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Tuesday, 25 June 2013
Page: 7039


Mr RANDALL (Canning) (22:19): I rise to speak about the Gillard government's ill-conceived closure of the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. This is a matter that concerns me greatly and an issue that affects many of my constituents in the electorate of Canning. It is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the cruellest moves by this government to date. Let us imagine for a moment the discomfort that would result from enduring a painful toothache not for months but for years. This is the reality of Labor's decision to close a very successful program that provided the most basic dental care for those in need of treatment. The Howard government introduced the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme in 2007. It provided up to $4,250 over two calendar years in Medicare benefits for dental services for people with a chronic medical condition and complex care needs, and whose oral health was impacting their general health.

In a move that is typical of this government, this highly successful and compassionate scheme was dumped and yet again class-war rhetoric was employed in an attempt to justify its closure. The government rolled out one of its now tired lines and on 29 August 2012 Minister Plibersek said:

… if you're a millionaire you can have $4250 worth of work done at the taxpayer's expense—

Such statements aim to divide Australians, a hallmark of this government that the people of this country are heartily sick and tired of. Importantly, statements such as this are a distraction from the fact that so many low-income Australians are now missing out on vital dental health care because of the closure of this scheme.

For example, this week it has been reported that up to 400,000 people are waiting up to five years to see a public dentist and the problem is getting worse. A recent report on the inquiry into adult dental health services by the Standing Committee on Health and Ageing entitled Bridging the dental gap found that there are numerous cases across Australia where those in need are not getting adequate dental care. Labor members would be well advised to consider the effects of their actions on Australians before closing the effective schemes simply because they were the product of a coalition government.

As of 12 November, the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme was scrapped and Minister Plibersek announced that the money would be redirected to dental care for schoolkids.

As a parent and a former teacher, I completely understand and support improved dental care for our kids. However, the scrapping of the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme to pay for it is reminiscent of the higher education cuts to fund the proposed Gonski reforms. In other words, robbing Peter to pay Pauline. This is Labor's problem and explains much of their woes over the past six years. They are absolutely obsessed with spin and announcements that are surrounded by advisers who prioritise fanfare over ensuring that policy settings are correct.

Little consideration is given to the consequences—intended or otherwise—of their brain snaps on issues such as this as long as they believe the initial sugar hit of their announcements will be well received by the public. For example, take some of the submissions received by the committee. Anya, a former CDDS patient, expressed her dismay at the scheme's closure in the following terms:

I am a young person suffering chronic illness and on a disability pension. I must see the dentist every four months but without the CDDS I can't afford to see my family dentist. I am currently on a minimum two-year waiting list at my local public dentist but I cannot wait that long. Please can you help me get the CDDS back? So many people desperately need this.

Mr Peter Muller, a dental prosthetist, provided a practitioner's point of view when observing:

When the CDDS closed a big problem was left with many patients not having treatment completed and many left on the waiting list. This has resulted in patients losing trust and faith in the system and also the profession.

We know that lower income and Indigenous Australians face a range of barriers to accessing dental health care. In the electorate of Canning there are many residents who have been adversely affected by this Labor government's decision to scrap the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. My heart goes out to those currently in pain. A resident of Preston Beach, in the electorate of Canning, recently met with me to say that she had waited months to get to the top of the waiting list only to be advised that the scheme had been scrapped and she had to join yet another waiting list. This heartless approach to those in urgent need of medical or dental attention is completely unacceptable. Again, I implore this government to think belatedly of those who will be impacted by their ill-considered policy decisions before scrapping a scheme that helped so many needy Australians with their dental care.