House debates

Monday, 17 September 2007

Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Dental Services) Bill 2007

Second Reading

8:51 pm

Photo of Brendan O'ConnorBrendan O'Connor (Gorton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Industrial Relations) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Dental Services) Bill 2007 and to raise my concerns about the way in which the government has gone about looking after people in the dental health area. Having listened to the member for Kingston suggest that a state Labor government is at fault for almost everything in this world, I have to say that what he said is a bit of a joke. In fact, I would expect a member of the government in this House, a member who said he was concerned about the constituents of Kingston, to front up to a minister of this government, not a minister in the chamber in South Australia, and ask, ‘Why did this government’—and this is a fact—‘abolish the dental scheme that Labor introduced well before the election of 1996?’ Why hasn’t the member for Kingston even considered talking to the Prime Minister or the Minister for Health and Ageing and asking them to make sure that the constituents of the electorate of Kingston are looked after in the dental health area?

All he has managed to do in the last 10 minutes is talk about another level of government and talk about the problems that he says are the concern of state legislatures. The reality is that in the end the member for Kingston has no regard for the dental health needs of the constituents of his electorate. The reality is that if the member for Kingston were to concern himself more with the dental health concerns of his constituents he would be asking the Prime Minister why—and this is a fact—Labor’s dental scheme was abolished in 1996, why the 600,000 beneficiaries of that scheme were no longer beneficiaries and why there are 650,000 people now on waiting lists. There is no point in the member for Kingston coming in here to tell this community, via this chamber, that after 10 years the government has chosen to introduce a bill on dental health and that it is okay as the last 10 years did not matter. That is effectively what has been acknowledged here today by the government. The government has introduced a bill that acknowledges that fact. The member for Kingston is leaving the chamber. He does not want to listen to this debate. He comes in here with a speech written by somebody—I do not know whom—in which he wants to blame other governments. If only he were a vigilant member, if only he were to concern himself with the concerns of the thousands of constituents in the electorate of Kingston who have been queuing up and waiting for years for their dental problems to be attended to and if only he had listened to this debate, but he has walked out of the chamber—he has now left the chamber after giving his little rehearsed speech.

The reality is that for 10 years this government has failed to attend to the dental health concerns of this nation. We know that the last Labor government had in place a dental scheme that actually attended to those concerns. Indeed, the fact is that in the last 10 years the Prime Minister and the ministers in turn responsible for this particular area have refused to accept any responsibility whatsoever for it. They have failed to accept that it is their responsibility, in conjunction with the states, to look after people’s dental health.

This bill will in some way attend to the concerns of the people in my electorate of Gorton. I have people, and I am sure you do as well, Mr Deputy Speaker, who have been waiting for some years to have basic dental needs attended to. Because this bill is going to provide insufficient support in this important area, Labor will not support it. But this bill also underlines the fact that there has been no support by this government from 1996 until now. The basis upon which the government has failed to support the nation’s dental health was that supposedly it was not its responsibility. The government was lying then or it is lying now when it says it did not have to attend to such things. This bill, which proposes to commit $384 million over four years, is welcome but has been a long time coming and there are still so many other things that the government must attend to.

We know, and I think the community is becoming increasingly aware, that dental health is critical. Poor dental hygiene, poor oral health and related problems not only affect people’s teeth and gums but indeed have the potential to affect people in so many other ways such as the compounding chronic conditions of diabetes and cardiovascular disease and cancer. So, looking at the health area holistically, any doctor, whether it be a dental specialist or a general practitioner, would say that if a country did not spend sufficient funds and provide sufficient resources to allow people to have proper dental health care then there would be consequences in other health areas. The fact is that this is a very belated effort by this government in the shadow of an election to introduce a bill that goes to dental services, it having denied its responsibility for a decade.

So, while the member for Kingston and other members of the government can blame the state governments all they like, it is incumbent upon government members, not only opposition members, to tell ministers and the others in the executive—and, indeed, the Prime Minister when he is not consumed by his own ambitions and his own survival—that they must listen to the community in each electorate that has been crying out for support in this area. There has not been any effort by government backbenchers to put any pressure whatsoever on the executive to have it attend to this very important area of public policy. I believe that the member for Kingston and other members who have spoken so far on this bill have been disingenuous in their efforts to ensure that funding is properly provided for this area. I have no complaint with their criticising state governments where it is due, and I have no complaint with their criticising state governments over this area, but to solely blame state governments for a lack of provision of dental health services is absolutely absurd. Indeed, the job of federal members in representing constituents in this House is to tell the executive to attend to the concerns of their constituents. I know that in my electorate and I know, from what other members have told me, in other electorates dental health is critical to so many people: it has been a policy failure of this government and the government has been in denial. The government has been so for more than 10 years and now, at the death knell and in the shadow of an election, it is choosing to introduce a dental health scheme. 

Debate interrupted.


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