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Monday, 16 June 2008
Page: 4917

Mr PRICE (8:27 PM) —I want to support the remarks of my colleague the honourable member for Makin and the contribution he made to the Dental Benefits Bill 2008 and Dental Benefits (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2008, pointing out that of course dentistry is part of the health system. It was an absolute disgrace when, 12 years ago, one of the first actions of the Howard government was to abandon the field. Every year and every month during that 12-year period they said it was a state responsibility. The truth is that during that period the states doubled the funding that they were spending on the public dental health system. And what was the Commonwealth doing? Absolutely nothing. And, of course, waiting lists were blowing out. I am very proud to be here in this House seeing that we have made a commitment to dentistry. I have two public dental health clinics in my electorate, one of them named after the late May Cowpe, a great Trojan of the ladies auxiliary at Mount Druitt Hospital and, I suspect, a Liberal Party voter. With this money, that clinic is going to be able to really deliver a service and cut the waiting lists. We all know that in its last year of operation the pensioner dental health program helped 600,000 of our fellow Australians, and what did the Howard government do? They chopped it and said it was a state responsibility. As far as dental health was concerned, the Howard government did not want to know, and, of course, we have picked up the pieces, as the honourable member for Makin said.

I have a lot of constituents coming to see me legitimately who are concerned about their dental health program and getting their teeth fixed. Regrettably, the neglect of oral health can lead to the hospitalisation of people; it can lead to death. It is a very serious matter, and the greatest crime is when parents cannot afford it for their children or pensioners and those on welfare are unable to access the service. I have seen some horrendous cases where people have had to wait two and three years and have had to ingest liquid food because they could not eat solids. This was a situation where those opposite would constantly say, ‘This is a state responsibility.’ In fact, you would not think they are federal members because every problem in Australia is usually a state responsibility or a state problem or a state caused problem. But, on this side of the House, we are prepared to work constructively with the states to get solutions, to provide help, and we will not turn our backs on pensioners and others in need.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms JA Saffin)—The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 34. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.