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Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Page: 11282


Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (17:28): I like the member for Blair, but he came in here and did not say one word about the sick and the poor and what they are going to do until 2014. He did not say one word about their chronic dental problems and what is going to happen to them until this scheme kicks in. I would be willing to wager $20 on the fact that that kid who had all his teeth pulled out probably had them pulled out under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. The member for Blair comes in here every day and rails at the Queensland government about the cuts and job losses and everything like that, but I ask the member for Blair: where was he when the Queensland government was not paying their health workers? Where are the speeches in the Hansard about how badly treated the Queensland health workers were by Bligh's Labor government? The member just mentioned tuberculosis. Let us not forget that it was ex-Premier Bligh who pulled the funding from tuberculosis in the Torres Strait. And it is this health minister that continues to do so and who will not do anything about it. We have got drug-resistant tuberculosis and all sorts of problems up there. We did not hear him talk on anything. He is very selective about it and should be very careful.

I rise to speak on the Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012. This bill seeks to amend the Dental Benefits Act 2008 to allow the establishment of the Child Dental Benefits Schedule, revising the Medicare Teen Dental Plan to extend the age range of children currently covered by the public dental system. Notably, this bill comes with a price tag of $2.7 billion, a little more than half of the government's recently announced changes to the dental system. What this creates is the 12th new bureaucracy loaded onto the health system since this Labor-Greens government came to power. It is something you all should be very proud of.

This bill needs to be considered in the context of Labor's wider changes to dental health, announced recently by the Minister for Health. The introduction of the Child Dental Benefits Schedule is one component of this plan. The first part of these changes involves the scrapping of the Medicare Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, or CDDS, which will come into effect on 30 November this year. There are nearly 650,000 people on the waiting list for this scheme, the waiting list for which can reach five years. But the new scheme will not start on 1 December this year; this new scheme will start in 2014!

Straight up I have to question the minister's motives over this change. The CDDS was introduced by the coalition. It was created by the member for Warringah. The Labor Party has been against this program for a while and I cannot help but ask whether it is just because it is the Leader of the Opposition's program. Those opposite talk about budget blow-outs and rorts of the system and they have aggressively pursued dentists over largely inadvertent mistakes in paperwork. But the data shows the average claim per patient has been only $1,716, well below half the maximum $4,250 allowable under the scheme. This has been a good program. Those opposite complain that the CDDS costs $1 billion per year and that that is excessive. Yet the minister says that her scheme will cost $1 billion per year—that is, $4 billion.

This bill is about expanding coverage to children, but over 60,000 services were provided to children under the CDDS. Could it just be that dental patients have to suffer for this government to take a swing at the Leader of the opposition? Geez, that would be a cynical outlook. The CDDS is about serious dental problems; it is about chronic conditions. We on this side of the House do understand that dental issues are the second biggest cause of admission to Townsville Hospital, behind only diabetes. What we are talking about is not only a big health issue in itself; if we do not treat it as soon as we are aware of it, it will be an even bigger problem in hospital emergency rooms.

The CDDS will end on 30 November. In fact, services under the CDDS have already finished—nobody who applied after 7 September this year will even get on the list. Its replacement will not begin until 1 July 2014, yet the member for Blair stood there and rail against the Campbell Newman government, saying that he is leaving people high and dry. It beggars belief. That is almost two years that people with chronic dental problems and who cannot afford to fix it themselves will have to wait to get anything done about them. Remember, over 80 per cent who claim this thing are in fact card holders. They are the poorest and weakest in our community. That is almost two years from today for dental concerns to become major and far more expensive problems; and that is even if there is a plan for 2014. As I said, there are currently around 650,000 people on the waiting list for the CDDS. This government expects that, come 1 July 2014, it will have a plan for those who have been waiting another 17 months to get to the front of the queue. It beggars belief. I have had constituents in Townsville who need work done under this program call me. They have told me that they have received notice from their dentist that they need to schedule their surgery as soon as possible, or else they will be waiting at least another two years—if it is delivered at all. That is not right and it is not fair.

It also needs to be noted that there is a 13-month period during which the children that this bill supposedly helps will have to wait before the new program starts at the beginning of 2014. One of the core fundamentals of the ethical code in the health fields is 'first do no harm'. That is the catchcry of the Leader of the Opposition. It should be one of the fundamentals of government. Instead, this government is doing the exact opposite by hanging out to dry for another two years the thousands of patients in urgent need of this dental program. It is outrageous that the Prime Minister and the health minister can get out there spruiking their investment in dental services while stripping everything away from those in most desperate need for at least those two years.

