Tuesday, 19 June 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister advise the House how the government’s new dental program will assist people suffering from a chronic illness? Are there any other viable options? What is the government’s response?
I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question asked for any other options and the views of others. In accordance with your ruling regarding the member for New England’s question, can you rule on that?
I thank the member for Gilmore for her question and say to her and to all members of this House that, while the state governments have shamefully allowed some 650,000 Australians to languish on public dental waiting lists, the Howard government has beefed up Medicare dental coverage for people with chronic disease and contributing poor oral health. Some 200,000 patients will be eligible for up to $2,000 a year in Medicare funded dental treatment. I know that thousands of people in Gilmore are looking forward to the chance to make use of this option.
Naturally enough, the government’s proposal was not good enough for the Labor Party, because we had the member for Gellibrand going out and promising in response that everyone earning under average weekly earnings would get free dental care.
People earning average income or below would have free dental care under a Labor plan to solve the nation’s teeth crisis.
There was only one problem: giving 16 million people just one hour of free dental care would cost $4.7 billion. Uh-oh! Oops! We have Medicare Gold mark II. If Medicare Gold was the turkey of the last election, ‘Dentistry Gold’ is going to be the turkey of the next election.
Someone else must have had that thought as well because, funnily enough, somewhere between the first edition and the last edition the story slipped off the banner and the supportive editorial somehow disappeared. I wonder who might have been on the phone. I wonder whether the Leader of the Opposition might have made another one of his famous phone calls to editors, using the kind of language that would make Dean Mighell blush. The next day, out came an internal memo to ALP candidates. I quote from this leaked document: ‘There have been reports that Labor has announced free dental care for everyone earning under average income. We understand that some candidates are receiving calls on this. Labor’s policy has actually not yet been announced.’
In fact, it had been announced; it had been announced by the member for Gellibrand on the front page of the Sunday Age the previous day—it is just that she was disowned. The member for Lalor’s Medicare Gold policy lasted two years before it was killed off; the member for Gellibrand’s ‘Dentistry Gold’ policy did not even make it to the final edition. What a shocking humiliation and repudiation for the member for Gellibrand. She has only put out one press release in her own name since then. Normally, there are blizzards of useless press releases from the member for Gellibrand, but there has only been one in the fortnight since then. There is a clear message for the Leader of the Opposition here: if you do not have a credible health shadow, you cannot have a credible health policy and, without a credible health policy, you are not fit to form a government in this country.