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Monday, 21 May 2012
Page: 4887


Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (11:59): I rise to support the motion put forward by the member for Dickson. The Chronic Disease Dental Scheme was put in place to provide dental treatment to the most needy of Australians. The coalition has introduced the Health Insurance (Dental Services) Bill to end the Gillard government's malicious pursuit of dentists who, for the most part, have been trying to do the right thing. It is indeed unfortunate that this situation has come to this. When Tony Abbott as health minister introduced the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, a $1 billion investment was put into dental services in this country. The scheme provided for general practitioners to refer patients with a chronic disease or complex health problem to a dentist for treatment. This scheme provided treatment up to the value of $4,250 over any two years.

That Rudd and Gillard governments have tried in the past to close down Tony's scheme but these moves were rejected in the parliament. The Gillard Labor government has tried to label the scheme as rorted and corrupt, but the evidence of these allegations is as much in existence as their integrity. As with any government scheme, there are people who will attempt to rort it. I want to make it clear that if any health practitioner did rort the scheme they should be singled out and dealt with accordingly. However, in this situation, we have before us a collective of community minded, good, honest dental health practitioners who provided dental services under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. I am talking about dentists who have treated their patients and have done the right thing by them. These dentists claimed the appropriate Medicare benefits to which they were entitled. Yet now, due to a technical failure to provide their patients with a written treatment plan, or a failure to forward the treatment plan to the general practitioner who had referred patients to them in the first place, they find themselves being pursued by Medicare demanding repayment.

These dental professionals did what we needed our dental professionals to do, and that was to treat the patients who had complex health problems and chronic diseases. There were technical breaches of the law, but when you take into consideration the good intent of the dental practitioners and the manner of the breaches, a fair-minded person would be accommodating an understanding—but not this government, who are instructing Medicare to pursue the dentists.

The important point in this policy is to remember that the bulk of dental professionals who have fallen foul of the requirements of the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme were actually doing so because they were failing to fill in the paperwork. They were not rorting the system; they still did the job. Many dentists around the country have stated that they were not fully briefed on the requirements that they were to undertake. The Australian Dental Prosthetists Association was never, ever approached regarding the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. Adding to this, 990 of the nation's 1,100 dental prosthetists participated in the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. How were they expected to be aware of the paperwork commitments if they were not engaged?

On a positive note, though, 11,713 dentists provided treatment under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. They have provided more than 11 million treatments to one million Australians. Last year alone in the Northern Territory there were 5,771 category 9 dental services undertaken and 1,256 category 10 dental benefits scheme services.

In all the Northern Territory and all around the country there is a rural dental workforce shortage. This is an occupation we need to develop and grow. We must not let this blight deter future dental practitioners. The problem has been caused by the Labor government's mismanagement. I support this bill because it will sort out the problem and help dental practitioners who do the right thing.

I urge the minister to make the technical amendments that will ensure that everyday Australians have access to the healthcare they need. We need to ensure that we have a strong, viable program. Do not punish those who are doing the right thing. Deal with those who are rorting the system. I reiterate: we need a strong, viable program that will give ordinary Australians access to the health care they need.