Wednesday, 19 June 2013
Health and Ageing Committee; Report
Before I start, I acknowledge that in the chamber here today we have yourself, Deputy Speaker Hall, the Chair of the Health and Ageing Committee, and the Deputy Speaker the member for Swan, who is the Deputy Chair of the Health and Ageing Committee. It gives me great pleasure to speak on this particular report, which is very dear to me in terms of my seat. When I was first elected in 2004 one of the very first speeches that I made was on dental care, so to see this report tabled this week with some very good recommendations in it is very important to all of Australia. For a seat like mine—the electorate of Hindmarsh, which is one of the oldest seats in the country—dental care is a high priority and a big issue.
The report speaks about the accessing of dental care by all people—children, families and older Australians. Currently, over 90 per cent of adults in Australia show some form of tooth decay. That is, 90 per cent of the adult population should be seeking the services of dental care or treatment. Yet, for many Australians the costs of accessing private dental services are constrained because of the cost of the services, their availability et cetera.
During many of my doorknocking sessions and consultations that I have with constituents, dental care is one of the topics that is raised on a regular basis. I have heard some horrendous stories of people needing but not being able to access the services. When I was elected back in 2004 I raised this issue on a number of occasions. In 1996 we saw public waiting lists across the country rise to about 650,000 people not being able to access dental care. It is an issue that affects many people.
It is also a health issue. One of the things that amazes me—as I am sure it does you, Deputy Chair, and the deputy chair of the committee—is that, if you break a bone, you have access to health services immediately. If you break a tooth, it is viewed in a different way. Yet a broken tooth can bring on a whole range of secondary illnesses and diseases. We know that, if you do not have healthy teeth, it affects other areas of your health.
Many people gave evidence to the committee, from public servants to dental experts, dental hygienists and a whole range of other people. All the information was accessed and the committee came up with some very good recommendations. For example, one of the areas that we investigated was enabling dental hygienists, dental therapists and oral health therapists to hold Medicare provider numbers so that they can practice independently as solo practitioners within the scope of practice parameters stipulated by their professional practice registration standards. The provision of Medicare provider numbers to these practitioners could be piloted, and we could see how that would work. I think that would be a really good recommendation, especially for some of the rural areas. These people do some great work, and it would mean they could provide more services to ensure that people are getting that first treatment that is really required to prevent further decay and to prevent further issues.
There are people on low incomes who cannot access services. During my regular doorknocking sessions, many people over the years have told me that they are concerned that there is no sustainable scheme—or, for many, no scheme at all—in place. The Grow Up Smiling package, which the government has announced, is a great initiative of $2.7 billion over the next six years for a capped benefit entitlement of $1,000 per child over a two-year period for basic dental services. This will include X-rays, fillings, check-ups and extractions, and around 3.4 million children between the ages of two and 17 will be eligible under this scheme.
We heard during the inquiry how important it is to ensure that preventative measures are put in place as well. It is not about just treating tooth decay and diseases that people are already suffering from; it is important to prevent these things. The way to do it is through this particular scheme, which will put prevention measures in place before teeth decay and before we get into the issue of secondary decay and a whole range of other things. It also means parents do not have to worry about juggling the cost of dental care for their children. It is very important.
I commend the report. It is a great report. As I said, I would also like to acknowledge: the member for Shortland and the great work she did as chair; the member for Swan, as deputy chair; of course, our committee secretariat, Alison Clegg, Renee Toy, Siobhan Leyne, Emma White, Belynda Zolotto, Fiona McCann and Kathleen Blunden; and all the other members on the committee.
I rise to speak on the Bridging the dental gap report, which I spoke about in the main chamber, along with the chair, when the report was tabled. I recognise and acknowledge the speech just made by the member for Hindmarsh, who was the Chair of the Standing Committee on Health and Ageing until he was elevated to higher office. I thank him for his acknowledgement during his speech about the Bridging the dental gap report.
The report was short and quick, but it needed to be done by the government to get something in place on dental services, which, as we have just heard from the member for Hindmarsh, are so important not only to adults, children and people with chronic disease but to people in rural, remote and regional areas in Australia. One thing that came out of the report is that we need to have a united front in this area to make sure that the services and outcomes for people with dental and oral health issues are positive. We need to make sure that the states are all on board and that everyone works together to get the best outcomes for those people.
During the inquiry we travelled to Dubbo, to Charles Sturt University. I would like to acknowledge that that is one of the best remote and rural services I have ever seen. If that is a model that could be rolled out across the country it would be most beneficial, particularly, to remote rural and regional areas. We heard how the Royal Flying Doctor Service dispense their oral and dental health treatments out into the really remote areas, where Indigenous oral health is probably at its worst but, in particular, the visit to Dubbo's Charles Sturt University was a highlight. The people who were being treated on the day were getting free treatment by the students who had gone past their second year of training, and they will be treated by them until the students graduate. While we were there we heard that the first batch of graduations is going to happen this year. The environment was light, friendly and very professional. We spoke to some of the people who had had some treatment, and they were happy to use this free service with the interns and to bring their children along to use those facilities as well. It provides a much needed service for a remote and rural area.
In closing, I again commend this report to the House and I congratulate the committee and the secretariat for the work they did. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the current chair and the previous chair of the committee for working cooperatively with me over this parliament. It is good that we have not seen a dissenting report to any of the reports that we have written. I think that that is probably unique within the parliament. Again, I would like to thank both the chair and the previous chair.