Wednesday, 19 September 2007
Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Dental Services) Bill 2007
Consideration in Detail
Bill—by leave—taken as a whole.
I would like to make clear to the parliament, and to the community, that the Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Dental Services) Bill 2007 is just another government pre-election stunt. This is a promise that can be compared to the election last time round. In the last election, it promised a program that was going to cost $15 million and has not even been able to spend $2 million. Now, in the budget just before the election, the government promises $384 million for a program that it knows it will not be able to spend—it could not even spend just over 10 per cent of the promise that it made last time.
The member for Bass should be careful because in Tasmania—the whole of Tasmania, not just his electorate of Bass—only 68 people got any benefit from the government scheme. If the member for Bass wants to go back to his electorate and explain why assisting 10 or 20 people in his electorate is better than assisting a million people under our program, that would be really interesting.
You could do it in your seat as well, because in Queensland there were only 700-odd people. This is a program that has failed and perhaps each of you would like to explain to your electorate why a program over three years has assisted 7,000 people and that Labor is offering a program that is going to cover up to one million people. That would be difficult for you to explain. We will wait and see, but I think that the community has a clear choice here—Labor’s program or a program that covers a handful of people where the government overpromised last time, is overpromising again and is not going to be able to deliver. Most interestingly, in the government’s rebuttal of this item the Minister for Health and Ageing in summing up this bill said that there was no problem with the referral system, no problem with team care plans and no problem with doctors or dentists. That is just a sign that the government has stopped listening. There is a hideous number of problems with the referral process for doctors and dentists, and changing a system where there were three Medicare items into one where there are 450 Medicare items will be a red-tape nightmare. The government can stand up and pretend as much as it likes that this is going to improve things, but it is going to make it much more complex and any minister who pretends that going from three Medicare items to 450 items is going to simplify a process for the health professionals involved has certainly lost touch not just with his portfolio but with the entire community.
The minister prides himself on wilfully misrepresenting people. I announced in my speech in the second reading debate that the full amount will be diverted to our dental programs. We made that perfectly clear yesterday. The Leader of the Opposition and I announced our first instalment of that program and we have made clear that that will fund up to a million consultations for those hundreds of thousands of people who are waiting for consultations and treatments.
That again is a misrepresentation by the minister, who wants to just interject and chip in, as he always does. We have indicated that the funding will provide one million consultations. Those consultations can involve treatment. The money might be able to be used for other things. That is an indication of what it could cover. There are many people who will require more extensive treatment and will be able to get it, as they already do, through the public dental service. This will provide more resources for them to clear those waiting lists. It is simple to understand, Minister. You have an obsession with not working with the states, when they have the infrastructure there, where they are treating the patients in an ongoing way and where Labor’s commitment will enable them to be able to clear those lists and treat hundreds of thousands of people that are on waiting lists in each of our electorates around the country. The minister is being very foolish to mock this when he knows that it is such a political issue in so many seats. It is not a political issue just because we in the parliament care about it but because people want their teeth fixed, they need their teeth fixed and they deserve to have their teeth fixed—and this program is not going to deliver it. The program has helped only 7,000 people compared to one which can help up to one million people. It is a program which promised that it would spend $15 million but spent less than $2 million. Now we have another program where the government is going to spend $384 million when there is absolutely no hope and expectation that that is possible and when the eligibility criteria remain exactly the same as they have been for the last three years. That is why Labor opposes this bill. (Time expired)
Bill agreed to.