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Tuesday, 9 October 2012
Page: 11647


Mr DUTTON (Dickson) (19:37): In summation I want to thank all of those who have contributed to what is an incredibly important debate on the Health Insurance (Dental services) Amendment Determination 2012. There has been a lot of heartfelt contribution, particularly from those members on this side of the House, for Australians who, over the next 14 months, will miss out on important dental care because this government, for its own political purposes, has sought to close down what has been a very successful dental scheme.

The reality is that 80 per cent of those people who accessed the Medicare Chronic Disease Dental Scheme were recipients of some sort of benefit that enabled them to be a concession cardholder. So, far from the government's claims that the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme was somehow the playground of the rich, it really has come to pass—and the evidence supports this—that this scheme has been incredibly successful, particularly for people on low incomes.

The most vulnerable in our society, those who are disabled or suffering from a chronic disease, will be those who feel the harshest blow from this government's cruel act of disposing of the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme without having in its place anything until, in some cases, July 2014. I think that, when most Australians look at the evidence that is before them, they will realise that this is a government that has yet again mucked up another area of public policy.

This government is well known for the waste and hypocrisy regarding the school halls program, for the way in which it was not able to implement the computers in schools program and for the way in which it plundered billions of taxpayers' dollars on schemes that just could not be properly implemented. This is the latest example of the government's incompetence.

It needs to be pointed out to the Australian public that this is a government that does not know its own way, a government that has hung people out to dry. Some people who have contacted us during this debate are part way through a chemotherapy program. They have received part of their dental plan treatment, yet this government has cut those people off at the knees. This is the most cruel blow that a government could apply. This Minister for Health will be remembered as the minister who ripped a billion dollars out of dental health and left people with chronic diseases, some of whom will not have any relief for their dental pain over the next 14 months, to languish on waiting lists. This government has abandoned those people, with no good reason.

The only reason that the government have moved on the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme is that Tony Abbott was the author of the scheme. They did not move because it was an unsuccessful scheme, they did not move because this was a scheme that did not help a million people; they moved because Tony Abbott was the author and creator of what has been an incredibly successful scheme. They also moved because they want to achieve a surplus over the period 2012-13. Why haven't they got money in the bank? They have run the government and this country into billions of dollars worth of debt because of the money they have squandered over the last five years. That has put them in a position which, surely, the Minister for Health herself cannot even accept—that is, abandoning, at their hour of need, those people with chronic diseases.

The people of Tasmania, for argument's sake—and I see the member for Braddon is here in the chamber—are missing out on dental services because of this cruel cut. The people of Tasmania, just like others around the country, will miss out on this scheme which has been of incredible benefit to people who are suffering in pain. When they were able to get a referral from their GP to their dentist, they were able to get some relief in a way that they had not been able to get in the past. And, when it is all distilled, that is the cruellest, harshest outcome in this matter.

Sure, this is a government that has good intent when it comes to health policy, but it cannot deliver on the most basic of promises. Even in the design of its new scheme, which does not start until July 2014 in its entirety, it will not provide relief to all of those who received assistance and access under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. That is an important fact to remember: people are not going to receive the sort of assistance and access that they received under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. There will not be the access or the choice that those people have had since 2007, when Tony Abbott decided to make this massive investment in dental health.

At the next election I think that those people, their voices not having been heard by the government in this debate, need to cast their judgement on whether closing down the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme was the right decision. I say to those parents with ill or sick children, those parents who have children part way through a dental treatment plan: consider how you vote at the next election, because that is the only message that this government and these Independents will hear. I know that we have had some crocodile tears from, in particular, the member for Lyne on this issue, but today he showed his true colours in part of this debate when he said that he would support the dreadful decision of this hopeless government. If anybody in the electorate of Lyne needed reminding that the member for Lyne is simply a patsy of the Labor government, then they need to look no further than his contribution to this debate. It was an appalling position to take. He offered some hope, some promise, to those people who promised the member for Lyne that they would send their details through—and they did—yet their voices were not heard. The member for Lyne should stand condemned, as I think members on the other side of this parliament should stand condemned, for abandoning those constituents who contacted them over the last couple of weeks. Those constituents know that they have been hung out to dry by a bad government and by Independents who are happy to prop up a bad government. This is a bad government not just in other areas but, importantly, in the area of health.

One of the first responsibilities of the Minister for Health is to try to provide support to sick patients in this country, and yet this minister has walked away from those patients. Those patients on concession cards who have accessed great support under the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, and those similar to them, will not receive any support whatsoever over the next 14 months. Those patients who thought there was some light at the end of their pain tunnel are now in a position where they will not receive that support. This minister will have a lot to answer for when she travels around the country and people ask her the question, 'Why is it, Minister, that you closed down this scheme which has been of such assistance to so many Australians?

