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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7127


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyMinister for Health) (18:13): I particularly welcome the member for Parramatta's question. I was very grateful to her for inviting me out to the Westmead Centre for Oral Health. It was a terrific visit and I was very impressed by the work that they are doing out there, not just for the people in the region that they directly service but also in sending some of their graduate dentists out to other locations, providing services in rural and regional locations.

I am very pleased that we were able to put $515 million into the most recent budget for dental health. This is something that I said in my first press conference as the new health minister would be a priority for me. This package is a very good start for a better system of meeting the needs of low-income people who cannot afford to see a dentist in the current state of affairs. About $345.9 million will be spent on increasing the efforts to deliver services to the around 400,000 people around Australia that are on waiting lists for public dental services. The member for Parramatta mentioned the Commonwealth Dental Health Program. That was the last time that we saw a really significant effort made to bring down the dental waiting lists and make a big difference to those people who rely on public dental services. But the member for Parramatta also rightly mentioned some of the challenges around the dental workforce.

We probably have plenty of dentists, but one of the difficulties is that we do not have plenty of dentists in different parts of Australia. We have a reasonable amount of services in city areas, but when you go into outer-suburban, regional and particularly remote communities—and the Minister for Indigenous Health is nodding in agreement—these areas are very significantly underserviced. We will be putting $35.7 million into increasing the number of placements available on the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program from 50 to 100 placements each year by 2016. This is a very important workforce measure for those communities. There will be $45.2 million to introduce a similar scheme for oral health therapists offering 50 places per annum from 2014, and $77.7 million over four years for relocation and infrastructure grants to encourage and support dentists who want to relocate and practise in regional, rural or remote areas.

We have allocated $10½ million for national oral health promotion activities. It is very important to remind people that for many years there were decreasing rates of caries amongst young people. In recent times there has been a kick up in some of those statistics. Whether it is sugared soft drinks, a change in diet with more processed foods or busy parents who are not supervising their children brushing their teeth we do not know, but it is a very serious issue and we need to remind people of good oral health habits. We have also allocated $450,000 for a program to pilot the back-office support for the pro bono dental work that many dentists are keen to do and are doing, but they have asked for better support to organise themselves so that they are able to offer free services to homeless people, women and children living in refuges, refugees and others who would otherwise wait or would not be eligible for the public dental scheme.

It is also important that through the Health and Hospitals Fund we have provided $133 million for 11 dental projects delivering 228 new dental chairs. The Health and Hospitals Fund will deliver a further 48 chairs as part of eight new oral health infrastructure projects. That includes things like the recently opened $2.1 million 10-chair teaching dental clinic in the Adelaide Dental Hospital, an extra 52,500 hours of clinical training over the next five years for undergraduate dental and oral health students. That investment in tackling waiting lists, building up our workforce and making sure that that workforce as it is built up is available to practise not only in our city areas. (Time expired)