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Thursday, 11 October 2012
Page: 8033


Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (15:43): I present the explanatory memoranda and I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012

Since 1998 I’ve been talking in this place about the importance of doing something better for the dental care of Australians. We know that many low income Australians miss out and a number of those missing out are children.

For many decades the dental health of children was improving, but since the 1990s we’ve seen a reversal of that improvement.

Since the late 1990s, the prevalence of child caries and the mean number of teeth affected by dental disease in children has increased. A recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report showed that 45 per cent of 12 year olds had decay in their permanent teeth and almost 25 per cent of 12 year olds had untreated decay. If a decline in oral health of children becomes established, children will require increased services in the future.

Investment in our children’s teeth is an investment in the future. We know that poor childhood oral health leads to poor adult oral health, and has wide-ranging impacts on general health and wellbeing, including increasing the demand on our health and hospital system.

So today, I’m very proud to begin the legislative process that will make more than three million children eligible for government-subsidised dental care. The Child Dental Benefits Schedule is one part of the Dental Health Reform package: an unprecedented package of initiatives to address increasingly poor oral health amongst Australians including children, low income adults and those living in outer metropolitan, rural and remote areas.

The six-year package I announced on 29 August includes:

$2.7 billion for around 3.4 million Australian children who will be eligible for subsidised dental care;

$1.3 billion for around 1.4 million additional services for adults on low incomes who will have better access to dental care in the public system; and

$225 million for dental capital and workforce will be provided to support expanded services for people living in outer metropolitan, regional, rural and remote areas.

While Medicare and free hospital care have been a basic right for Australians for decades, millions of people in this country still go without adequate dental care.

I believe we have a responsibility to ensure Australians who are least able to afford to go to the dentist, and particularly children, should be given access to taxpayer supported oral health care.

As I’ve travelled around Australia to discuss the Dental Reform Package with parents, young people, and the dental profession, I’ve listened to stories of children in need of dental care, and the great work that dentists, public and private, are doing to repair young mouths, prevent further harm, and keep them healthy. This bill will see the Commonwealth Government taking its share of this important work.

This bill will establish a Child Dental Benefits Schedule for children from the age of 2 until they turn 18. Access to the schedule will commence on 1 January 2014 and will effectively see the Commonwealth assume primary responsibility of funding basic dental services for children in families receiving Family Tax Benefit Part A. Funding will be targeted in line with current Medicare Teen Dental Plan eligibility. This will target expenditure to children in low and middle income families

This means that benefits will be available for children who receive (or in households that receive) payments under:

Family Tax Benefit Part A,

Abstudy,

Carer Payment,

Disability Support Pension,

Parenting Payment,

Special Benefit,

Youth Allowance,

Double Orphan Pension,

the Veterans’ Children Education Scheme, or

the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act Education and Training Scheme.

Currently a family of 2 parents and 2 kids can be earning $112 000 and be eligible for this scheme- obviously eligibility varies depending on the number of kids and is indexed.

The Child Dental Benefits Schedule will provide a benefit for basic dental services including prevention and treatment. Subsidised services will include, for example, checkup, fillings and extractions. However, items such as orthodontics will not be included.

This proposal would provide a Commonwealth funded capped benefit entitlement of $1,000 over two years for basic dental services for children that could be used for services in the private sector, where most dentists practice. The states and territories would also be able to provide services as they currently do under the Medicare Teen Dental Plan, as long as they bulk bill services.

This means that parents and independent teens will be able to continue to visit their usual dentist, provided that dentist participates. Including the public system will leverage existing state resources, provide a guaranteed no-cost pathway for those who really need it, and allow states to continue to provide services to children if they choose to do so.

Benefits would be available for services provided by dentists and para-dental professionals such as oral health therapists and dental hygienists, as currently provided for by the Medicare Teen Dental Plan. The level of this $1,000 cap is designed to allow coverage for a higher needs child, but the average amount spent per child is expected to be lower.

This bill is a first step in implementing the Government’s reforms. Further detail on the scheme, including the schedule of services and fees, will be contained in subordinate legislation. In designing the fee schedule under the Child Dental Benefits Schedule, I will consult with the oral health professions to ensure that it contains an appropriate mix of basic dental services. I will also seek to ensure that the access to the schedule by professions and the fee structure will encourage appropriate levels of servicing and the matching of workforce capability with oral health need.

Although states and territories currently provide services to children through the public sector, eligibility and service availability is not consistent across all territories. The introduction of a Commonwealth funded Child Dental Benefits Schedule would build a unified national system for patient eligibility and service delivery, replacing disparate state and territory public dental schemes for children.

Focusing Commonwealth funding on children through the Child Dental Benefits Schedule will address declining child oral health and will be a cost-effective longer-term strategy to deliver improved population-wide oral health into the future.

As part of the Dental Reform Package, the Gillard Government is providing $1.3 billion to states and territories under a National Partnership Agreement to expand public dental services for low income adults including pensioners and concession card holders, and those with special needs. This funding will depend on the states and territories at least maintaining their current level of dental care services.

In addition, $225 million in funding for dental infrastructure in outer metropolitan, rural and regional areas will assist more Australians, regardless of their location, in gaining access to high quality dental care.

