of opposition - it's an issue of access and of good information."

The number of people infected with measles in Auckland is approaching 1000, most of them in the south of the city where the outbreak is worst.  

Last week, Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter announced that the National Health Coordination Centre in Wellington had been activated to coordinate the response.