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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11569


Dr JENSEN (Tangney) (13:43): I rise to speak on Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012. I guess one of the important things in communication is the ability to relate. So I will relate the words of a famed communist back to Labor. It was Nikita Khrushchev who said: 'Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build bridges even when there are no rivers.' And so it is with this Dental Benefits Amendment Bill. The facts, as stubborn as they are, are that, under the current scheme—a coalition scheme—20 million services have been provided to over one million patients since 2007. And 80 per cent of services under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme have been provided to concession card holders.

The people in my electorate are indignant that Labor is playing politics with their health. The reality is that Labor has gone to great lengths to undermine the CDDS because it was established by Tony Abbott as Minister for Health and Ageing and has been a success in improving access to treatment. The alternative Prime Minister is a man tackling our roughest challenges with fidelity and diligence. Tony Abbott is not a man who plays politics with people's lives or with their children's lives. He is a firm and considered servant who does not make empty promises, for a promise made is a debt unpaid.

This is the kernel of the coalition problem with this bill: it is not costed, it is not funded and it is not fair. The coalition are crystal clear in our unwavering commitment to the health of all Australians. I cannot support any bill that will burden the hardworking families of Tangney with another unnecessary government debt. But this is what we have seen time and time again from this tired and troubled Labor government. They promise now and we have to pay later. One thing is for certain: the promises of yesterday are the taxes of today. And we know Labor hate accountability.

What we have, then, is a $4.1 billion commitment that is unfunded. Where will the money come from? The money will come from you and me. Increasing borrowing is Labor's answer to everything. In fairness, Labor should make this their fall-back, because it is the only thing they deliver on. They have borrowed and borrowed. In fact, they have got better at borrowing other people's money the older they have got. Just by way of example, Labor has turned net government interest payments from $1.02 billion in earnings into $6.5 billion in payments. That is more than enough to implement every single one of the Gonski education recommendations for the next four years.

These are the facts. Labor over promises and under delivers. It is said that we promise according to our hopes, and perform according to our fears. Labor has a lot to fear, because when the people of Willetton, Bull Creek, Applecross and Attadale find out that they will be left with nothing for 19 months they will be angry. The Dental Benefits Amendment Bill will stop the successful CDDS on 30 November and leave nothing in its wake—nothing. There is no outline of what will fill the gap between November 2012 and July 2014, when the proposed measures are to come into place.

And look more closely at the proposed measures. Under the current scheme, the successful coalition CDDS, up to $4,250 is available over a two-year period. Contrast this with the proposed bill and we see that Labor and the Greens have reduced the maximum amount by $3,250 or 77 per cent of that currently available. Reducing the amount available by 77 per cent and leaving the people of Tangney in the lurch for 19 months is, quite frankly, a disgrace.

The real anger of the silent majority demand and deserve answers. Labor's most noble intention with this bill was to give a little to a lot, rather than a lot to a little. But what we find is that they will actually stop giving to everyone for 19 months. Conveniently, 19 months from now is July 2014. By then we will have passed the next election. It is hubristic to assume that Labor will still be in power by then. Government is not the gift of the unions and back-room boys but of the people.

Labor thinks it is better and more clever than Australians. This government is more interested in playing politics than discussing policy, and concerned about putting political profit before its duty to our nation. The political profit here is, of course, the much-vaunted budget surplus. And if it means that the parents of Riverton and Rossmoyne will be left scratching their heads, left in the dark and concerned about how they will fund their children's dental bills, then so be it! The Prime Minister and Treasurer are unconcerned. They do not care, because they will be able to point to fact that they apparently delivered a budget surplus—a budget surplus at all costs.

We cannot pass this bill—a bill that will leave Australians worse off. We know that 30 November—less than 10 Mondays away; less than 60 days away—marks the end of a good, decent and effective policy. That is the day when the CDDS stops, and when spin over substance starts. If you are in treatment make sure it finishes by 30 November, and by God make sure you do not need dental services again until 2014.

How much of a cop out is it that the maximum provided for under this proposed scheme is only $1,000, when the Department of Health and Ageing's own figure for the average cost of treatment is $1,716? This is in a country where the five-year average rate of inflation is three per cent, and the rate of rate increase in inflation is increasing. What a rort!

