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Monday, 16 June 2008
Page: 4897

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services) (6:57 PM) —I thank the previous speaker and the member for New England for articulating some of the concerns of rural areas that I guess in national and international trends of urbanisation we perhaps do not focus on as much and for the issues they raised about the ageing of the workforce and the need to make sure through training initiatives that people do actually go to those areas.

In a broader sense and legends apart, there are still great areas of social inequity in this country, and certainly the question of health care is one of them. If we look at the realities, we find a very close correlation between many health problems and socioeconomic deprivation, and the dental area is one of them. I cite the Australian Dental Association’s National dental update of November 2004. It noted:

A number of factors contribute to this abysmal record—

and it was referring to the dental situation—

and it is essential that they be properly identified and dealt with to return Australia to a much improved position on the OECD table. The percentage of adults rating their oral health as average, poor or very poor decreases markedly in households with a pre-tax income of more than $50,000 when compared to households with a pre-tax income of less than $20,000.

Lower oral health is clearly associated with social and economic disadvantage.

I would very strongly reiterate the view of some earlier speakers that one of the worst decisions of the previous government, very shortly after coming to power, was to rid this country of a very worthwhile dental scheme. It was unfortunate that the disastrous decision to force the by-election in the seat of Lindsay distracted the Australian population at that time from what was very much a class based decision which denied working-class people, in particular, access to very necessary oral health care. For the opposition to come in here tonight and say that what is provided here is not good enough is absolute gross hypocrisy because they abolished the dental scheme with great glee soon after being elected to government.

I also note complaints about the state governments. Quite frankly, not all of those state governments have been in for a decade or two, and if there is any build-up of problems, one would have to say that the other side of politics at a state level also must have some involvement if that is the case. Also, this particular bill puts it on the state governments very clearly not to reduce services. They are matters that we really need to understand in this legislation.

The matter is serious. It has been a long time coming. It has been commented upon on many occasions. The ABC’s Health & Wellbeing website said:

What’s the most common health condition in Australia? Heart disease? Cancer? Few people realise it’s actually tooth decay, with advanced periodontal (gum) disease the fifth most common, and rates of edentulism (loss of teeth) also high, according to the Public Health Association of Australia. As a nation, we’re facing a crisis in oral health, with half a million people unable to access a dentist for even basic care.

We all know that other figures have indicated that large numbers of people do not have proper health care because they cannot afford it. Basically, they do not go ahead with it if it is determined that they should, because of the cost. There is also a clear correlation between dental problems and other diseases. The previous government brought in a scheme where there had to be a chronic condition before people were assisted. I gather that the total figure of those helped during that period was in the area of 7,000 people—that is the number of people who were assisted under a scheme those opposite now laud, now praise here—and they have the temerity to attack this government’s initiatives.

We are now seeing that over one million young people will have the option of having a check-up. We now hear complaints that this will not necessarily provide for all of the dental care that should eventuate if there are problems. Quite clearly, the check-up is an indication to a family that something should be done. Obviously we appreciate that in some cases they will not be able to afford to act on it, but quite frankly many of them would not be able to even afford the test in the first place without this government initiative. What we are seeing is a clear commitment being fulfilled by this legislation. It will provide far wider access to dental care. It will obviously do something about waiting lists via the $290 million being devoted in that area.

In an era when inflationary pressures are here, when transport costs are going up, there is real pressure being placed on parts of my electorate such as Rydalmere and Dundas, which clearly do not have public transport available. This gesture by the government in making sure that something is done in an area that really affects people’s wellbeing, which as I said earlier relates to other health problems, is a measure that should be supported and praised rather than denigrated. We have a clear devotion of a sizeable amount of money over the next few years for annual preventive dental checks, providing an oral examination and, where required, X-rays, scaling and cleaning and other preventive measures for teenagers. I do not want to go over areas that other members have covered. Quite clearly this is a situation that is often raised with members of parliament. If you look around the electorate, if you run into people, they do often raise the question of dental care. In an electorate like mine, which is below national socioeconomic indicators, where people are experiencing really hard economic circumstances, this is important legislation and I have pleasure in supporting it.