Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 365

Mr MELHAM (Banks) (19:46): Over recent months, my office has received calls from constituents inquiring about the future of the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. Sadly, several of these calls have been from constituents ringing at the behest of their dentists. Some dentists have been advising their patients that the scheme is ceasing and those constituents will no longer be able to be treated.

I think it is important that the facts are placed on the record. No closure date is currently set for the CDDS. Yes, it is the government's intention to close down this scheme, which is not well targeted and does not provide access to dental services for those most in need. The Senate has twice prevented the closure of the CDDS. The community is aware that the government has long intended to replace the CDDS with a new Commonwealth Dental Health Program. The CDDS is complex to administer as it requires that only those with a chronic condition be referred by their GP to a dentist. We have recently seen that some dentists inappropriately make claims on Medicare. The system is obviously open to abuse.

The government's proposed Commonwealth Dental Health Program, when implemented, will be better targeted and provide additional dental services for pensioners and concession card holders. The government is committed to dental health reform. The National Advisory Council on Dental Health has been established to advise on the best way forward for the future of dental health in this country. On 5 September the minister announced the membership of this council, which will be headed by Ms Mary Murnane, a former senior public servant. The government is already delivering significant improvements in dental care, including subsidised dental check-ups for teenagers, which provides up to $159.85 per person. This program since its inception has provided over one million services for eligible teenagers. This reform is in addition to the investment of $11 million in Indigenous dental services in rural and regional areas and $52.6 million over four years in the 2011-12 budget to establish a voluntary dental internship program to help boost the dental health workforce. This reform in part addresses the recommendation of the National Health And Hospitals Reform Commission in 2009, which advised on investment in internships with a particular emphasis on regional and rural areas.

Given the shortages in the public dental workforce, this development goes some way to redressing the balance. I understand that the dental health workforce welcomes this reform. The introduction of the Commonwealth Dental Health Scheme remains government policy as promised at the last election. It does remain of concern to me, though, that some dentists are preying on the fears of vulnerable people by claiming that the CDDS is about to be closed down without explaining that the government intends to introduce a broader scheme.

It is worth putting on record that the Commonwealth's power in relation to dental services was obtained through the success of the social services referendum on 28 September 1946. That referendum is one of only eight amendments to the Constitution that have been successfully passed. In this case, there was a majority in all states of the Commonwealth, and overall the vote in favour of the Commonwealth having this power was 54.39 per cent of the voting population. So the parliament has a mandate in relation to dental services arising out of the successful passage of that referendum. Section 51(xxiiiA) of the Constitution gives us that mandate and it should be used wisely.