Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2012 Week 5 Hansard (2 May) . . Page.. 1886..
Whilst this motion addresses some important areas, the execution of this intent has, once again, been fumbled by Ms Bresnan. This motion calls for the Australian government to significantly invest in dental services in the 2012-13 budget. The 2012-13 budget is likely to go to print in the next 72 hours. If Ms Bresnan was serious about lobbying for this investment, she would not have waited until now to start.
Of course, given that the federal government, especially in the current political climate, are highly unlikely to have taken notice that today Ms Bresnan called for this dental service investment, they will only become notified when the Speaker writes to the federal health minister. A quick analysis of the likely time frame for this to occur determines that the letter for the health minister is likely to end up at the earliest—this depends on what other work pressures you may have, Mr Speaker—in one of your adviser's in-trays on perhaps Tuesday morning, the morning of the day on which the federal budget will be delivered.
I do not wish to downplay the significance of the chamber in which I now speak but I do not see a high possibility that the federal health minister will delay the release of the federal budget whilst they contemplate whether to act on the ACT Legislative Assembly's call for investment in dental services.
This does not mean—and I repeat it—that I do not support the intent of the motion, to raise concerns about the level of dental health funding. However, it would be an embarrassment to the ACT Assembly and to the constituents we represent to have such an illogical and ill-timed request made. It seems to be all show and no go.
Additionally, the call by Ms Bresnan for universal commonwealth-funded dental care is out of touch with reality. The current federal Labor government has put our country in some of the biggest debt we have ever seen, billions and billions of dollars, and their bad economic management means that we simply cannot start to responsibly implement a scheme for greater funding for dental care until we have the money to do it federally. Greater dental funding is exactly the type of policy we should be aiming for in Australia but the budgetary situation at this stage makes that simply unviable.
I think it is timely to remind Ms Bresnan and her Labor colleagues that sit across from me about the person who actually took action to increase funding for dental health. The Hon Tony Abbott, in one of his final acts as the federal health minister, established the Medicare dental scheme to give people on chronic disease care plans access to up to $4,000 of dental treatment work every two years. This was not just check-ups but actual treatment. Under this scheme almost 700,000 Australians have been treated and they have received 11 million incidents of dental services. Mr Abbott, as he outlined in a Press Club address in February this year, envisaged that this would be the first step towards putting dental services more generally on Medicare.
A key difference between the universal dental health scheme that Ms Bresnan advocates and Mr Abbott's aspirational Medicare-based policy is economic sustainability. It is difficult to see how Australians, particularly in the current economic climate, could afford Ms Bresnan's scheme. But Ms Bresnan often does not stop to contemplate the important question of how we will actually afford her ideas. This is one of the joys of sitting on the crossbench.