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Monday, 16 June 2008
Page: 4893

Ms CAMPBELL (6:39 PM) —I rise today to speak in support of the Rudd government’s Dental Benefits Bill 2008. I do so because I am all too aware of the legacy left us by the previous government when it comes to dental health and wellbeing. Across Northern Tasmania there are people, young and old, who have languished on waiting lists for far too long. Under this government’s $780 million plan, teenagers will receive preventive dental checks in order to ease the pressure on waiting lists. This is about prevention, something which the previous government appears simply not to have understood. It was all too prepared, it would seem, to sit back, wait for problems to emerge and then do absolutely nothing about them.

I am pleased and proud to be able to say to the people of Bass and to communities across Northern Tasmania that this government is different. One of the first acts of the Howard government was to scrap the Commonwealth Dental Health Program, essentially doing away with $100 million a year for the public dental system. This was an absolute disgrace. Is it any wonder, then, that we are now faced with waiting lists groaning under the pressure? All too late, the Liberals introduced a dental scheme, but so complex was its referral process that barely anyone could actually access it. In my home state only eight people up to the age of 24 actually received these services over the course of four years. That is an average of two per year. Tooth decay is our country’s most prevalent health problem and it is incumbent upon the government of the day to act, not only to treat the problem but to arrest its rise. By targeting teenagers across Bass, across Tasmania and throughout the country, the Rudd government is acting to secure the dental health of future generations. Can I add, too, that the Tasmanian government is acting to address dental waiting lists.

An ageing workforce and a growing national shortage of dentists mean that governments, both state and federal, have to be innovative in how they implement dental health strategies. In Tasmania, a workforce re-entry program exists to assist those returning to dental therapy after more than five years absence, and consideration of options for undergraduate training for both Bachelor of Dental Surgery and Bachelor of Oral Health. No-one on this side of the House is suggesting for a second that any of the steps we are taking can fix all the issues surrounding dental health immediately. But we are acting. The Commonwealth Dental Health Program will fund up to a million dental consultations and treatments. From the beginning of next month, the government will provide $290 million over three years to bring much-needed relief to the 650,000 people on dental waiting lists across the country. Negotiations with the states and territories will ensure that needy patients with chronic care needs will receive treatment.

This bill is about delivering on our election commitments. It is about saying to the people of Northern Tasmania, ‘Here is a plan, and here we are actually acting on it.’ Prevention, as the adage goes, is better than cure, and that is something to which this government subscribes. People across Bass are entitled to know that if they need dental treatment urgently they will get it. Teenagers in Northern Tasmania are entitled to know that the resources and commitment are there to help keep them off dental waiting lists into the future. That is why I am very pleased that the Rudd government is committed to the Medicare Teen Dental Plan. The government will provide up to $490.7 million over five years for the new Medicare Teen Dental Plan. This program will provide up to $150 per teenager towards an annual preventive check for teenagers aged 12 to 17 in families receiving family tax benefit part A or teenagers receiving youth allowance or Abstudy. Around 1.1 million teenagers will be eligible for dental services under the Medicare Teen Dental Plan.

Much has been said about ending the blame game between the states and territories and the Commonwealth government. This is more than simply speaking about it. This bill will see funds committed and action taken to treat a problem which was allowed to develop and compound during the bleak Howard years. The hard decisions have been made to address ineffective programs and replace them with accountable and transparent funding across the board.

On a personal level—and I have said this to the House many times now—it gives me enormous satisfaction to know that the promises I made on behalf of the Rudd government during the election campaign are promises which have been met. Whilst campaigning the length and breadth of my electorate of Bass I met teenagers, parents and the elderly, many of whom had horror stories to tell about the neglect they, and their teeth—or, in some cases, their dentures—had suffered under the previous government. I do not think that as a government we would be doing our job if we were not acting to address what is a very real crisis. I also do not think it unreasonable that when people across Northern Tasmania need access to dental care that care is there. It gives me great satisfaction to add my voice in support of this bill. It heralds a new era in dental care. I commend the bill to the House.