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Thursday, 20 September 2012
Page: 11396


Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP (Mackellar) (11:34): I rise to speak to this disallowance motion. I think that in listening to the debate you can see quite clearly what a cruel manoeuvre the government is engaged in. This disallowance motion would restore the ability of those people who are in desperate need of dental attention because they have a health need to have that attention for the next 13 months in the case of children or 19 months in the case of adults. Well we might ask: why the gap? The gap was very well described by the previous speaker, the member for Wannon, when he said that this is a cost-saving measure in order to find savings to find a way out of the $120 billion black hole in the government's current budgeting procedures.

If we look at exactly what this scheme, which the disallowance motion would allow to continue, has done, I think the statistics are very impressive indeed. One billion dollars a year has gone to people in desperate need of dental services because of a health problem. You might ask: what sort of problem? When you note that 60,000 treatments have been for children, you see that they could be children who have heart disease. They cannot have an operation to cure that heart disease or that heart impediment until such time as they have dental treatment, because of the risk of infection. For those children who have already begun a process of treatment, it has now ceased. They may be part way through it, and they are obliged to wait another 13 months before it can be resumed. Is that fair? Is that cruel? Is that putting the life of the child at risk?

One of the things that I always find fascinating about the way that the Labor Party present an argument—particularly the Minister for Health, because she is the one responsible—is that they do not like to deal in specifics: what impact it might have on the individual person. It is always the collectivist ideal. It is always: 'This is a big picture; never mind the individuals and how it impacts on them.' On this side of the House, we think about those individuals and what it means. Twenty million services have been provided, to over a million Australians, in the course of this program that was introduced by the current Leader of the Opposition, who was then the Minister for Health and Ageing. The Leader of the Opposition, as minister for health, was compassionate about the need for this program. To hear it denigrated by speakers on the other side saying that we support it because somehow, if we did not, it would reflect on the Leader of the Opposition is pathetic. The fact of the matter is that he introduced the program, got it through the cabinet process and had it enacted because he cared about the outcomes for individuals in need of assistance.

I listened to speakers on the other side again using the lines of class warfare. 'This is a program for millionaires,' said one member from Queensland. I would remind him that the whole of the Medicare system is based on universal access. There are no means tests in Medicare. It is a universal system which is available for all to use. That is how it was planned. That is how it remains. That is how it is implemented. And yet we had the member for Blair saying that this was a scheme for millionaires and it was up to the Labor Party to put in the hard work of having means testing for access to schemes. Is he telling us that the whole of Medicare is now going to be subject to means testing? Is that what he is suggesting? Is that the plan that is secretly behind the beginning of the cuts? Certainly that was the implication that he was leading to in his speech.

The average claim under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, according to the department, is not $4,250, which is the maximum amount available over a two-year period, but $1,716. Recent estimates suggest that this figure has fallen to $1,200. It is not a scheme that is being rorted. It is not a scheme that is being cancelled by the government because it is being rorted. It is a scheme that is being cancelled because they want savings, and there will be no replacement of it until 2014. Eighty per cent of people using the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme have a concession card, but we do not means-test it because it is part of Medicare and Medicare is not means-tested; it is universal. All this talk about having schemes for millionaires is nothing but classic class warfare, unless it is proposed by the Labor Party that they intend to means-test all of Medicare. We would be very interested to hear some rebuttal on that point. Perhaps the minister may have to speak to the member for Blair and tell him that he is right or wrong in his flagging of the intention to means-test Medicare.

Had the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme not been in place, 800,000 people who have accessed support under the scheme would have joined the 650,000 people who languish on waiting lists every day. Again and again I have heard complaints about and heard criticism of state governments, particularly Queensland, because of action that they have taken with regard to health. And yet, in this very action that the government are taking in scrapping this scheme, they are placing undue hardship on the state schemes, which were not coping in the first place, and taking $1 billion a year out of dental care. The number of services to be provided over the full six years under Labor's recent proposal is only 20 per cent of what the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme provided last year alone. In other words, it is doing what it was set up to do. The 19 months with no treatment for adults and the 13 months with no treatment for children is harsh and it is cruel.

Just to outline it again: Labor and the Greens will close the scheme on 30 November, with no new services to be provided after 7 September. It is the only Medicare dental scheme that provides treatment for adults. It has provided $4,250 in Medicare dental benefits over two years for eligible patients with a chronic and ongoing health condition. I have spoken about the need for children who are waiting for heart surgery, perhaps, to have dental treatment, but of course a lot of the users of the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, particularly adults, are people who have a cancer and it has resulted in a chronic health condition and they require dental treatment in order for that treatment to continue.

Labor has continually tried to close down the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, for political reasons as well as financial ones, but it has already booked the savings. The Prime Minister says that this will save money, but the savings have already been booked. So the problem arises for the government that its new scheme is unfunded and it has to find several billions of dollars for the scheme that it proposes, which will not start—with everybody included—for 19 months. The gap period is part of the savings, but the money still has to be found to provide for the scheme that the government is putting in place, even though it will curtail more serious dental treatment for those who have greater need. We do not have details of what the fee structure will be, we do not have details of how it will operate and we certainly have no details of where the money is coming from. We are particularly concerned that many of the patients receiving treatment under the current scheme will be forced to forgo their treatment, and that includes people who have already commenced it. The treatment will have to be discontinued for the period of the gap.

Let us go back to the 60,000 children who have received treatments under the chronic disease dental scheme. All the rhetoric from the other side seems to be that they are introducing a scheme that will provide services to children. They deny, by not mentioning those children who have benefited from the existing scheme, that our scheme covered children at all. Yet, for those 60,000 children who have had the benefit, it has been of enormously important—in many cases life-saving—significance.

I have asked how many individuals have come forward to members and said what the proposed changes will mean to them individually—and they are coming forward. Because of the personal nature of the disease that they have, they do not really want it to be made public. They are happy to talk about their condition in general but, as an individual being put under the spotlight in the media, the nature of their condition means that they do not really want to say 'this is what they are doing to me.' Who can blame them? These are people who are ill, who have a Medicare item which is now going to be withdrawn, together with, as I said earlier, $1 billion in funding.

The Labor Party has been keen to mislead the general public by saying that when Tony Abbott was health minister he withdrew money from the healthcare system. He did not. It does not matter how many times he puts forward the evidence, that allegation is repeated by the Labor Party. But here in black and white, here in budget documents, here in legislation, here in a regulation we have the Minister for Health herself, personally, with the stroke of a pen, taking $1 billion out of the health system.

Mr Tudge: Shame!

Mrs BRONWYN BISHOP: It is shameful for her to do that, and she is one who very much likes to preach that she is morally superior to others because she is caring and compassionate. Her action today belies her portrayal of herself. Care and compassion are not two words that go together with the withdrawing of services from people who desperately need them. In many ways politics can be very harsh, but in an area such as this, when we are continually hearing from the Labor Party that their scheme is going to cover X thousands of people or is going to do something or other for someone unknown, when it comes to the nitty-gritty of supporting an individual who has a desperate need they are always found wanting.

This disallowance motion now lies in the hands of Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor. Whether or not children and others can continue treatment they have begun, whether those in desperate need of a heart operation or have disease from cancer treatment can have access to the scheme for the next period of 13 to 19 months, according to whether you are a child or an adult, rests in the hands of Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott. We will see, when it comes to a vote, whether or not Mr Windsor's words in the chamber that he wished to be consulted and he was not unmoved by the arguments being put forth, ring true. I sincerely hope that they do; I certainly hope that Mr Oakeshott and Mr Windsor are as compassionate as they say they are and that they will vote with the opposition and disallow this regulation.