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.
It is my great pleasure to be speaking on the subject matter of education and the Australian Education Amendment bill. I will say at the outset that it is not so much what is in the bill that attracts the attention of members on this side of the House, but the things that are not in the bill and the mess that surrounds it. If there is one thing that has been consistent about this minister and this government's approach to education—whether it is early childhood education or primary, secondary or tertiary education—it is this: they have buggered up everything they have touched. In the 12 short months that they have been in government they have absolutely made a mess of everything that they have touched when it comes to the education sector. I was at my own university—the University of Wollongong, a fine institution—in the Illawarra this week, where they are facing redundancies because of the 20 per cent cut in university funding. You have academics, students and community members up in arms because of the uncertainty surrounding higher education. This has been a critical institution in the Illawarra for giving kids from ordinary working-class backgrounds, like my own, an opportunity in life and a foot on the ladder of opportunity.
This is a terribly important issue and it affects over four million Australians—hearing loss affects over four million Australians, and a full half of them are at working age. It would probably surprise you to know that, when you look at the employment statistics for people with hearing disabilities, males are 20 per cent more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population; it is 16½ per cent for females. So we cannot underestimate the importance of this issue. Ours is a wealthy country doing very, very well in a whole heap of areas of providing health care and services for people who are less advantaged or have a disability, but it would astound you, I am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, to know that 24 per cent of people who need a hearing aid do not have one.
I congratulate the member for Wakefield on bringing this motion before the House, because the purpose of it is really quite transparent. It is to seek a champion on the other side of the House for Australian Hearing. The member for Wakefield, a champion in his own right, is willing to stand up here and say, 'We need to defend Australian Hearing services.' The member for McPherson has called us irrational or emotional. That is quite right: we are quite emotional about this because Australian Hearing was established by Ben Chifley in the immediate aftermath of World War II. There were lots of Australian servicemen coming back with hearing impairments. Combined with veterans and young people suffering hearing loss, something needed to be done. We could not, as those opposite have suggested, just leave it to the market. There was a clear need for Australian government intervention.