Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021


Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2021; In Committee

11:28 am

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

[by video link] I move:

That the House of Representatives be requested to make the following amendment:

(1) Schedule 1, items 1 and 2, page 3 (lines 4 to 11), omit the items, substitute:

1 Section 4 (definition of ABSTUDY scheme )

Repeal the definition.

2 Section 4 (definition of FTB(A) person )

Repeal the definition.

3 Section 4 (definition of satisfies the means test )

Repeal the definition.

4 Section 4 (definition of youth allowance )

Repeal the definition.

5 Subsection 5(1)

Omit "(1)".

6 Subsection 5(2)

Repeal the subsection.

7 Section 22


• A person qualifies for a voucher for a calendar year if he or she is aged between 2 and 18 years at any time during the calendar year, is an eligible person and satisfies the means test.

• The Dental Benefit Rules may also provide that an eligible person qualifies for a voucher for a calendar year.


• A person qualifies for a voucher for a calendar year if the person is an eligible person.

• The Dental Benefit Rules may provide for certain matters relating to vouchers.

8 Section 23

Repeal the section, substitute:

23 Qualification for a voucher

Persons to whom this section applies

(1) This section applies to a person, in relation to a calendar year, if the person is an eligible person.

Point in time at which person qualifies for a voucher

(2) The person qualifies for a voucher for the calendar year, in relation to a dental service specified in the Dental Benefits Rules for the purposes of this section, at the first time in the calendar year when the person is an eligible person.

9 Section 24

Repeal the section.

10 Section 25

Repeal the section.

11 Section 29

Before "The Dental Benefit Rules", insert "(1)".

12 At the end of section 29


(2) Subsection (1) is subject to section 32AA.

13 After section 32


32AA Dental Benefits Rules must not impos e certain eligibility requirements

The Dental Benefits Rules must not impose the following requirements relating to the eligibility of a person for a voucher:

(a) an age-based eligibility requirement;

(b) a means test.

14 Subsection 41(1)

Omit "(1)".

15 Subparagraphs 41(1)(c)(iii) to (v)

Repeal the subparagraphs.

16 Subsection 41(2)

Repeal the subsection.


Statement pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000

Amendment (1)

Amendment (1) is framed as a request because it amends the bill to expand the eligibility requirements for dental vouchers. The effect of the amendment is to: remove the requirement for a person to be of a certain age to be eligible for a dental voucher; remove the requirement for a person to satisfy a means test to be eligible for a dental voucher; and prevent the Dental Benefits Rules from prescribing such eligibility requirements.

As the amendment is intended to increase the number of individuals that would be eligible to receive a dental voucher, it will increase the amount of expenditure under the appropriation in section 65 of the Dental Benefits Act 2008.

Statement by the Clerk of the Senate pursuant to the order of the Senate of 26 June 2000

Amendment (1)

If the effect of the amendment is to increase expenditure under the standing appropriation in section 65 of the Dental Benefits Act 2008 , then it is in accordance with the precedents of the Senate that the amendment be moved as a request.

As we've heard in some of the contributions from my colleagues, particularly Senator Rice and Senator Hanson-Young, there are so many members of our community who are really struggling because of the impact of the absence of public funding for dental care under the Medicare scheme. We've heard, as representatives of our particular communities, from so many community members that their inability to get the dental healthcare support they need—the barriers—means a life of pain and suffering. That's sometimes year upon year and decade after decade.

The amendment before the Senate that I bring today on behalf of the Greens reflects our movement's commitment to the achievement of universal dental care under the public health system: dental care for what you need when you need it, for every person. That would support so many members of our community who, right now, as Senator Rice referenced, are doing that almost herculean task not only of surviving on JobSeeker but also of trying to put some money aside in order to see a dentist because the current waitlist on the public dental service, as patchy as it is throughout the states and territories, is simply too long.

The opportunity that we have in supporting the Greens amendments as put to the Senate today is to end the pain and the suffering of so many members of our community. While they struggle with the many very terrible effects of trying to make ends meet, this government stands by and supports policies that force people to struggle so much in economic hardship. Whilst they have to do that they also have to deal with an infected tooth, or an abscess, or a wisdom tooth that needs removing, or gum disease that needs treating or the complex procedures that will enable them to speak properly.

Worse than that, there are so many more who know the great value of preventive dental health care: the value of regular check-ups, the value of regular cleanings, the value of fillings and the value of being able to say: 'Do you know what? That feels a bit odd—that hurts, that throbs. Let's get that checked before it escalates into something that means I have to take a week off work, or 10 days off work and I lose my job, and can't pay my mortgage.' That's the practical impact of not being able to get dental health care.

