The federal government has labelled Labor’s push to give every Australian $300 if they are vaccinated by 1 December as “insulting” to people taking the jab to protect their health.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese is calling for the one-off cash incentive to help increase vaccine uptake and reduce the need for lockdowns.
The plan is estimated to cost around $6 billion, but Labor argues this figure pales in comparison to the cost of sweeping restrictions from people not being vaccinated.
But Finance Minister Simon Birmingham has shot down the proposal, describing the measure as a “cash splash” that wasn’t based on evidence it would be effective.
“Frankly it’s a little bit insulting to the many millions of Australians who know the best way and reason to get a vaccine is because it protects their lives and those of their loved ones,” he told reporters.
“That’s what’s driving Australians to get vaccinated.”
Currently, just over 19 per cent of the Australian population have been fully vaccinated.
Under Labor’s plan, those who already received the jab would also get the payments.
Mr Albanese argues the idea would not only help encourage uptake of the vaccine and reduce the need for lockdowns, but also stimulate the economy.
“This is a constructive proposal put forward in a positive way,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
“We need to talk about the need to get vaccinated and that’s why it is necessary.”
Mr Albanese has also defended everyone being eligible for the payments under the proposal, rather than adopting a more targeted approach.
“We think the simplest way is something that is universal. It makes sense for it to be universal and that is the most effective way,” he said.
Government considering targeted incentive measures
The federal government is currently relying on the promise of greater freedoms to encourage uptake of the vaccines.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has outlined a plan to cut some coronavirus restrictions on vaccinated people once 70 per cent of the eligible population has had two vaccine doses.
Once there is 80 per cent coverage, the government is suggesting wide-scale lockdowns could end with other restrictions like removing caps on Australians returning from overseas who are vaccinated.
Senator Birmingham said the government has asked specialised economic behavioural analysts to consider the effectiveness of vaccine incentive measures already introduced overseas.
He said their research had shown that large financial incentives had little impact on long-term vaccination rates, but others remained under consideration.
“We’ll look carefully as the rollout progresses in terms of any targeted measures that are necessary to help hit certain cohorts of Australians,” he said.
“We’ll follow evidence in relation to what might work there.”
What’s happening around the world?
In countries including the US and the UK, targeted incentivise measures have been offered to encourage vaccination uptake.
In the United States, cash, free rides and college degrees have been offered as well as unconventional rewards like cannabis and free beer in some states.
US President Joe Biden has also called for states to offer $100 USD to the newly vaccinated, in an effort to address flagging jab rates.
In the United Kingdom, Uber and Deliveroo have launched cheap taxi rides and meal discounts in an effort to boost vaccinations, especially among young people.
French President Emmanuel Macron has in contrast passed laws to require a “digital pass” showing people have had two doses of a vaccine if they want to go to a concert, restaurant or public event.
Dr Chris Moy from the Australian Medical Association told SBS News that Australia’s 80 per cent vaccination threshold was a very high number to achieve, and he would support “whatever it takes to get to that target”.
He also acknowledged similar incentives had been successfully used overseas and said he encouraged incentives if “it gets people over the line”.
But he warned incentives should be used as a “package deal” with a fresh communications strategy outlining the increased freedoms that come with greater vaccination of the population.