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Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Page: 20

Dental Health


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (15:19): My question is to the Prime Minister. Last year's budget papers stated:

In line with the Government's agreement with the Australian Greens, the Government has committed that significant reforms to dental health will be a priority for the 2012-13 Budget.

Given that Australia is a wealthy country, yet an estimated 500,000 people are on dental waiting lists, will the government stand by this commitment to the Greens as a first step towards bringing dental care into Medicare?


Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (15:19): I thank the member for Melbourne for his question. Can I say to the member for Melbourne that I do share his concerns about the circumstances of Australians who find dental care beyond their reach. I think all of us in this chamber know, just from practical, real-world experience, how expensive it can be to go to the dentist, and we know that there are hundreds of thousands of Australians who find themselves unable to meet the cost, with all of the pain and the degeneration of their teeth that that can cause for them. The medical evidence shows that, if you have chronic problems with your teeth, that can affect the rest of your body and your health care in general. So I do share the member's concern.

Because the Labor Party has had a longstanding concern in this area, of course we campaigned against the closure of the Commonwealth's dental program by the Howard government. We thought that was the wrong thing to do then. It is still wrong today to make those kinds of choices and the kinds of cutbacks which the Leader of the Opposition was famous for when he was the Minister for Health and Ageing. We have taken an approach of building capacity in dentistry both by providing new capital and by providing new investments in workforce. I remind the House that we have delivered practical improvements like subsidising around 1.5 million dental check-ups for teenagers. We have provided $125 million for eight dental projects from the Health and Hospitals Fund, delivering 220 new dental chairs. We have recently opened a $2.1 million 10-chair teaching dental clinic at the Adelaide Dental Hospital, which will mean an extra 52,500 hours of clinical training over the next five years for undergraduate dental and oral health students. We will invest $52.6 million over four years to support the dental workforce of the future, through a voluntary dental intern program. I believe that the member who asked the question understands the constraints in the provision of dentistry. They are not only the resources in the system but also the workforce, which is why these workforce investments are so important. I say to the member for Melbourne that I want to see us do more. But as we weigh what we can do in the budget process we will of course make the appropriate fiscal decisions for the nation. I understand that that has caused those opposite, who have got a $70 billion plan to cut the services government provides working families, to roll their eyes. They have never understood what it is like to do the hard work to get a budget to add up. They would take $70 billion out of the services that working families need.

We will keep working on proposals for dental care. In that regard, as the member for Melbourne knows, we have commissioned an expert body to provide us with advice and we have received a report from the National Advisory Council on Dental Health, which we established. We are waiting for them to present their final report. They have been working on that and we have received some advice from them, but obviously we want their final report to government. I conclude by saying to the member for Melbourne that we are certainly concerned about this problem. We have demonstrated that concern not only through our campaigning against the cuts of previous governments but through practical action during the life of this government, and we will continue to take that kind of approach.

The SPEAKER: I call the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Albanese: Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The member for Corangamite was on his feet. Those opposite know the order for parliamentary questions. We have now had two opposition members in a row, in that two members on that side of the chamber have had questions. It is now, according to standing orders, appropriate that the call be given to the member for Corangamite. Standing orders require the call to be given alternately to either side of the House. The member for Corangamite was on his feet.

The SPEAKER: I did not see the member for Corangamite. I apologise to him for not having seen him. But I saw the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and she has the call.