Dental care has been a much discussed and debated issue in Australian politics. The sick state of the dental health care system, including the immense and prohibitive costs received increased attention after the 2010 election when the Greens demanded that the Gillard Government provide increased funding for dental care. They wanted Denticare, a fully-funded oral healthcare scheme for all.
Today the Greens got some of what they wanted, millions of children and l0w-income earners will be covered under a new dental plan announced by Health Minister Tanya Plibersek.
The Labor Government will spend $2.7 billion on treatment for children whose families are able to apply for Family Tax Benefit Part A. A further $1.3 billion will be spent, helping 5 million people on a low income as well as those in rural areas. All up, that’s $4 billion extra going into mental health at a time when the budget is under much strain.
The $2.7 billion to be spent on treatment for children will allow for families to claim up to $1000 over a two year period for their child’s dental treatment and is available to approximately 3.4 million children. The $1.3 billion will be focused on early treatment to cut down waiting lists for public dental care. A further $200 million will target treatment in rural areas.
The $4 billion dollar package is added to the $515 million that was allocated in the last budget by the Labor Party.
Providing support for oral treatment and care is extremely important and has positive flow-on health benefits for those that are able to seek and obtain preventative treatment. The devastating effects of poor oral health can affect the overall health of people with untreated dental problems and so in itself should be cheered.
What should not be celebrated is the lack of detail over where the money will be coming from for such a large scheme, a multi-billion dollar allocation in fact. Then there’s the matter of what that does to the budget in the future for both the ALP and the Opposition.
What we do know is that the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, which now costs upwards of $80 million dollars a month will be scrapped by the Labor Government in favour of this new program. That still leaves a substantial amount of savings that the government must find to keep its promise to return the budget to surplus in 2012-13, not that it’s going to happen anyway. We’re still expecting a significant announcement in education funding which could easily go into the billions of dollars.
The Medicare-funded Teen Dental Plan will also be cut to make way for the new allocation for children.
But what else will be cut from the budget for 2014? We know that a significant amount of funds will still need to be cut to make way for this latest promise and at the same time keep the projected, yet likely fantasy surplus in place.
It’s also entirely possible, even likely that the scheme will not start before it’s cut. On current polling, the Liberal and National Party Coalition is set to take government and after comments today, it would seem that this new funding could be set to be trimmed from the federal budget by an incoming Coalition Government.
Another issue that arises, particularly with the $1000 allocation per eligible child over a two-year period is that in some cases that simply won’t be enough over two years. This will be particularly the case when receiving dental treatment from the private sector with treatment at the dentist, even from the most basic care, is a significant cost burden. There could well be a need for further funds here in the future or for people to dip into their own pockets from time to time or again not seek treatment at all and this could be harmful to health just the same.
The struggles and intricacies of minority government and the balancing of spending priorities for both sides of politics continue with this latest promise, as will the budget woes. However, the overall health benefits are a big win, if it’s not cut by an incoming government that is.
Over the weekend the LNP and its leader from outside of parliament, Campbell Newman swept to power in Queensland to take the government benches in an embarrassing rout of an on the nose Bligh Labor Government.
STATE OF THE PARLIAMENT
LNP- 77 predicted according to http://www.abc.net.au/elections/qld/2012/
ALP- 8 predicted according to http://www.abc.net.au/elections/qld/2012/
Katter’s Australian Party- 2 predicted according to http://www.abc.net.au/elections/qld/2012/
Independent MPs- 2 predicted according to http://www.abc.net.au/elections/qld/2012/
The swing away from the ALP was over 15%, a monumental shift in the ALP vote which created this historic state of affairs for the amalgamated LNP, its first election victory as a united force.
MINISTERS KNOCKED OFF
By far the biggest scalp claimed by the LNP on election night was that of the Deputy Premier and Treasurer and MLA for Mount Coot-tha. The new LNP member for this seat will be the giant killer, Saxon Rice. Andrew Fraser was considered by many in the ALP to be a future Labor leader.
Another big scalp comes in the form of the Minister for Education and Industrial Relations, Cameron Dick, the member for Greenslopes, set to be replaced by police officer Ian Kaye. Cameron Dick was also considered future ALP leader material in the post-Bligh era along with the former Deputy Premier and Treasurer.
The latest Queensland Labor Health Minister and representative in the seat of Ferny Grove, after the number of issues facing Queensland Health and as a result of the massive statewide swing also lost his seat. Geoff Wilson will be succeeded by Dale Shuttleworth of the LNP as the member for the suburban seat.
