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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 11806


Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (13:21): I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the new Speaker's panel on their election over the past 24 hours. In particular, I congratulate the member for Chisholm on her promotion to the position of Speaker. It is unfortunate for the members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Petitions because we will miss the member for Chisholm, who has been a valued member of our committee. But she will move on to higher duties. I also congratulate the member for Maranoa on his elevation to the position of Deputy Speaker and the member for Hindmarsh on his elevation to the Second Deputy Speaker role. To all the members of the Speaker's panel, I wish you well in your work.

In rising this afternoon to speak on the Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012, I will be speaking in support of my colleagues in the Liberal and National parties who have raised concerns about the direction this government is taking in relation to dental health care in the nation. I wish we could be in a position where we would support this government's position, because there is a desperate need to support the dental healthcare needs of the Australian people, but—as has become, I think, symptomatic of this government and its approach to a vast range of public policy areas—it has simply failed to do its homework, and it has failed to get the details right.

I have had the opportunity to follow this debate quite closely, and I recall the speech of the member for Aston, who perhaps summed up the situation quite succinctly when he said that basically this is just an election promise. It has all the credibility of an election promise when this government talks about its reforms in relation to dental health care, because so much of what this government announces is not funded. Unfortunately, this government has a long history of making promises and then not keeping them. The most obvious one that has had a direct impact on my community is the Prime Minister's announcement only days before the last election, where she specifically ruled out introducing a carbon tax, and we all know what happened to that promise. So I believe that the health minister's announcement—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms K Livermore ): Excuse me. Is the member for Kennedy seeking the call?

Mr Katter: No, he is already talking, isn't he?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I am sorry. I saw you standing there; I just thought I would check. I beg your pardon; the member for Gippsland has the call.

Mr CHESTER: Thank you, Deputy Speaker. There may have been some confusion. I understood that the member for Kennedy was arriving late, so I am sorry if there has been some confusion there, but I thank him for giving way.

As I was saying, the health minister's announcement in relation to the government's reforms on dental health is as shambolic as some of those other public policy areas that I am going to touch on in a few moments time, in the sense that it was openly contradicted by the Prime Minister within 24 hours. We had on one hand a minister saying that this was an announcement that the government would need to find money to pay for in the future, and on the other hand we had the Prime Minister saying that it was a savings initiative. It has been quite confusing for the Australian people to listen and to watch the government in relation to its management of this and many other issues.

Unfortunately, I am concerned that this is a pattern of behaviour within the government, where, in its desperation and its need to try and generate positive news cycles, it is making a lot of unfunded promises and feelgood announcements to try and engender some level of support within the community but then failing to do the homework and explain to the Australian people how it is going to deliver some of these programs.

We have seen that, unfortunately, with issues like the National Disability Insurance Scheme. I am one member who, like many others on both sides of this House, has been strongly supportive of the need for a National Disability Insurance Scheme, but the government has not been honest with the Australian people on how it is actually going to fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It has made grand announcements, and it parades itself around the country as being the only side of politics committed to the NDIS, but the simple fact of the matter is that the government has not explained how it is going to fund it.

It is the same with the grand announcements the government made in relation to Gonski and its education plans. Again, there is no explanation from this government about how it is going to meet its financial commitments into the future.

We have seen that with the aged-care package of reforms. The government has not explained how it is going to pay for it. And its mental health package has ended up being more smoke and mirrors than anything else. Unfortunately for the Australian people, they have had some very significant promises made to them but are yet to have an explanation from this government about how it is going to pay for them.

I am afraid that the dental plan fits into the same category. Any government can come out and make an announcement, but how are they actually going to pay for all this? How are they going to pay for all of the commitments that the government have promised?

If it assists the member for Kennedy, I will not be long, and I will give him every opportunity to make his contribution.

The coalition strongly supports investment in dental health. We are concerned about the government's announcements in relation to the Medicare Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. It announced the closure of the scheme effective from 30 November but failed to provide assurances to the Australian community that there would be a replacement scheme in place until 2014. We are very concerned that many patients throughout Australia, particularly in regional communities, will miss out on treatment under the CDDS during this gap period.

We have seen this government's announcement of the $4.1 billion dental program, which was made on 29 August by the Minister for Health and the Greens health spokesperson, Senator Di Natale. Again, as I referred to earlier, it was unfunded. It just reinforced within the community the view that this government almost inevitably has to do the Greens' bidding. But I would caution members opposite about continuing down the path of responding to concerns, issues or policy positions from the Greens, who have proven themselves to be economically illiterate when it comes to managing the major issues facing our nation, and this is a classic case in point.

It is beyond me to try and understand why any cabinet minister, let alone the Prime Minister, would ever stand beside a member of the Australian Greens and do joint press conferences, when you consider that at the last election less than 10 per cent of the Australian population voted for the Greens. It strikes me as more than passing strange that the Prime Minister was prepared to do a joint press conference announcing this fantastic power-sharing agreement, supposedly in the aftermath of the last election, with the leader of a party which 90 per cent of the Australian people had voted against. I am not sure who within the strategy department of the Australian Labor Party thought it was a great idea to have the Prime Minister with the Leader of the Greens playing happy families in the courtyard at the Prime Minister's office, but the pattern continues. We see once again this time the health minister doing a joint announcement with the Greens health spokesperson on this program, which I believe is a folly.

I recognise Deputy Speaker Scott in the chair. You missed me moments ago, Member for Maranoa, as I passed on my congratulations to you on your elevation to this important role. I know that the way the parliament works is something that you have taken very seriously during your career in parliament, and I am sure that you will do a great job in the role of Deputy Speaker and be an enormous support to the Speaker herself. I congratulate you in your presence and wish you all the best in your new role.

The opposition has spoken at length in relation to this issue, and I am not going to delay the House any longer. I recognise that the member for Kennedy has arrived in the chamber and is ready to make his contribution as well. May I simply say that the opposition, the coalition, are very concerned that we have a government which makes decisions and takes actions which are more about the politics of the day than good public policy.

We have, as the member for Bradfield described it, a half-baked plan before us. It is designed more to keep at bay Kevin—the member for Griffith—and to discredit the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, and his scheme than it is to deliver good public health outcomes. I predict that the pressure will be on this government, that there will be another Twitter campaign or another email campaign like we saw with Margiris, that there will be a backflip on the dental plan and that the government will be forced to accommodate the thousands of Australians who face the unfortunate situation of putting up with a gap of at least 13 months before receiving treatment under its dental plan.

I appreciate the opportunity to raise my concerns about the government's position on dental health. It concerns me that the government is making an enormous number of completely unfunded promises. It is committing future governments to extraordinary expense for schemes such as the dental plan, the NDIS, the response to the Gonski review, the aged-care reform package and the mental health package. All these commitments are being made on a wing and a prayer, and unfortunately it is going to be left to future governments of this nation to clean up the mess left by the Rudd and Gillard governments. I thank the House.