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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 9695

Senator McLUCAS (QueenslandParliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (13:45): As was said from the introduction of this bill, investment in our children's teeth is an investment into the future. Children's oral health has been getting worse, not better, since the 1990s and unless we reverse this trend a generation of children with poor teeth will grow up into a generation of adults with poor teeth. We know that the health and hospital system of the future will face increasing pressures from the ageing of the population and from the increasing prevalence of diseases such as diabetes. Poor oral health will place even more pressure on the wider health system, yet it is a source of pressure that can be addressed reasonably easily with investments in children's oral health.

The Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2012 will establish a framework to allow children in poor and less well-off families to access affordable, preventative dental care and basic dental treatment services. The Child Dental Benefit Schedule builds on the Medicare Teen Dental plan, which was one of our election commitments in 2007. It will make more than three million children eligible for dental care subsidised by the Commonwealth government. The schedule is only part of our unprecedented commitment to improving dental health. In the 2012-13 budget we allocated $515 million for a blitz on public dental waiting lists and additional training and support for people in rural and remote areas.

On 29 August Minister Plibersek announced a further package of measures, including spending of $2.7 billion on the Child Dental Benefit Schedule Grow Up Smiling. That package also included a further $1.3 billion to assist the states and the territories in providing access to public dental services to low-income adults. This funding will provide about 1.4 million additional adults with a complete course of public dental care, including multiple dental services. The package also included $225 million for dental capital and workforce infrastructure to support expanded services for people living in outer metropolitan, regional, rural and remote areas.

Some of the senators opposite have insisted that the government's dental reform policies are 'underfunded'. I draw their attention to the 2012-13 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook published last month on 22 October. This clearly outlines the allocated funding and expenditure for each measure in the package. Some of those opposite also claimed that there is a gap in funding for dental services for up to 19 months. Let me make it very clear: there will be no gap in Commonwealth funding for dental services for low-income patients. Funding for the government's blitz on public dental waiting lists will start flowing from next month. Any delay in dental service provision under this measure will be because the states and territories either delay in signing up to the funding agreement with the Commonwealth or delay in rolling out the services.

As we have said throughout this debate, Medicare and free hospital care have been a basic right for Australians for decades under policies established by the Labor Party, and yet millions of people in this country still go without adequate dental care because of cost barriers. I believe governments have a responsibility to assist in overcoming these barriers and supporting low-income Australians in accessing affordable dental care. The dental reform package is an important part of meeting this responsibility. I commend the bill to the chamber.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.