Stirling Hinchliffe was another Bligh Government minister knocked off in the most extraordinary of nights in Queensland politics. The Minister for Employment, Skills and Mining was beaten by the LNP candidate, medical specialist Chris Davis.
Tourism Minister Jan Jarratt lost her idyllic seat of Whitsunday in north Queensland to Jason Costigan of the LNP.
The Minister for Women, Karen Struthers lost her seat of Algester to Anthony Shorten of the LNP, unable to fend off the huge swing against the ALP in the result that was much worse than just about any commentator expected.
Phil Reeves, the Minister for Child Safety and Minister for Sport was beaten by long-time lawyer Ian Walker in the seat of Mansfield. Mr Reeves was on a margin of 4.4% and his seat was always set to go when the swing required for the LNP to take the government benches was more than that required for Mr Walker to win Mansfield.
Sam Cox of the LNP appears to have beaten Craig Wallace the Minister for Main Roads, Fisheries and Marine Infrastructure in the Townsville-based electorate of Thuringowa, achieving a swing of over 9%.
Finally, the Minister for the Environment, Vicky Darling was beaten in what was quite a surprise with the member for Sandgate prior to Saturday night sitting on a margin of over 12%. The swing in the electorate was similar to the statewide swing and the new LNP member for the seat of Sandgate will be Kerry Millard.
THE OUTGOING PREMIER RESIGNS
The morning after the phenomenal result for the LNP, the outgoing Labor Premier Anna Bligh held a press conference where she announced, after promising to stay on, that she would vacate the seat of South Brisbane and the parliament to allow for renewal in the ALP.
This leaves the electorate facing a by-election sometime in the near future which they will not particularly like and does put the seat at some risk in a by-election of falling to the LNP and combined with people’s dislike of by-elections.
SEARCH FOR A LEADER
After the electoral defeat and the resignation of Anna Bligh from the parliament, the ALP will now search, among their 7 or 8 MPs for a leader to take the party forward. With such a low number of seats in the parliament, chances are that the leader will not last until the party is again in an election winning position.
The talk is that the ALP may elect Annastacia Palaszczuk from the electorate of Inala, a minister in the former Bligh Government or even Curtis Pitt the former Minister for Disability Services, Mental Health and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships as Opposition Leader.
A “stop-gap” leader is a real possibility too as is someone of relative youth with some experience like Curtis Pitt when opposition seems a reality for some time yet.
It’s Sunday and that means that another hectic week in Australian politics has passed with all its highs and lows, its angry words and policy announcements and legislative discussions. The week was punctuated by two main events, the passage of the Private Health Insurance Rebate means testing, a legislative win at least for Labor and the ALP leadership tensions seemingly heading toward a booming crescendo. Parliament also sat for the week and also proved far from uneventful.
The Gillard Government and its Health Minister managed to negotiate enough votes for the passage of means testing for the Private Health Insurance Rebate. This issue has seemingly split sections of the community and the two major parties no less, with Tony Abbott pledging he would reinstate the rebate for all as soon as possible upon election of a Coalition Government.
Parliament sat for the second week in a row, the first sitting period of the year and has again proved to be a full on affair with some changes affecting the complexion of Question Time. Questions must now be 3o seconds and answers no more than 3 minutes, a helpful change that should be added to as parliament progresses under the new Speaker, Peter Slipper.
Regardless of the changes, the usual bad behaviour continued, with Ministers, including the Prime Minister repeatedly cautioned to be “directly relevant” to the question asked. There was also no let-up from interjections across the chamber and a number of Coalition MPs found themselves having a coffee break during Question Time. A few ALP MPs also faced the same early afternoon tea courtesy of the new lower tolerance for interjections from the new Speaker.
Questions over the Labor leadership also permeated the week and on Saturday reached fever pitch with allegations in the press that senior Ministers were actually testing the waters for a potential Rudd spill in the coming weeks. The longer the speculation goes, the more pain it will cause the ALP and the more terminal the government will become.
The week has undoubtedly been a dramatic one with both legislation and leadership tensions dominating the week in the parliament and outside of it. The leadership tensions are becoming all the more real and almost tangible and they will surely continue to play out over the coming week, even in the absence of the key player, Kevin Rudd who heads overseas again, though this could provide opportunity for supporters to do their work. The parliament has risen after two weeks, but there will be little cooling of the political discourse which has only really just begun for the year and don’t forget, the Gonski review into education funding will also be released this week, but likely overshadowed by terminal leadership tensions.
You get the feeling that the coming week will not be like an ordinary non-parliamentary sitting week and that doesn’t bode well for the Labor Government.