Dental Health

I want to speak about two very important election commitments the Rudd government has made to the Australian people in the area of dental health and what this will mean for my electorate of Isaacs. I want to start by recalling the actions of the former Liberal government in this area. In one of its more miserable acts, the Howard government scrapped Labor’s Commonwealth Dental Health Program on taking power in 1996, which ripped more than $100 million from public dental services. This had an enormous impact on the lives of ordinary Australians in need of dental health care. The Howard government followed this act of meanness with more than a decade of blindness to the problems affecting dental health.

I want to speak about two very important election commitments the Rudd government has made to the Australian people in the area of dental health and what this will mean for my electorate of Isaacs. I want to start by recalling the actions of the former Liberal government in this area. In one of its more miserable acts, the Howard government scrapped Labor’s Commonwealth Dental Health Program on taking power in 1996, which ripped more than $100 million from public dental services. This had an enormous impact on the lives of ordinary Australians in need of dental health care. The Howard government followed this act of meanness with more than a decade of blindness to the problems affecting dental health.

And there are many problems: one in four adult Australians has untreated dental decay; one in five Australians cannot afford to get the dental care they need; one in six Australians has avoided eating certain foods because of problems with their teeth over the last 12 months; and 50,000 Australians are hospitalised each year for preventable dental conditions. Statistics produced by the National Oral Health Plan indicate that there are more than 220,000 people on public dental waiting lists in Victoria alone. Nationwide the figure is over 600,000.

Despite this, the Howard government continued to avoid a national solution to a national problem, leaving it to the states to clean up the mess. State and territory governments have more than doubled their investment in public dental care over the past decade, from $205 million in 1995-96 to $503 million in 2004-05. In my own state of Victoria, the state Labor government has provided an additional $158.2 million to oral health over the past seven years.

Despite this extra investment, the length of public dental waiting times continues to be unacceptable. At the Central Bayside Community Health Services in Parkdale, in my electorate, the public dental waiting time for dentures was 30 months as at June 2007. Over in Springvale, at the Greater Dandenong Community Health Service, the waiting time for general services was 32 months. At the Frankston Community Health Service, the waiting time for general services was 35 months. The fact that it will take a pensioner more than three years to get a denture is truly appalling. This is the direct consequence of the actions of the previous government in relation to dental health.

In contrast, the Rudd government will establish a Commonwealth Dental Health Program to provide up to one million additional dental treatments. In addition to this, the government will assist working families by establishing the Teen Dental Plan. Under this program, families who receive family tax benefit A will be able to claim up to $150 towards the cost of an annual dental preventative check. These programs are focused on ending the blame game between the federal and state governments and getting on with the job of providing access to dental care. These two initiatives will be welcomed by people in my electorate of Isaacs.

The first program I mentioned, the Commonwealth Dental Health Program, will see $290 million provided to facilitate up to one million treatments. That is one million additional treatments that this government will provide over three years. It will help to relieve the pressure that has built up over the last 10 years. I know that the families and pensioners who need to visit the Central Bayside Community Health Services in Parkdale or those who need to visit the Greater Dandenong Community Health Service or those who need to visit the Frankston Community Health Service—all services which do wonderful work in the community—will welcome this funding. The other program I mentioned is the Teen Dental Plan, which is a program to provide up to one million teenagers with a subsidy of $150 towards the cost of an annual check-up. I look forward to seeing the benefits of these programs in my electorate and throughout Australia.