How can anyone in Tangney or anywhere in Australia ever consider this bill to be 'fair dinkum'? The coalition CDDS provides up to $4,250. Promise after promise, time after time, Labor are letting the people down. What happened to the Labor promise to their partners the Greens? What happened to the Commonwealth Dental Health Program? It is time to focus on facts. This bill is unfair, unfunded and unnecessary. If Labor do not and cannot value health, why should they be trusted on anything else? In measure, then, the government must know the rightful anger of the people when they are attacked. The consequences for the young and the sick are grave and urgent. It is time we return hope, reward and opportunity to all Australians.

Honourable members: Keep going! You still have six minutes.

Dr JENSEN: Six minutes? I thought you had someone on your side that was going to do it. Anyway, what does it say about people? Imagine you had painful and unsightly dental work that required treatment and you were told: 'Tough, you'll have to wait 19 months'? The people undergoing treatment right now are in grave danger of not having that treatment completed. They have to have that treatment completed by 30 November. What happens then? Say someone is halfway through a root canal treatment—they have had the hole drilled and a little bit of a plug put in. That is it; sorry, the rest of your filling will have to wait 19 months. Do you think there would not be any further degradation to that tooth? Do you think you would not get further rotting into maybe another part of the root system or further pain? This is a very real problem that this government refused to acknowledge. Clearly the government is completely embarrassed about the situation. Look at the plethora of speakers lining up on the other side to support this bill, which they vaunt.

The government says that the CDDS is in fact an unfair scheme and that it is going to replace it with a better scheme. Where are the government members to support it? Look, there is a row of empty benches opposite with no one supporting the bill. What does that say about the government's commitment to dental health? What it says is that this government has got a huge problem with its so-called budget surplus. It is a budget surplus which it is vaunting but which it finessed so much to such a great extent that it is doing everything it possibly can to pretend that it is going to be a real surplus.

There is $47-odd billion in NBN funding for the budget surplus, but guess what? It is not in the budget papers. It is off budget. It is like having a car and deciding you want to buy some mag wheels. You tell yourself, 'It's not coming out of my budget. I will not take it out of the household budget. I will pretend it does not come from that because when I sell that car it might even earn a profit due to the fact that it has mag wheels.' Is that a realistic assessment? Do you really think that the NBN is going to be able to make money on that $47 billion that is being spent? If that was the case, where is the cost-benefit analysis? We are still looking for that one. It has disappeared.

Here is a government that is looking at a mirage of a budget surplus that is never going to eventuate. It is doing everything it can to keep things off budget or otherwise hide things away. It will just get rid of the CDDS and what are we going to replace it with? I am pleased to see that the health minister has finally turned up. I am surprised that she has not been vociferous here in supporting this bill. There is a 19-month gap between when the CDDS ends and your scheme supposedly gets introduced.

Ms Plibersek: No there isn't. You made that up.

Dr JENSEN: Not true? Have a look at your own bill. You are going to leave people in the lurch. For people who are on treatment now, that treatment ends at the end of November. What happens to them, Minister?

Ms Plibersek: It is not true.

Dr JENSEN: There will be nothing until April 2014. You can wait, folks. That is okay; that is the Labor way: 'We make promises we cannot deliver on and we have borrowed so much money that we cannot really borrow any more. What sort of promises do we make? We are now promising to spend the states' money. We are not even spending money that the federal government is borrowing anymore'. They are making promises that they cannot deliver and so they are relying on the states to fund those promises. What a disgrace.

I notice the Treasurer is here. This is supposed to be responsible budgeting. It is a joke and it is getting worse. I almost do not know where to go—

Mr Windsor: We can tell.

Dr JENSEN: with where the government has got us. It is an absolute disgrace, member for Windsor. The government is so desperate in pushing a budget bottom line that it is prepared to leave people in the lurch for 19 months when they have chronic oral health problems. The government says it has got a great scheme but guess what? You have to wait 19 months. Your treatment will have to end by 30 November because otherwise there is a gap. (Time expired)