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Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Page: 11288


Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (17:53): I rise to speak on the Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012. Sadly, this bill simply sums up the Labor government. In fact, this bill could be a metaphor for this government. Firstly, this bill is just another broken Labor promise. Secondly, this bill is nothing more than a hoodwink, a con, a deception, a pea-and-thimble trick. Thirdly, this is a bill that will cause undue pain and suffering and hardship to hundreds of thousands of Australians. This bill is just another example of why the Labor government will go down in history as the worst in our nation.

This bill just adds to the long list of broken promises by this government. It is just another example of why the Australian public simply cannot believe a single word that this government says. In a press conference back on 11 February 2011, the current Prime Minister said:

Every time we announce something we properly account for it and properly fund it.

Those are her words; the transcript is available on the Prime Minister's website. So how is the government properly funding the spending in this bill—$4 billion? Where is the money coming from? That is more than a fair question, given that we have a Prime Minister who has promised:

Every time we announce something we properly account for it and properly fund it.

In this government's haste and confusion when making an announcement on this bill—that haste and confusion that we have seen time and time again, which has been the hallmark of this government—the Minister for Health simply let the cat out of the bag. She was reported in the Age on 30 August as saying:

There is not billions of dollars in the budget for this … we need to find a new $4 billion …

So there we have, in the minister's own words, confirmation that the government are making announcements, without a clue of how they are going to properly fund them. The admission that they need to find a new $4 billion is confirmation that this bill is just another broken promise and a further erosion of trust of the Australian public.

As the minister has confirmed, we need to find a new $4 billion for this bill. There is a call going out around the nation tonight: where is the money coming from? It is not only this bill on dental health. The government needs to explain where the money is coming from for the new asylum seeker policy. Where is the money coming from to fund a National Disability Insurance Scheme? Where is the money coming from to fund the Gonski education reforms? Where is the money coming from to fund our new submarines? So far these unfunded promises add up to a massive $120 billion black hole.

If that is not bad enough, we wake up this morning and we hear another unfunded promise from the government—this time $1.4 billion a year for taxpayers to fund private childcare workers. This is simply yet another government commitment without them having a clue where the money is going to come from. This is against a background of falling commodity prices, a likely downturn in revenue and the Prime Minister hanging on to the delusion that the budget is still in surplus. No wonder even members of Labor's caucus yesterday were joining in the chorus with the other 22 million Australians: where is the money coming from?

Are the government going to raise taxes to pay for this bill? Are they going to slash more jobs in the Public Service? If they fail to do so, given their unprecedented track record of broken promises, the Australian public will see these unfunded promises, such as those in this bill, for what they are—nothing more than a hoodwink, a deception, mere empty promises, all designed for short-term political gain to fool people in the run-up to the next election. But, I suppose if this government thinks it can get away with the promise before the last election, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' it could probably get away with anything.

As I said, this bill is nothing more than a hoodwink, a con, a deception, a pea-and-thimble trick. In peddling their nonsense about this bill, one thing the speakers on the other side conveniently have forgotten to mention—the inconvenient truth about this bill—is that this unfunded dental health program will not begin until 2014, well after the next federal election. Under this bill, the means-test entitlement for children aged 12 to 17 will not commence until January 2014 and the proposal for adults does not commence until July 2014. So what we have is nothing other than an unfunded promise on the never-never, something that will not even happen, at the very best, until after the next election.

What is even more shameful is the other inconvenient truth about this bill. This government is, at the same time, announcing the closure of the existing Medicare Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. Under the government's proposals, no new patients can access this scheme after 7 September—which has already gone—and no new treatments will be done at all under the existing scheme after 30 November. So the question is: what happens between now, when the scheme is closed, and 2014? What happens to someone suffering chronic dental disease during that period? The answer is: nothing. Absolutely nothing. There is nothing that this government is putting into place between now and 2013.

We have a bill here that is really about the federal Labor government stripping away money from dental health and replacing it with nothing more than a promise, something that might happen in the future. A classic pea-and-thimble trick. We have this government coming into the parliament and creating the illusion of being concerned for dental health, when the reality is that this bill rips away the existing Chronic Disease Dental Scheme to offset the government's reckless spending and wasteful management. Why is the government ripping away this existing scheme? This was a scheme established by the Howard government to provide patients who have chronic dental disease with rebates of up to $4,250, every two years, for private dental treatment. This is an existing scheme that has provided, since 2007, approximately 20 million services to over one million Australians who have suffered from chronic dental disease.

