House debates

Monday, 18 June 2007

Questions without Notice

Dental Health

2:56 pm

Photo of Gary HardgraveGary Hardgrave (Moreton, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister update the House on the government’s proposal to improve dental care. Is the minister aware of any alternative proposals, and what is the government’s response?

Photo of Tony AbbottTony Abbott (Warringah, Liberal Party, Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Moreton for his question and I say to him that, although the government is sometimes criticised for the failings of the state Labor governments in this area, in fact the Howard government initiated Medicare cover of some dental treatment. This Medicare cover was dramatically expanded in the recent budget. From 1 November, people with chronic disease with contributing poor oral health will be eligible for an initial dental consultation and up to $2,000 worth of Medicare funded dental treatment a year. This will cost some $378 million and cover some 200,000 people over four years, many of whom would otherwise be languishing on the states’ public dental waiting lists.

But this dramatic new initiative was not enough for the opposition, because two weeks ago the shadow minister, the member for Gellibrand, promised that every Australian earning less than average weekly earnings would receive free dental cover. I have here an article from the Sunday Age. The headline is ‘Smile—it’s free dental care’, and it is an exclusive from Jason Koutsoukis. It says:

People earning average income or below would have free dental care under a Labor plan to solve the nation’s teeth crisis.

Nearly 16 million Australians live in households earning average weekly earnings or below. To give 16 million people just one hour of dental care at the cost of $295 an hour nominated by the member for Gellibrand would cost taxpayers $4.7 billion every year. If the member for Gellibrand is to be taken seriously, Labor will spend almost as much on dentistry as the government currently spends on the PBS. The member for Gellibrand would wipe out half the surplus in just one ill-considered, half-digested item from her wish list. And this person would be a minister in a Rudd Labor government.

The Leader of the Opposition, of course, knows all about poor dental health. When he was the director-general of the Christian socialist state of Queensland, people waited up to three years on public dental waiting lists. When he was the director-general he took no action whatsoever to fluoridate the Queensland water supply, which is why people in Queensland have by far the worst oral health in Australia. When he was the director-general he all but closed down the dental clinic at Queen Elizabeth II hospital in the electorate of Moreton. Why does anyone think that this failed former public servant would be better at running the country than he was at helping to run the state of Queensland? I ask the Leader of the Opposition: please say clearly what Labor’s dental policy is. I think he will know as much about Labor’s dental policy as he knew about Labor’s productivity policy. If he does not know his own policy, he is certainly not fit to form a government in this country.