When you look at the scheme that the government are proposing—the people who have trumpeted this new scheme in particular are the Greens, who have been co-architects of it—and you drill down into what this scheme means, the government are not going to be able to provide the services that are being promised at the moment. That is abundantly clear to all of the independent minds that look to this space. Those people who have been able to objectively assess what it is the government are proposing know that the government either will not be in power in 2014, which is why it has been so poorly designed presumably, or clearly have just provided a political fix to a promise that they made to the Greens at the time of the last election that they would devise some scheme, however corrupt and however inefficient that scheme might be. They are now delivering on that promise to the Australian Greens with scant regard for dental patients around the country.

I think the design of the scheme that the government is proposing to replace the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme is so deficient and negligent in its first charge that people will look back on it as one of the government's worst decisions. Yes, of course we support extra investment in dental. Of course we want to see more services conducted. That is why Tony Abbott created the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme in the first place. It was because he saw patients who were desperately in need of dental work and he championed what has been a very, very successful program.

Another point that needs to be made in the summation of this debate is that the coalition has been willing to discuss and negotiate over the last four years with this government ways in which changes could be made to make the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme more sustainable or more applicable to a wider audience who are deserving of support. Yet this government entered no such negotiation or debate in good faith. This government was determined not to modify or correct a program that it thought had some faults.

They were determined for their own crass political purposes to close the scheme down not because they had in mind the benefits that were being delivered to patients but because they wanted to try to embarrass Tony Abbott or to close down his scheme so that in time they could claim to be the architects of this new scheme that they proposed in its place. I think that the government stand condemned for that very reason. The reality is that the government did not have good intent in their negotiations. As I suspected, some of the Independents had no good intent either. I think that the hour of reckoning is coming for some of those Independents when we move to the vote on this very important matter.

The space of dental, which is a very emotive one, is not the only one in health where this government has walked away from patients. This government has presided over a massive expansion of the health bureaucracy over the last five years. It has replicated to a tee exactly what the Labor Party did at a state level. Why is that relevant to this debate? It is because it deprives our doctors and nurses of the dollars and resources that they require to provide the interventions on a daily basis to those people they have served in their professional lives who are now left abandoned because this government has diverted much-needed funds into great big new health bureaucracies. I go to speak to doctors and nurses around the country at hospitals in public and private settings and they know that this is a government that has redirected front-line money into bureaucracies which has deprived them of the capacity to deliver proper health outcomes.

This is a prime example of why this government struggles to deliver the sorts of basic services that we deserve in this country. It is not just in public hospitals. It is not just in dental. It is across primary care as well. On balance, people will look at this time of government and know not just with the benefit of hindsight but from their own bitter experience that this government has really taken away the capacity to help people most in need. That is the cruellest outcome of this debate.

The Independents have had the opportunity over the last couple of weeks to turn around that misery for those patients, to provide some hope for those patients that there would be some interim measure provided. I am bitterly disappointed, given some of those discussions, that this government has not facilitated the request of the Independents, assuming that they were genuinely made. I think that all Australians will look to this debate and recognise that the Minister for Health has failed on many levels. There has been a fundamental test that has been failed. Is this health minister willing to provide support to dental patients, in particular those with a chronic disease? The answer, in short, is no. Did this minister take the opportunity to modify the existing Chronic Disease Dental Scheme even in some narrow form over the next 14 months so that people in some way would be able to receive at least a partial benefit to help them limp towards the introduction of the 2014 scheme? The answer is no. The fact is that she had the opportunity to put in place some interim measure which would relieve that pain, and she failed in that basic measure.

To people who are following this debate and people who have contacted us and pleaded their case not just to members of this side of parliament but also to Labor members, I say that there is some hope beyond the next election. There is some hope, if there is a change of government, of restoring some decency to health services in this country. What I know about this minister is that she has ripped $1 billion out of dental health. This is a minister who has stared chronically diseased patients in the eye and said, 'You are not deserving of the most basic support.'

In all of the current debate about the way in which Tony Abbott conducts himself or the person that Tony Abbott is, I want the Australian public to know that Tony Abbott was the compassionate health minister who presided over the creation of this scheme and Minister Plibersek is the one who ripped $1 billion out of dental health. This is the minister who sought to destroy for her own political gain Tony Abbott's scheme. Tony Abbott was the health minister who provided enormous benefit to the Australian public. This is but one example. If people want to know who Tony Abbott is and who Tanya Plibersek is, look at the minister in Tony Abbott who put $1 billion in— (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Owens ): The question is that the motion be agreed to. There being more than one voice calling for a division, in accordance with standing order 133 the division is deferred until after 8 pm.

Debate adjourned.