Standing up for Canberra

Dental Health - Federation Chamber Speech

I would like to thank the member for Kingston for moving this motion on a subject that is very close to my heart. I know it is a subject that is close to her heart as well. Both of us understand that dental health and hygiene is in a way the great socioeconomic indicator in this nation. I am very proud of the work that Labor did while in government on improving dental health right across the nation, right across all socioeconomic levels. It is interesting that the member for Herbert focused on a range of issues and talked about cuts in the past. I remind the member for Herbert that what we are talking about today is the cut that is currently planned. Your policy is to cut $40 million from the voluntary dental graduate program.

I also remind the member for Herbert, with the greatest respect, of his leader's comments just prior to the election, where he said that there would be no cuts to education, no cuts to pensions, no cuts to the ABC and SBS and, most importantly, no cuts to health. The fact that you now have plans to cut $40 million from this vitally important program flies in the face of that.

I know from speaking to my constituents that they are very, very concerned about what the budget could bring for them. Despite these promises of no cuts to education, no cuts to pensions, no cuts to the ABC and SBS and no cuts to health, you have already abolished the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia, which is based in my electorate. There is $1.5 million in funding required for that organisation. That organisation has been around for nearly 50 years, providing world-class, invaluable advice on alcohol and other issues. It is a respected organisation, with a library that is one of a kind. It is a library that is coveted throughout the world for its expertise and its holdings. At the moment, the future of that library looks like it could be the shredder and the Mugga Lane tip. That is my great concern.

Despite the fact that your leader said prior to the election that there would be no cuts to health, already ADCA has been abolished—with 14 jobs lost, with this world-class library potentially gone—and now we have this plan for a $40 million cut to the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program. This program for dental graduates is a structured, one-year program that is designed to integrate practice and professional development opportunities, enhance workforce and service delivery capacity and support young dentists as they enter the profession. The program is specifically designed for graduates working in the public sector. It supports the best dental graduates in the country to work in the public sector, where their skills are most needed.

We have a scheme here in the ACT that is run by the Salvos—which a dear friend of mine, Liz Dawson, is actively involved in—that supports people from very disadvantaged backgrounds and who have no teeth. Through the trauma of time and their socioeconomic background, they have no teeth and, as a result, they have poor diets— as you cannot eat a carrot without any teeth! Also as a result of not having teeth, they cannot go out and get jobs because their self-esteem is at rock bottom. This scheme—and I have funded a number of these programs—is to provide these people with dentures and opportunities not just to eat a healthy diet and get fit and healthy again but also to get back into the workforce by boosting their self-esteem.

Good dental care is incredibly important. It enables good nutrition, as I have mentioned, and it prevents serious infection. It is important not only for our physical health but also for our mental health. A good set of teeth can provide the self-esteem required to find work, to access training, to actively engage in the community, to feel proud of yourself and to feel as though you can contribute to the community. Poor dental health can be a real barrier to social inclusion—and that is something that I have witnessed firsthand in my electorate.

We have a proud record of investing in dental health, to ensure all Australians have access to decent, quality dental care. We are incredibly proud of these investments. They show our commitment to ensuring that every Australian has access to dental care. I urge those opposite to show their commitment to a well-resourced dental system by reversing the decision to axe the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program. Let's support our best dental graduates to help Australia's most vulnerable people access the dental care that they deserve.

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