Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (14:59): My question is to the Minister for Health. Would the minister inform the House of the government's plan to improve frontline services, like dental health, under the budget?
Ms PLIBERSEK (Sydney—Minister for Health) (14:59): Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to compliment you on the job that you are doing under very difficult circumstances. I thank the member for Throsby for his question. When I was down visiting him recently—
Government members interjecting—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Members on the government side are not helping the minister. The minister has the call.
Ms PLIBERSEK: I was very pleased to meet with the Illawarra Dental Health Action Group and their head, Alice Scott. They have been working with the member for Throsby for many years and they worked with the previous member for Throsby, Jennie George, as well. She mentioned them nearly a decade ago in this place when she presented a petition about the abolition of the Commonwealth Dental Health Program by the Howard government in their first budget. I must say that the measures in last night's budget restore much of the damage done by the Howard government during their term in office.
This $515.3 million package includes $345.9 million spent delivering services that will reduce the backlog on public dental waiting lists around the country. It includes other measures, such as workforce measures, relocation and infrastructure grants to encourage dentists to relocate and practice in remote areas, oral health promotion and other very important measures. This will be vital for the 30 per cent of Australians who cannot currently access the dental care they need. It is proof that good economic management is not in opposition to strong social objectives. Indeed, it has been very well received by people in the health community, including the Australian Dental Association President, Dr Shane Fryer, who said:
The provision of funding to bolster the public dental services will help to reduce the waiting lists that cause some Australians to wait years for access to a dentist
Carol Bennett, CEO of the Consumer Health Forum, said the package was addressing years of neglect. She said:
We are pleased that the Federal Government has recognised that teeth are part of the body and that dental care should be part of the health system.
The CEO of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, Prue Power, said the package was 'an extremely important step' that will greatly improve the health of Australians on dental waiting lists and 'their quality of life, as well as improving productivity and reducing hospital admissions.'
This is a measure that will make a great deal of difference to hundreds of thousands of Australians, not only improving their dental health now but also offering preventive care for years in the future. That means that people will be able to have fillings instead of tooth extractions when they are visiting the public health system. After years of neglect, this builds a renewed focus on our public dental systems.