TRANSCRIPT: Doorstop, Sydney, Saturday, 23 April




SUBJECTS: The Liberals' $1 billion cut to dental services

TANYA PLIBERSEK, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Well thank you for coming out this morning.  I wanted to make a few comments about the Government’s most recent announcement that they’ll be cutting a billion dollars from dental spending in Australia.  By getting rid of the ‘Grow Up Smiling’ kids dental program, what you see are families that have up until now has access to $1000 of dental treatment for every child every two years, going back onto public dental waiting lists.  Instead of being able to go the family dentist or the dentist in their local community at a time of their choosing, they’ll be stuck waiting months – more likely even years – for attention in a public dental clinic. We know that there are already tens of thousands of people waiting for public dental treatment.  In New South Wales alone, more than 100,000 people are waiting for treatment. In Tasmania, the wait to see a dentist if you’re a child relying on the public system, is more than 3 years.  So instead of Labor’s program that allows families to go to their family dentist, the dentist in their local community, families will be travelling for hours to their local public dental clinic, and waiting for months or even years for treatment.  This Government has already cut $700 million from dental programs in this country, and today’s announcement is a further $1 billion cut.  Today’s announcement is a billion dollar cut that will mean millions more people are waiting for public dental treatment.  Today’s cut is a billion dollar cut that means millions more people on pubic dental waiting lists.  This will be just like cutting GP visits on Medicare, and telling families that they should queue up in the emergency department of a hospital to get their flu shot. Any questions?

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] I guess the public system just isn’t ready to handle such a huge amount of people.  Is that the problem?

PLIBERSEK: Well the public system already has many, many thousands of people waiting years for treatment.  Today’s announcement simply says we’re going to put millions more people on the public dental waiting list.  Today’s announcement has been made without consultation with the states, so if the Commonwealth Government believes that the states that run the public dental systems are going to manage this and going to put their own money in, they really should have talked to the state governments before making the announcement.  What we know is that state public dental systems are already under enormous pressure because the Government has cut their funding previously.  And they’re also… they’re not available in many parts of the country.  There are suburbs and towns right across Australia where you would have to travel for hours to get to a public dental clinic, instead of being able to go to the local dentist at a time of your choosing, as families can now do under the children’s dental scheme.  They’ll be forced back on to these enormously long waiting lists where people are already waiting years for treatment.

JOURNALIST: I guess the Australian Dental Association has spoken pretty heavily against this this morning, I guess that’s pretty good indication of perhaps the industry’s [inaudible]?

PLIBERSEK: Look, dentists know that the best way you can ensure an adult has good teeth is to start looking after the teeth of that person when they are young, when they’re a child. Dentists have welcomed this scheme because by giving kids regular check-ups, fluoride treatments, catching small cavities early on, making sure that kids don’t end up with rotting teeth, it means that you don’t just improve the teeth of that child, you improve lifelong oral health of that person.  That’s why dentists are so keen on this scheme.  That’s why they’ve treated more than a million Australian children, because early treatment means lifelong better dental health.  Of course dentists are upset about this scheme being closed, because they know that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and that’s what this Government is robbing from Australian children.  You know, this Government has said that that children’s dental program, ‘Grow Up Smiling’, isn’t successful because it’s only treated a third of eligible children.  That’s a million Australian children who have been treated, despite the fact that this Government has hidden this scheme.  There’s been two Government reports into this scheme, and the only criticism they make is that it hasn’t been well promoted. Despite the fact that this Government has kept the scheme a secret, more than a million children have benefitted.  Imagine how many more children would benefit if the Government took the trouble to advertise the scheme. To tell parents that it’s available. Thank you very much.