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Thursday, 20 September 2012
Page: 11394


Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (11:19): The member for Blair was spinning so much—spinning, spinning, spinning—that I thought he was, sadly, going to fall over with dizziness there for a moment. But I can understand why he is spinning: because he knows that what this government is doing is not right. He knows that what this government is doing is going to leave the most vulnerable without access to dental services for 15 months for children and for 21 months for adults. This is a crime. Why is it happening?

When the member for Blair says, 'Let's have a look at motives', the reason why this is happening is that this government cannot manage its budget. This is the direct result of sending cheques to dead people. This is the result of putting Pink Batts in roofs and then having to remove them. This is the direct result of having a Building the Education Revolution in schools which provides schools with canteens which you cannot fit a pie-warmer in. This is what this bill, sadly, is all about—because, when you cannot manage the books, in the end you have to find ways to try and save money.

So what is this government doing? Well, the Minister for Health has decided that she will put a halt on the provision of publicly provided dental services to the most needy for a period of 15 to 21 months. I must commend the shadow minister for health for the press release he put out on this. It was titled 'Let them eat cake'. I thought the headline hit it beautifully, although I did think he could maybe modernise it a little bit and use 'Let them sip lattes.' Perhaps that would have been a better headline, because that is what this is all about. It is about the fact that it will not matter if the poor and most needy in our society suffer as a result of this—this is the attitude of the Minister for Health towards these people, as epitomised by what they are trying to do by removing the Medicare Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. It is a shame.

The Minister for Health was in here a little bit earlier saying, 'No, we can bring the scheme on a little bit earlier. We just need the states to come on board.' The hypocrisy. She will be in here today in question time, as she has in previous question times, criticising the state governments for taking money out of health. Yet, what is this disallowance motion about? It is calling on the federal government to account for taking money out of dental health services.

I ask the Minister for Health: why don't you concentrate on what you are responsible for? Why don't you concentrate on the federal government rather than criticising the Queensland and New South Wales state governments, and whoever else you want to criticise? Why don't you focus on doing your job, because if you did your job properly we would not be in this situation here? We would not be taking from the most vulnerable and needy public dental services. We could be here saying 'Let this scheme continue.'

The Minister for Health has also raised the point that there has been some rorting of the scheme. Just because there has been some rorting does not mean that you close down a whole scheme and leave nothing in its place for 15 months. You could come in and say, 'Well, maybe we need to tighten the scheme in certain places,' and I am sure that we on this side would look at those proposals, because no-one wants to see any scheme rorted. But what we will not stand by and allow to happen is for you to close a scheme that is providing much needed services.

Let us look at the statistics on that. The Chronic Disease Dental Scheme has provided approximately 20 million services, including seven million last financial year alone. It is reported that 80 per cent of services under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme have been provided to concession card holders. So, those on the other side can mock the 'dental scheme for millionaires' and so on, and try to gloss over the facts, but nothing will hide the fact that 80 per cent of services under this scheme have been provided to concession card holders.

What I would like to see is the minister come in and tell us, 'Okay, so there might have been a little bit of rorting,' but what, Minister, do you have in place for the next 15 months for the 80 per cent of services that were provided to concession card holders? What now happens to those concession card holders? What is your plan? And, please, don't come in and say, 'Well, if the states sign up we will be able to provide services next year.' Come here and say, 'Well, I have agreement from the states because we have negotiated with them and we can get a program up and running on 1 January this year.' Instead, what I am sure we will hear is, 'Well, if the states did this and the states did that maybe we could ….' Enough is enough. You cannot come in here in question time day after day and criticise the states for supposedly reducing their health services when you are just using that to try to disguise the fact that you are actually doing it.

It is going to be very interesting to see how the Labor Party back bench responds to this. It is going to be particularly interesting to see whether the member for Griffith has anything to say in this area. I think if the member for Griffith does have something to say in this area. Given the nervousness on the Labor Party back bench about closing this scheme and leaving nothing in its place, I think we might see the government react. That is a point that the Independents should take into account, because they could be left high and dry if they are not careful. They could be left as the ones holding the can for having supported the cutting of dental services to zilch for the next 15 months. The nervousness and the ability to react to anything that the member for Griffith might say could see a change come upon this place very quickly.

So, I call on the Independents to judge this disapproval motion on its merits. Look at the facts and the evidence and judge it on its merits. Look at the fact that if they do not support this disallowance motion people in rural and regional Australia will be left with minimal health provisions from the public purse, or perhaps none at all. That is very important, especially for constituents in rural and regional Australia. Those of us who live in rural and regional Australia know that getting access to a dentist is even harder than getting access to one in city areas. So the impact of the closure of this scheme, with it being replaced by nothing, will be harder in regional and rural areas. I ask the Independents to think long and hard about that fact before they decide which way they are going to vote on this measure.

This disallowance motion should be supported. What we are saying to the government is: stop, think and consider the consequences of your actions here. We understand that you have a budget black hole. We understand that it is $120 billion. We have seen it on the front page of the Australian Financial Review: a $120 billion black hole. The Australian public are fully aware of that black hole and the size of it. But why, when you want to tighten the belt, are you hitting the most needy and the most vulnerable? Why would you hit the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, when you know that 80 per cent of the people who use it are on concession cards? Let them eat cake! Let them sip lattes! No, let us actually provide something for them that they need. This is a health service that is fundamental to the community. You should stop, think and ask yourselves: is this really the action of a government which professes to care about the most needy in society? It is not. We have offered a way forward for you, but you will not accept that way forward, and that is wrong.

That is why the shadow minister has moved this disallowance motion. I commend the shadow minister for health on the way he has gone about prosecuting this issue, because this has been an issue that the government have tried to slip through. This has been an issue where they have used the guise of attacking the Queensland, New South Wales and Victorian state governments for their supposed cutting of services. They have used that attack to try to disguise and hide what they are doing with this Chronic Disease Dental Scheme and the fact that they are replacing it with nothing for 15 months. But the shadow minister for health has not let this happen. He has prosecuted the case loud and clear. He has held the government to account. That is what this disallowance motion is all about. It is about holding the government to account, saying to the Minister for Health: we will not listen to you in question time go on about the states supposedly cutting services, when that is what you are doing here, and you are doing it because you have a $120 billion black hole.

In conclusion, Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity to speak on this disallowance motion. It is a disallowance motion which should be supported. It is a disallowance motion which will enable services to those most needy in our community to continue, and therefore it is one which I would hope all members would support. But, if all members do not, I dearly hope that the Independent members in this place will support the opposition in making sure that this disallowance motion gets through.