We are deeply saddened at the passing of Hon E G Whitlam AC QC this morning.
We extend our deepest sympathy to Mr Whitlam’s children, Antony, Nicholas and Stephen Whitlam and Catherine Dovey, and their families.
Australia has suffered a great loss today. Mr Whitlam made an outstanding contribution to the well-being and prosperity of our country and its care and concern for the most vulnerable.
It is hard to imagine what Australia would look like today had it not been for the Whitlam Government.
Mr Whitlam’s prime ministership was one of Australia’s most transformative. His drive and vision modernised our country.
The Whitlam Government introduced free access to education and medical care for everyone in our society, not just the privileged. He started the process of giving land rights to the first Australians, introduced no-fault divorce and social security for sole parents.
Gough has a longstanding connection to the Illawarra as his electorate of Werriwa extended to Helensburgh when he was first elected; a connection that stayed with him beyond his time in office with the conferral of an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Wollongong in 1989. The region continues to benefit from his and his government’s legacy.
The bill before the House deals with two particularly important schemes—the Medicare Chronic Diseases Dental Scheme and the Child Dental Benefits Scheme. They both deal with the way in which the Commonwealth government supports public dental services. In the case of the CDDS, it is about chronic diseases—or it was about chronic diseases. In the case of the CDBS, it is about children's dental services and, particularly, what the Commonwealth can do to prevent the onset of chronic diseases within children at a very young age. There is agreement before the House on the passage of these bills but there is a very different approach between the major parties on how we deal with dental health and dental health care, and the public support for dental health care in this country.
Before addressing some of these issues, it is worth going through some of the key facts around dental health in this country. Many may not be aware that in 2010 government survey data showed that more than one-quarter of people aged five or older avoided or delayed visiting a dentist due to cost—that is, more than one in four aged five or over delayed visiting a dentist because of cost. From 1994 to 2010, there was an increase in the proportion of adults avoiding a visit to their dentist from 25 to 30 per cent—again, because of cost.
Labor’s Spokesperson for Regional Health, Stephen Jones today demanded the Abbott Government reject the recommendation by the Commission of Audit to privatise Australian Hearing Services.
In his address to Parliament, Jones said he is deeply concerned the sell-off will result in a lack of affordable services in regional areas like the Illawarra and Southern Highlands, where incomes are lower, care is more expensive and distances to travel more vast.
“For local kids like Felix Williams of Windang and his family, the support of Australian Hearing Services is immeasurable”, said Jones.
“The organisation has a bulk-purchasing arrangement that allows families on lower incomes to access new technologies, upgrades and parts for their child’s hearing devices at below market cost.
“When costs for a Cochlear upgrade can be anywhere up to $20,000, a lack of support services like Australian Hearing would mean a huge blow to the hip-pocket of local families.