That's to say nothing of the mental health implications of having an unresolved dental illness. When you have chronic pain of the type that comes with untreated dental issues there's very little else you can do with your day, it is such an all-consuming feeling. I suspect that many members of the major parties who right now are weighing up whether or not to support the Greens proposed amendments to expand all the eligibility criteria to enable adults and children to get access to publicly funded dental care under Medicare know the pain of unresolved dental issues. I suspect they have had a wisdom tooth that needs removing, a filling that has gone wrong or a cracked tooth. I suspect that all members of the Liberal and Labor parties, consciously or subconsciously, know the value of preventive dental care. I suspect they very regularly get themselves to their local dentists—probably overwhelmingly private dentists—to get work done. That's because they know the value of it; they know the value of going and getting something sorted when something doesn't feel right.

The opportunity that sits before the Liberal and Labor parties today is to extend the ability they have, the privilege they have, to the rest of their communities and make dental care accessible under Medicare to enable people to go to the dentist as easily as they go to the doctor. That is the chance they now have. That is what this amendment would enable.

I hope not to hear in response to this proposal any carping, moaning or handwringing from either side of politics in relation to cost, because the community all know that, when the big corporations rock up to this place with their shiny-shoed lobbyists and ask for tax cuts that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars over a decade and that when defence manufacturers and arms dealers rock up wanting to sell the government yet another project that by the time it is built will be totally obsolete, the government and the opposition line up next to each other and say: 'Thank you very much. Where do we sign?' So I hope to hear none of those nonsensical contributions from the major parties.

Let us put aside the idea that there are not the resources in our community to address something so basic as universal dental care to free all members of our community from the pain of untreated dental issues and to enable people to eat, drink and talk without pain and suffering. There are enough resources to do that. There is simply a need for the major parties to grow a spine and be willing to make the choices necessary to make that a reality for people—to extend the privilege and the ease enjoyed by so many members of this place on both sides of politics when it comes to getting dental issues treated.

Let us do that now. Let us get it done now. Let the legacy of this parliamentary sitting before Christmas be that we recognise the basic medical reality that the mouth is part of the face and the face is part of the body and if you have pain you should be able to get it treated and you should be able to take the preventative steps that so many people know are necessary to prevent the worsening of dental medical issues. That is the opportunity before the chamber today. Let us take it up with gusto.

We know the Australian people support it. It is something the Greens have always championed. We have the beginning of the program that we need from the 2010-13 power-sharing arrangement. I'm not sure what planet members of the Labor Party are on when they talk about this scheme as it stands being a legacy of the Labor government. This wasn't anywhere near their legislative agenda before 2010. It is a direct result of the Gillard government having to sit down with the Greens after the 2010 election. That is what came out of it. That's why the Child Dental Benefits Schedule exists. People voted for the Greens and we went into those negotiations with the ALP and said, 'This is one of the things our community wants to happen.' That's what created this scheme. On the back of that we continue now to champion the creation of universal dental care in Australia. Every member of our community should be able to expect their government to take action to ensure that such a scheme and such support exists, particularly in the context of the full knowledge of the failed and broken nature of our current publicly funded dental system, with waiting lists that are utterly beyond belief.

Let us turn words into actions and turn passion into program. Let's vote for this amendment today and get this done for our communities. I thank the chamber for its time.

11:39 am

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, yet another delusional rewriting of history from the Greens political party. I can recall, in 1998, the first occasion where I played some sort of leadership role in a local campaign, campaigning on dental. Labor has always been clear that dental and public dental is immensely important for the people that we represent. Dental health makes an enormous difference to people's overall health. It is ludicrous to argue, as Senator Steele-John has just done, that this is somehow owned by the Greens. 'We did it'—another one for the Facebook page of the Greens. 'We achieved something,' notwithstanding the fact that they were not in government. By now everybody surely understands that the only way to get progress on social justice is in fact to elect a Labor government. The endless attempts by the Australian Greens political party to undermine the Labor Party for their own narrow political and electoral interests does not serve them well.

Labor won't be supporting this amendment from the Greens. Yet again we have a situation where the Greens are coming up with an amendment that would have a significant cost and, for the reasons I just explained, stands no chance of passing in the other place. Do you know why? Because what we need for real reform is a Labor government. We need a Labor majority. This is another Greens stunt that has no realistic chance of ever becoming law. As my colleague mentioned in the second reading contributions, Labor supports this bill as an extension of Labor's legacy. We are glad that the government came around from its previous attempts to cut or abolish the scheme and are now proposing to expand it. We shouldn't stand in the way. We shouldn't delay this welcome reform of the Child Dental Benefits Schedule by supporting something that has no chance.

11:41 am

Photo of Michaelia CashMichaelia Cash (WA, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

The government will also not be supporting the amendment moved by the Australian Greens. The Dental Benefits Amendment Bill 2021 that we're currently debating will seek to provide access to the Child Dental Benefits Schedule for eligible children from birth, which is zero years of age. This is, in other words, designed to support the delivery of essential child oral health services. The proposed amendment moved by the Australian Greens seeks to remove all age limitations and means testing requirements. This would therefore completely change the parameters of the program and it would no longer be a specific program targeted at children, which is what it is.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

We're dealing with request 1 on sheet 1389, and the question is, as moved by Senator Steele-John, that the request for an amendment be agreed to.