As part of implementing the Dental Health Reform package the Howard Government’s Chronic Disease Dental Scheme will be closed. Unlike the initiatives in the Dental Reform Package, the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme is poorly targeted and fails to address the problems in the existing dental system.

This Dental Reform package is in addition to the $515 million announced in the 2012-13 Budget, which includes a blitz on public dental waiting lists and additional dental training and support for people in rural and remote areas. Together with these measures the Dental Reform Package will deliver a better and fairer system of dental health care for Australians that is accessible, affordable and focuses on prevention to deliver future improvements to Australia’s oral health.

Social Security and Other Legislation Amendment (Further 2012 Budget and Other Measures) Bill 2012

This Bill introduces several measures from the 2012 Budget, along with some non Budget amendments that clarify current Government policies and improve the operation of existing legislation.

Extending Cape York Welfare Reform Trial

In the 2012 Budget, the Gillard Government provided $11.8 million to extend the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial for 12 months to 31 December 2013.

The trial is a partnership between the communities of Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge, the Australian Government, the Queensland Government and the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership. It aims to restore local Indigenous authority, encourage positive behaviours, and improve economic and living conditions.

To date, the trial has made a real and lasting difference in the lives of Indigenous people in the Cape. Since it began in July 2008, the Cape York Welfare Reform communities have seen improvements in school attendance, care and protection of children, and community safety.

The Family Responsibilities Commission, which is established under Queensland Government legislation, is a key plank of Cape York Welfare Reform. Local Family Responsibility Commissioners hold conferences with community members, refer people to support services and, when necessary, arrange income management.

Currently, a person can be subject to income management under the trial only after a decision by the Family Responsibilities Commission made before 1 January 2013.

This Bill extends that date to 1 January 2014. The extension provides an opportunity to build upon the success of the initiatives already underway.

I am pleased that the Queensland Government has agreed to continue funding for the Family Responsibilities Commission, and will extend the Queensland legislation governing the operation of the Commission.

An evaluation of the trial is currently underway, and will help inform future efforts in Cape York.

Indigenous education payments

In a significant boost to Indigenous education, the Bill also amends the Indigenous Education (Targeted Assistance) Act 2000 to increase the Act’s legislative appropriation - by around $16 million combined for the 2012 and 2013 calendar years.

The increase to the 2012 and 2013 appropriations reflects the continuation of existing initiatives and new initiatives announced in the 2012-13 Budget.

The increase in the appropriations for 2012 and 2013 will continue existing initiatives and provide funding for several new initiatives, including expansion of the Sporting Chance program, Teach Remote Stage Two, Student Education Trusts delivered as part of the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial, and initiatives that support teachers, professional development and front-line services to improve Aboriginal children’s access to quality education.

The existing Sporting Chance program uses sport and recreation to increase the engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in their schooling. Students are rewarded for good school attendance or engagement through participation in sporting teams or access to certain intensive, high quality, sports focused learning and development. New school-based sports academies will now be established and operated to deliver the program for secondary school boys, and there will be additional programs for secondary school girls.

Additional funding under the Teach Remote Two initiative will expand Commonwealth-funded assistance with building a high status, high quality, committed and competent teacher workforce in remote Indigenous communities that are under the National Alliance of Remote Indigenous Schools.

Additional funding will also extend for 12 months the Student Education Trusts measure that forms part of the Cape York Welfare Reform Trial. The Student Education Trusts are a financial management service whereby parents and care givers from the remote Indigenous communities in the Cape York area are supported and encouraged to save for their children’s education costs from their early years through to tertiary education.

Non-Budget amendments

The Bill also introduces some non-Budget amendments to clarify current Government policies and improve the operation of existing legislation.

These include a package of minor amendments to improve the operation of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal in the social security, child support, family assistance and paid parental leave jurisdictions. For example, some amendments will enable Social Security Appeals Tribunal members to release protected information to relevant authorities in certain circumstances where there is a risk to the life, health or welfare of a person.

Amendments also improve privacy protections for information and documents. The Social Security Appeals Tribunal Principal Member will be able to issue a non disclosure order that applies to any information or documents obtained by a person at any time during the review process. Amendments also extend confidentiality obligations to all people providing services at the hearing of the review.

The objective of the Social Security Appeals Tribunal is to provide a mechanism of review that is fair, just, economical, informal and quick. Amendments clarify that this objective is to be pursued by the Principal Member in performing his or her functions and powers under the legislation.

Amendments are made by this Bill to the child support legislation to confirm the longstanding policy and administration where the amount payable under a parent’s child support assessment is reduced because a court decides that the payer is not a parent of one of the children in their assessment, but the payer remains liable for another child in the assessment.

The policy is that the total amount previously paid for the period (including amounts paid for the child that was found to be not theirs) would be applied to their child support liability for any remaining children in the case, and any child support debt for those children. Any excess child support they paid may be recovered from the payee by applying for a court order under the existing child support legislation.

Lastly, minor clarifications are made to portfolio legislation, including the Schoolkids Bonus legislation and the family assistance clean energy legislation - consistent with existing policy.

Debate adjourned.

Ordered that further consideration of the second reading of these bills be adjourned to the first sitting day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.