There are two reasons this scheme is being closed down, and neither of them is legitimate. The first reason is purely political. It is based on the ideology that everything the Howard government did was wrong. This is the same ideology that has seen the disaster on border protection. The second reason, and perhaps the real reason, is to simply try to shore up a dodgy budget surplus. We have seen claims from the other side that this scheme has been widely rorted. Let us look at these numbers. The minister says that there have been 1,000 complaints of so-called rorting. Let us put that into context. This is a scheme that has provided two million courses of care. So this wide rorting is 0.05 per cent. That should be a record of success, not failure. That 0.05 per cent of supposedly wide rorting includes pursuing dentists for the most minor and inadvertent paperwork mistakes.

These cuts to our dental health, that will occur over the balance of the life of this Labor government, will cause enormous pain and suffering for thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Australians. And the message this government gives to them is: 'Sorry, there's no money left. We've wasted it all. Simply take an Aspro, put up with the pain and wait for a year or two until this new scheme starts.' That is the message this government is telling tens of thousands of Australians today. Those Australians suffering with chronic dental disease are now paying the price. They are paying the price of this government's wasteful and reckless spending and failed policies. Those Australians suffering with chronic dental disease and those Australians who will suffer with chronic dental disease for the next year and a half are being forced to pay the price. They are being forced to suffer and endure pain for the disastrous schemes like the pink batts, the farcically named education revolution, the green loans debacle, the $5 billion cost of the denial and the refusal to admit the costly mistakes on border protection.

Those voting for this bill should stand up and admit that what they are voting for is going to cause pain and suffering for those with chronic dental pain and gum disease. There is also the issue of the urgent cut-off. Why the urgency to cut off the existing scheme? Twelve weeks from the announcement, the scheme was cut off altogether. The minister should explain why to the many children who must suffer and wait for another 13 months—with incomplete treatment and no certainty of what schedules are provided—or until this government gets around to supposedly coming up with some funding for this unfunded promise in 2014.

The executive officer of the Australian Dental Association drew attention to this problem. He said: 'There are a significant number of treatments that simply cannot be completed in 12 weeks.' They are 'anything from ongoing gum disease treatment, orthodontics and dentures where we have to wait for the extraction wound to heal before fitting'. The 12-week cut-off simply shows that those in government do not know what they are doing. They are either wilfully going out to cause pain and suffering or they do not know what they are doing. These people who are halfway through their treatments, and who are now left in limbo, are the ones paying for this government's waste.

I could go on and compare the two dental schemes, but what is the point? We are talking about a scheme in 2014. How can this government be trusted to deliver it when it is completely unfunded? Hans Zoellner, chairman of the Association for the Promotion of Oral Health, has pointed out one of the great weaknesses of the scheme. He said that few children needed enough dental treatment to get near the $500-a-year cap. On the one hand, it might cost a child $100 or $200 to go to a dental surgery. They do not need the $500 cap. But on the other hand, children with more serious problems are disadvantaged by this cut. Under the existing scheme they are able to go to a $4,250 limit.

And what about people with mobility issues? How will this scheme affect the disabled or nursing home patients and others with mobility issues? Under the current scheme, the one the government is getting rid of and replacing with nothing for 14 months, they are able to go to a local dentist. Now under the new scheme, which will start sometime in the never-never, they cannot go to their local dentist. They have to go to a public dentist and they will be forced to travel significant distances. So what happens to those people who have those mobility issues?

What about the capacity of our existing dental workforce? All of a sudden we will have a big reduction in demand through the cutting of this scheme. Then, when the new scheme starts, we will have an explosion in demand. We will have a built-up demand for 14 or 16 months, 19 months for adults, with no chronic dental schemes available. We will have an explosion of demand in 19 months. Simply, again, it is the government not understanding the basics of supply and demand.

This legislation deserves to be treated with complete contempt for the pain and suffering it will cause many Australians. The coalition's position is that we will be moving a disallowance motion against the closure of the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, to protect those patients who will otherwise go without treatment for 19 months for adults and 13 months for children. That is at least; it will probably be longer than that. Those on the other side have a decision to make. You should stand up and support that disallowance motion. If you do not, you will be responsible for causing pain and suffering to tens of thousands of Australians.