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Monday, 19 November 2012
Page: 9074


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (21:02): I was speaking on the last occasion about Labor's proposal under its national partnership agreement for adult public dental services. Of course, we know it proposes funding of $1.3 billion for the states and territories for public dental services, but this will not commence until July 2014. The government has not said how it is going to pay for the measure, but many patients on the CDDS will lose access to treatment on 30 November and will have to wait 19 months to see if the government delivers on its promises and starts to provide more funding to the states.

There is no detail of how much funding will be provided by year, with the possibility that the bulk of the money will not be provided until the end of the six-year period which is in 2018. This is what is prompting headlines such as one in the Daily Telegraph of 11 October 2012: 'Two-year wait to get in the dentist's chair'. This is the human face of the government's decision in relation to what is going to happen in this area. There are more and more stories, like that of Mr and Mrs Rapisadra which was reported in the same article in the Daily Telegraph. There are already 650,000 people, 400,000 of them adults, on public dental waiting lists, according to the government. But the Minister for Health has said that Labor's plan will only provide 1.4 million additional services over six years. The scheme that is being abolished has provided approximately 20 million services, including seven million in the last financial year alone.

In 2008, Labor proposed the Commonwealth dental health program which it never delivered. The program promised one million services by providing funding to the states and territories. It was revealed in Senate estimates that the Commonwealth did not assess the capacity of the public dental workforce to provide the projected services and the number delivered may have been significantly less than promised—surprise, surprise. The number of services to be provided over the full six years under Labor's recent proposal is only 20 per cent of what the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme provided last year alone. Worse, there is no guarantee that there is capacity to deliver the proposed services through the public system in terms of workforce or infrastructure. Of course, the lack of infrastructure, particularly in the public system, will impede capacity to deliver the projected number of services.

The $225 million measure to develop infrastructure will not be available prior to the commencement of the new initiative, because an invitation to apply for funding under the flexible grants program for dental infrastructure—that is, capital and workforce—will not commence until 2014, and projects are unlikely to be completed or provide tangible benefits until years later. Even if Labor deliver on the funding promised to the state and territory governments, the cutting of the CDDS and the delay in delivering the new commitment is likely to lead to a deterioration of waiting times for public dental patients. We are very concerned that many patients who are currently or who have been receiving treatment will be forced to forgo treatment during the gap period between the closure of the old scheme and the proposed commencement of the new one. Labor are creating a gap in treatment for patients. Had Labor not squandered so much money on pink batts and Julia Gillard memorial halls, they would not have to be making this sort of decision.

This is only one of a number of cuts to health by Labor. The Gillard government want to cut $1.6 billion from state hospitals over the next four years, and these cuts come as elective surgery waiting lists continue to grow.

As indicated, $1 billion will be cut from dental care by closing the coalition's scheme. The government's means-testing of the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate will mean a cut of $746 million to the rebate this financial year alone. Private health insurance funding will be cut by a further $700 million over four years as government funding is linked to the CPI rather than the average industry premium increase that is set each year. Of course, the 30 per cent rebate for the Lifetime Health Cover component of private health insurance will no longer be rebated and again there will be another cut, $386 million over four years. And, in my own area of mental health, the Better Access program will be cut by at least $550 million as the rebates are decreased and the number of referrals is reduced. As I indicated, the coalition is very concerned that many patients who had been receiving treatment will be forced to forgo treatment during the gap period between the closure of the old scheme and the proposed commencement of the government's measures.

This whole debacle just goes to show that for those opposite it is really just about politics. Two-thirds of the people who are going to be affected are people on concessions, the people on lowest incomes. Clearly if this government had not wasted so much it would not be needing to shut down the scheme. (Time expired)