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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11643


Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (19:15): I rise to put on record my view on the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme and to acknowledge the large amount of correspondence I have received about it. The CDDS funds private oral health treatments for those with a chronic, non-dental medical condition. The reasons given for the closure of the CDDS are that the scheme is not means tested and that costs have blown out. Yet many people in need of dental treatment remain on long public dental waiting lists. The government is instead proposing a new, Medicare style scheme which includes $2.7 billion for about 3.4 million eligible children, through private dentists; $1.3 billion for pensioners and concession card holders and those with special needs, through the public dental system; and $225 million to expand the dental workforce and dental chairs in areas of need, including regional, rural and remote areas.

Public dentistry is a state-run service available to pensioners, concession card holders and special needs groups. In New South Wales, this includes a voucher scheme allowing for treatment of particular needs and priorities, including chronic medical conditions, by private dentists. A national partnership agreement exists between the Commonwealth and the state to reduce public dental waiting lists. My main concerns to date on the changes being proposed are that the state-run public dental service, particularly in my state of New South Wales, has pressures that need to be relieved rather than added to by any changes and that pensioners, concession card holders and special needs groups receiving treatment under the current scheme be given a clear transition path to public or private dental treatment.

I continue to encourage governments—state and federal—to address the very long waiting lists in dental health, particularly in poorer communities such as those on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. My decision to support the replacement of the CDDS with this new Medicare style scheme is based on a judgement about what serves the most people in the quickest time in the most efficient way. I recognise that organisations such as the Australian Dental Association NSW and the Council of Social Service of New South Wales support these changes and that that is important. In my deliberations I have had several discussions with the Minister for Health and have received several important assurances. The most important of these is that there will be no gap between the closure of the CDDS and the flow of funds from the government reforms. That is important because, in a lot of the correspondence I have received, there is a myth that there will in some cases be a gap of over 18 months.

The $345 million for the blitz on public dental waiting lists announced in the May budget must be made available to state and territory public dental systems as soon as they sign up to the new arrangement, and the relevant national partnership agreement must have a strong focus on improving access to public dental services for Indigenous patients, patients with major problems and patients from rural areas. The states must be able to use the funds to bring in private dentists to expand their workforce capacity in areas where they do not have a dentist, and this has been discussed with the minister. It is also necessary to recognise the role of Aboriginal health services, at least one of which is in my electorate, in providing direct dental services to the community. They need to be part of the ongoing delivery of subsidised dental services.

Debate adjourned.