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Wednesday, 15 October 2003
Page: 21474

Ms GILLARD (2:05 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. I refer to the government's expenditure of $665 million on government advertising since 1996. Is the minister aware that there are over half a million Australians on waiting lists for public health dental care, with waiting times now up to 40 months for dentures despite increasing efforts by the states? Minister, given it is poverty week, wouldn't the $665 million have been better spent maintaining Labor's Commonwealth dental program and fixing the teeth of older and poorer Australians?

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —When the House has come to order!

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) —It is obviously easy for opposition members to stand up and make rather populist comments about government advertising, but I would simply make the point that all governments have advertised and all governments will advertise, and there is nothing wrong with this government continuing to advertise to give people the information they need.

The SPEAKER —If the member for Ballarat persists in her interjection, I will deal with her.

Mr ABBOTT —On the question of dental care, this has traditionally been a matter for the state governments and I would certainly encourage the state governments to do all that they possibly can to ensure that Australians have access to appropriate dental treatment. One thing that the federal government is doing to try to ensure that people do get help with dental care is putting in place the private health insurance rebate. A very large number of people who need dental treatment get rebates for that dental treatment through the private health insurance rebate, and there are more than a million Australians earning less than $20,000 a year who have private health insurance. The very worst thing that people could do in terms of damaging access to dental care would be to rip the guts out of the private health insurance system, which is what the opposition wants to do.