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Monday, 19 November 2012
Page: 9080

Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (21:29): I am very pleased to speak in support of the Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012, and I am particularly pleased that Senator Bob Carr is in the chamber tonight, given his longstanding interest in oral health and dental care.

I think it is fair to say that much has changed in Australia over the past couple of decades—certainly since I first became a senator in 1989. Australia is clearly a more egalitarian place than it was, with fewer class divides and significant progress made towards equality of opportunity for Australians. Education has become more accessible. Access to employment for migrants, women, the disabled and many other disenfranchised groups has improved. Indigenous Australians have more opportunities than they had before. There is more access to education, employment and many health services than we have seen in Australia previously. But oral health is one area where the social divide is unchanged. Dental health has the same correlation to a person's wealth and social standing as it did in 1989. It is true that some of the statistics in relation to dental health do really tell the tale. Tooth loss amongst those who earn less than $20,000 per annum is five times greater than for those who earn over $50,000 per annum.

It is a fact that the Commonwealth government has not done enough in the past period of time, the past 20 years, to close the gap on dental health. This bill, as part of a $4.1 billion investment in the dental health of Australians, is, I think, a very important and very significant step forward. This bill targets children's dental services. Studies have shown that children with increased decay in childhood do need much more intensive dental care later in their lives. This bill will provide $2.7 billion for around 3.4 million Australian children who will be eligible for subsidised dental care, and those benefits, as we have heard, will be provided to children aged from two years to 18 years.

From 1 January 2014 a child dental benefits schedule will see the Commonwealth take responsibility for funding basic dental care for children in families receiving tax benefit part A. Funding will target children from low- and middle-income families, children who are beneficiaries under Commonwealth welfare programs such as family tax benefit part A, Abstudy, disability support pension, youth allowance, double orphan pension, the Veteran's Children Education Scheme and the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act Education and Training Scheme. The child dental benefits schedule will mean that kids in eligible low- and middle-income families will be able to access dental services—including check-ups, fillings and extractions—to a benefit of $1,000 over a two-year period for those basic dental services. This is a very important reform. It is going to make a big difference to the lives of many Australians.

As we saw from the minister's second reading speech, the larger package of the government's dental reforms includes $1.3 billion for additional services for low-income adults and $225 million for dental capital and infrastructure measures for regional and remote parts of Australia. As I was just discussing with Senator Carr, this is of particular importance because, as senators would be aware, there are still many rural and remote areas in Australia which do not have fluoride in town water.

I would say in concluding my remarks on this important legislation that, unfortunately, it is true that dental health in this country has been a luxury for the haves and a dream for the have-nots. So I am very pleased to speak in support of this important legislation which I believe will make that concern a thing of the past. This is an important bill, and I am very pleased to support it strongly.