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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 11796

Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (12:42): I am pleased to speak in continuation on the Dental Benefits Amendment Bill. I was disappointed to see the member for Lyne vote yet again with the government against the disallowance proposed by the coalition which would have protected those in the community who so desperately need dental services. In outlining the reasons for his decision, he said:

… I have had several discussions with the Minister for Health and have received several important assurances. The most important of these is that there will be no gap between the closure of the CDDS and the flow of funds from the government reforms.

I must say that is a very important point, but what does this assurance mean? I would hope that the member for Lyne would spell out how this assurance protects the people of the North Coast of New South Wales from the withdrawal of services. Is the member saying that all patients currently on the CDDS will be transferred seamlessly into a new system but utilising a proportion of state services and their treatment continued? Is that what that statement means? Or is he saying that patients will be transferred to the state dental scheme with its waiting lists? We all know that there are waiting lists in the state system of up to five years.

This is important, as we are debating legislation that defines the care that people will receive rather than a nod and a wink from a minister. The legislation as it is currently drafted says that for children new arrangements commence on 1 January 2014 and for adults the new arrangements commence on 1 July 2014. That begs the question: why is the member for Lyne supporting the closure of the CDDS in 2012 with arrangements for children not starting for 13 months and arrangements for adults not starting for 19 months? Surely, in the interests of better health outcomes, in the interests of serving the people of the North Coast, these arrangements should be continuous. There is an important question mark over the services which may be available under the new scheme. Can the member for Lyne guarantee that the people of the North Coast will be eligible for the same types of treatments that are available under the CDDS? It may be that a range of treatments are unavailable under the new provisions.

Another important issue is where will the services be delivered. There is a serious question about where people will be able to access services. It may be that North Coast residents are required to travel to Sydney, for example, to access services. This is unclear. Will there be a choice of dentist under the new arrangements, as there is under the CDDS?

What do we say to a cancer sufferer enduring chemotherapy who needs ongoing dental treatment, which is currently being provided under the CDDS? What does the member for Lyne say to such a patient? How are the interests of such a patient safeguarded; how can we be sure that that person's treatment will continue. Will that person just fall into a void? Will that person just be transferred to a state waiting list? Will that person just be denied treatment? Will that person, perhaps in their darkest hour, facing huge challenges, potentially be denied treatment beyond November this year? I believe that this is an unacceptable situation and I think it is incumbent on the member for Lyne to tell the people of the North Coast of New South Wales what are the safeguards, what are the provisions that the minister has offered, that are going to ensure that all of those patients currently undergoing treatment can have that treatment continue? Will he be able to reassure those patients that not one patient will miss out, not one patient will end up suffering, as a result of these changes.

It does seem rather strange that this legislation would say that the new payments that will be flowing to the states will flow in 2014—not in November 2012—not until November 2014. What do we say to those people already in the queue, who perhaps have been waiting years for services? What is going to be their fate? Will they be pushed further down the queue to make provision for those who are currently receiving treatment? That is unclear also. There are many people on North Coast public dental queues who have been waiting years for services and who may be waiting even longer as a result of these changes. We just do not know.

Why would the member for Lyne vote against the disallowance when there are no clear transitional arrangements in place to protect the people that he represents and protect the people that I and other members represent on the North Coast? Why would he be voting against the disallowance of a measure that provided a very important protection only on the nod and the wink of a minister? I think it was incumbent upon the member to ensure that protections were in place before he voted for the disallowance. In the legislation before us, there are certainly grave doubts about the future of dental care for people suffering chronic disease and for those people urgently in need of ongoing treatment. So I hope the member for Lyne will advise the people of the North Coast of the details of the assurances he has received on how individual cases will be dealt with, how people such as cancer sufferers will be protected, how measures will be put in place to ensure that those currently receiving treatment will not be dropped into some void of bureaucracy, just waiting to get onto a waiting list, and how measures will be put in place to ensure that those people currently on dental waiting lists will not be further disadvantaged by the changes to the scheme. These are important questions.

We know that the coalition scheme, the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, has been disliked intensely by the Labor Party. They have been attacking the scheme at every turn. They have been attempting to get rid of the scheme at every opportunity. They have been victimising dentists for alleged fraud under the scheme. The coalition agrees that where there is fraud dentists should be duly dealt with under the law but, where dentists have been providing services to patients in good faith and there are only minor administrative errors or omissions, that should not be subject of major actions by the government. This government reviles and detests this scheme, implemented by the current Leader of the Opposition when he was health minister, and yet it is a superior scheme because it allows people to access Medicare benefits for dental services—up to $4,250. That is a significant contrast to the benefits that are currently offered and the caps on the new scheme, which provides only $1,000 over two years for children and requires that adults be dealt with through the public system.

The government is implementing a scheme that is a substantial backward step in ensuring good health outcomes for the people of the North Coast, and in putting that legislation forward they have garnered the support of the member for Lyne, from the North Coast, and he says he has assurances from the minister. We really do need to know what those assurances mean in practical terms for the people of the North Coast—for people who cannot afford to access dental care through private practices; for those who cannot afford unnecessary trips to Sydney, if that is what the changes mean; for those who cannot afford to wait longer for services, if that is what they mean; and for people who are suffering greatly from chronic disease such as cancer, who cannot afford to be without the treatment they cannot afford to buy. It seems incredible that the member for Lyne would vote against disallowance.

The coalition will be opposing this legislation proposed by the government, for good reason. It is going to result in adverse health outcomes for the people that we represent. It is bad legislation. The coalition offered to work with the government to improve facets of the scheme, but such is their hatred of the scheme that those offers came to nothing. We will be opposing this legislation because we are about providing better health outcomes, not worse health outcomes. We are about supporting people in rural and regional Australia, giving them the best possible health outcomes that they can have. I certainly think that this is a backward step in health care in Australia.