This bill represents more of the same in Labor's ad hoc approach to allied health. A governmental approach to the health system needs to be about the bigger picture. As I said, dental issues are the second biggest cause of admission to Townsville Hospital: if you can treat them you do not save just the patient, you save health spending as well. It is typical of this government's inconsistency that it can pour money into the dental field—money it does not have or even plan to provide—right after it has stripped back private health insurance rebates. It gives with one hand and takes with the other.

The attack on allied health by this government through means-testing private health insurance increases the withdrawal by people from their private health cover. People look at the range of their cover and say, 'Okay, it's going to cost us more. What can we go without?' We will see a dropping of allied health services such as dentists, physiotherapists, optometrists, occupational therapists and the like. We will eventually see these allied health professionals leaving places like Ayr, Ingham, Charters Towers, Innisfail and Tully. They will close their doors and move to the bigger cities, because there will not be the critical mass of people they need to keep their doors open. This will have a domino effect on all health services and will create the conditions for chronic dental problems. There are people on this scheme who should be accessing the CDDS, who need to go to a dentist but cannot afford to. They cannot afford to come to Townsville to get it done, much less go to Brisbane. We are just making it even harder for these people all the way through. That is especially the case for people in rural towns and communities.

By bringing in these changes, the government are delivering to these people the fate they are expressly trying to avoid. The member for Blair spoke about the trial in Hervey Bay. It was a distressing story. Some poor kid had to have every tooth in his head pulled out. I guarantee that kid was not going to a dentist from the beginning. That is not anything to do with a dental scheme; that is parent neglect and they should be charged for it. These are the people we need to get to. These are the children who will eventually be noticed by the teacher and who will get into the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. This is not going to be picked up with a bit of a scrape and plaque removal. They will get $1,000 every year to be fixed up.

The question waiting to be answered on the dental bills to come is: where is the money coming from? These changes are supposed to be ready to go in 2014. That is inside the forward estimates, but where exactly is it detailed in the budget? It is not in there. This is yet another example of this government making the grandiose announcements that they do so very well. They make it sound good. They throw around the big money. Then they walk away, leaving the job half-finished behind them. Where is the detail of these plans? Where is the detail of where the money is coming from? Where is the detail about what will happen to patients who will need dental care between now and 2014? Where is the detail of how much this will actually cost each year? You cannot do half the job and then pat yourself on the back. Yet that is what we see from this government time and time again. Whether it is about education, charities regulation, the NDIS, increased refugee intake; the list goes on and it's got dental health at the top.

This government is like the workers who turn up at starting time and put the billy on, have a cuppa until it is time to go to smoko, then go to the toilet until lunch. Eventually they might get an hour or so of work in in the afternoon. They go home and say they are putting in. That is what this government does—it does not deliver. I can only assume at this point that the Treasurer has entirely given up any hope of achieving the surplus he has promised so many times.

The coalition supports investment in dental health. We have an established scheme. We have form on this. We deliver. The government cannot just announce policy on the run that has a huge price tag and no plan. There are some 650,000 people on public dental waiting lists already. Are the dental patients who need work before these schemes begin in 2014 just expected to shuffle up to the back of that queue, pop a Panadol, have a lie down, put some ice in their mouth, that sort of thing? It is time this government put some thought into delivery, instead of trying to wedge the member for Griffiths or vilify the member for Warringah.

My good friend Senator Ian Macdonald says that good policy will always lead to great results. This is bad policy formation with no consultation with anyone apart from Labor's lords and masters, the Greens. You always have to worry when a Labor minister turns up at a press conference to make an announcement and you see the Greens spokesperson at their shoulder. You know it is going to cost. You know it is going to be expensive. You know it has not been thought through. You know it has been done for any reason other than that it is good policy. It does not make sense.

This is bad legislation, uncosted, and it will hurt the most vulnerable people. This will not lead us to great results; this will lead us to nowhere but inequity, especially in rural and regional Australia. This scheme will hurt the people most in need and it should be opposed because this is bad government. You people are hurting the very people you seek to help. It is not on. You should drop this legislation and continue with what is a great scheme. I thank the House.