Monday, 17 September 2007
Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Dental Services) Bill 2007
I rise today in support of the Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Dental Services) Bill 2007. I am very proud to stand here today and contribute to the debate on this very important measure, which was introduced by the coalition government in the last budget. Since my election three years ago, I have come to understand a problem I did not really know existed before the good people of Kingston brought it to my attention: the problem of the South Australian state Labor government completely dropping the ball when it comes to publicly funded dental treatment.
State governments are responsible for the provision of state funded dental services and some of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens rely on them to provide this service. I do have one state government funded dental service in my electorate of Kingston; however, its complete lack of resources and appropriate funding from the state Labor government has led to an influx of complaints to my electorate office like nothing before.
Given the vulnerability of a number of these cases, my staff and I did all we could to assist them and, in a number of situations, it was simply the case that misunderstandings had occurred between the service and the patient because no-one had the time—and the centre certainly did not have the resources—to listen to the full story from the patient. My staff and I used to contact the service on a case-by-case basis to try to resolve the individual problem or misunderstanding. But not long before we announced the federal dental scheme in the last budget, the state Labor government and one of the local state Labor members instructed my local state government funded dental service that they were not to speak directly with me or my staff, leaving the constituents of Kingston with nowhere to turn once they were abandoned by the state Labor government. I was very worried for my constituents, who were left with no-one to rely on for assistance with their dental health other than a state Labor government who simply did not care about their plight. I wrote to both the federal Minister for Health and Ageing and the Prime Minister, explaining that, while this was a state issue, the people of my electorate were suffering and asking that they please do something to address the issue.
This government—the Howard government—responds to the needs of the Australian people. I was thrilled, therefore, when this announcement was made on budget night. This bill seeks to introduce that very important budget night announcement. It will increase access to dental treatment under Medicare for people with chronic conditions and complex care needs—the young and the old. From 1 November 2007, new items will be introduced onto the Medicare Benefits Schedule, which will enable patients to receive $4,250 in Medicare benefits over two consecutive calendar years for dental service. Importantly, though, this bill and this program go even further. The amendment will also allow Medicare benefits to be paid for the supply of dental prostheses, including dentures. This measure is vital for older Australians who rely on their dentures and many of whom suffer great discomfort and fail to eat proper and balanced diets because of the pain caused by inappropriate dentures. This measure is possible only because of the strong and disciplined economic management of the Howard government—strong economic management which is beyond the grasp of our Labor state governments.
It is that failure of Labor state governments to grasp the basic principles of disciplined economic management that has meant state governments cannot afford to provide the basic services they are responsible for like hospitals, roads, public transport and, in this case, basic dental services. It is the state Labor governments’ failure to grasp basic principles of disciplined economic management which has meant our frail, sick and elderly have been long-suffering victims of failing state dental systems. Above all else it is the failure of state Labor governments to manage their budgets—as would be the fear with a federal Labor government, if Rudd were to be successful, with federal Labor’s poor financial track record—that has made this measure and therefore this bill so very necessary.
Members opposite will stand here and whinge and complain about the abolition of dental assistance to the states in 1996. But this government, under which more funding has been handed to the states than ever before, inherited a $96 billion Labor debt when it came to power in 1996. And we had to make some tough spending choices to pay that back. The abolition of dental assistance to the states was this government telling the states that it was simply not going to pick up their slack anymore. The time had come for the states to pay for that which they were and are responsible for.
Then came the GST. This year the South Australian government is expected to receive $3.9 billion in GST revenue. This federal government mistakenly believed that when the states started receiving their GST windfall they would actually start providing decent levels of service in the areas they were responsible for. But, when it came to trusting Labor premiers with money, we were very wrong. To this day the state Labor governments are letting down the constituents of their states and still failing to provide basic levels of service.
This brings me to why this bill is so very necessary. The federal government can no longer sit back and watch as Australians suffer at the hands of these irresponsible state Labor governments. Too many sick and elderly Australians were suffering because the states would not provide a decent dental service, so once again we the federal government have been forced to step in and pick up the slack. Over the next four years this measure is expected to cost $384.6 million across the entire nation, and yet the South Australian government has effectively told the South Australian people that it cannot possibly find enough money in its $3.9 billion in GST revenue to provide a decent dental program. That said, this government manages to find the money for things like a tramline extension in the city which no-one wants. You really do have to question the South Australian state Labor government’s priorities.
Nonetheless, the residents living in the southern suburbs in the electorate of Kingston, South Australians in need—and, in fact, all Australians in need—will now have access to a decent and effective program which will provide for their dental health because of the hard work, responsible economic management and correct priorities of the federal government. This is yet another ever-present reminder of the fact that the Australian people simply cannot trust Labor with money. No Labor government, state or federal, can be trusted with money as all have a poor financial track record. Fortunately, we do not have a federal Labor government at this time. Surely we all hope that that does not occur. Fortunately, as we do not have a Labor federal government, we can afford to bail out the Labor states over and over again. In the interests of the Australian people and the fine people of Kingston, who I am proud to represent, I commend this very important bill to the House.