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9 October 2012

DUTTON:I’ll make a few comments about the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. This has been an incredibly successful scheme. For those who don’t know how the scheme operates, someone with chronic disease is referred by their GP to a dentist and important work is undertaken by the dentist. The scheme has been an incredible success because millions of Australians have demand for dental services. Now I am joined this morning by Associate Professor Hans Zoellner, who is a well respected voice within the dental community. He’s been quite boisterous about this issue for a long period of time. What’s of most concern is that the Government is closing the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme, on the 30 November, but not starting their own scheme until July 2014. So there is a 14 month gap for people. Some people have contacted us over the last few weeks, who are in remission from cancer, who are undergoing treatment for Leukaemia. This is a very serious issue. Professor Zoellner has gathered 13,500 signatures calling on the Government to extend the scheme and calling on the Government to sort this mess out. I’ll just ask Professor Zoellner to say a few words and present the petition.

ZOELLNER: Since 2007, people with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, people who depend on dental services to protect their health have had access to Medicare support, to make sure they can get their dentistry done. This Government is desperate to close this scheme. It really doesn’t make sense to close this scheme. The Minister is very fond of saying that this is a scheme that’s rorted by millionaires. Well I’ve got 13,500 signatures from people who say that they’re not millionaires. I’ve got the statistics to prove that it’s not rorted and the Minister is being quiet misleading by saying those things. We look to the independents in the lower house to protect this scheme. It’s going to be voted on today and we hope that the independents will protect it and people with chronic disease and make sure that this important scheme isn’t closed down. If ever there was a time for a Labor Member to consider crossing the floor, this would have to be it, closing the scheme taking away health care services, from people who are poor and actually sick, is in complete opposition to what one thinks of as traditional Labor values. So I would expect any decent Labor member, to seriously consider crossing the floor, to betray party before they betray the people.

REPORTER: [Inaudible]

ZOELLNER: Well there has been some of that, statistically though if there has been rorting it’s been extremely rare. To start off with, the costs per patient has always been much less than the maximum possible expenditure. In the first year of operation, if the scheme had been heavily rorted, you would have expected the average cost per patient to have been a bit over $4000 per patient. In fact in the first year of the scheme the maximum expenditure was about $2000 per patient on average. Clearly it wasn’t rorted in the first year. In following years if the scheme was being rorted, you would have expected that maximum expenditure to be up around $2000 per patient. In truth it dropped down to about $1000 per patient. And the reason for that is that people get their original course of treatment, they come in with problems, they have got some care, of course that’s going to cost money, after that patients move onto low cost maintenance therapy and low cost maintenance therapy is very cheap to deliver. In fact if you project forward, you could say that the total cost of this scheme, if everyone was properly cared for first, is only $330 million per year, to look after all of these sick people forever. [Inaudible] The Minister keeps saying there has been a thousand complaints. Well one and a half million people have been treated [Inaudible].

DUTTON:[Inaudible] Tanya Plibersek, instead of trying to create stories about Tony Abbott, perhaps she could listen to these patients who are going to suffer under the closure of the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. These are patients who are suffering serious dental pain and yet it seems Tanya Plibersek’s got the same contempt for these patients and as she does for Tony Abbott. I think if Tanya Plibersek spent a little more time thinking about patients, than her obsession with Tony Abbott, we might get better dental health outcomes for Australians, who are desperately in need of that support.

REPORTER:Have you spoken to the independents this week and what’s the indication from Windsor and Oakeshott?

DUTTON:I’ve spoken to the independents when Parliament last sat and I know that a number of people have made contact with the independents over the course of the last couple of weeks. I really hope that Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott have been able to craft some sort of an interim measure to help people who are suffering from cancer and all sorts of chronic diseases because there has to be an interim arrangement. We’re happy for something in a scaled down form, something which can help patients get over that 14 month gap, because people are going to live in severe pain otherwise.

REPORTER:So is your biggest issue with the 14 month gap or with the new scheme?

DUTTON:Well look the biggest issue is the 14 month gap and whether the Government liked the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme or not, there should be something put in place, for the 14 months when there is no assistance at all, to people who are suffering from chronic disease. These are people in some cases who have had part treatments undertaken but have stopped because of the chemo schedule they have had to fit into obviously and yet these patients are going to be hung out to dry. It’s completely unacceptable.

REPORTER: The Minister says these patients would still be able to access some Medicare treatment, except it might be means tested [inaudible]

DUTTON: The Government’s got no plan on the table at the moment and we want to see something put in place for this 14 month gap. People who are suffering from chronic disease are going to go without any dental assistance at all. The Minister will say that they can go on the public waiting list. Some of those waiting lists are up to 5 years. So there is no hope for patients within that 14 month period. We want to see the Government come up with something that will provide an interim arrangement for those people over the 14 months.

REPORTER: Just on another issue, has Margie Abbott been Tony Abbott’s best asset given the Newspoll today?

DUTTON:Look I know Margie very well and she is a fantastic wife and great asset obviously to the Abbott household. I think that people have seen a different side to the Abbott household over the course of the last couple of weeks. The real message I think in Newspoll today is to the Prime Minister and to Nicola Roxon and Tanya Plibersek. That is that Australians are sick of this nonsense that you’re peddling. People don’t believe what they’re saying. I think people have now seen a different side to Tony Abbott, a side that all of us that know Tony well see regularly. I think the fabrication needs to stop. We need to start focusing on patients who can’t get dental services, on families who are struggling with big electricity bills from the carbon tax, I think we need to get back to basics and that’s what the Australian people want.

REPORTER:When it comes to the online campaign against Alan Jones, do you think he is getting what he deserves here?

DUTTON:People will express their views. Mr Jones has obviously made comments that were entirely inappropriate and he’s apologised for them and I think we move on from that debate.

REPORTER:Your colleague Malcolm Turnbull says he’s getting a dose of his own medicine as a result of the online campaign.

DUTTON:Well I saw part of Malcolm’s speech last night, obviously he had a lot more than that to say. The point that I’d make is that I think Australians want us to concentrate on the issues that are important to them. People are very concerned about the conduct of the Speaker and these outrageous and shocking texts that appeared in the  newspapers over the last 48 hours. I think it’s now up to Julia Gillard to show some leadership and say what she’s going to do with Mr Slipper. People are worried about the conduct of this Parliament. Julia Gillard has the ability to deal with the issue and deal with it swiftly because so far she has been silent, in relation to some of these shocking text messages sent by Peter Slipper and Mr Ashby. So this is an issue that should be dealt with today.

REPORTER:Should the Slipper matter run its course in the courts before she makes her decision?

DUTTON:Julia Gillard is happy to make comments about all sorts of issues, whether they are before the courts or not, I think she is the one who appointed Mr Slipper, she is the one who has owned Mr Slipper, who has condoned the conduct of Mr Slipper and it’s now up to the Prime Minister to determine whether or not he should return to the House of Representatives in the capacity of Speaker, given these shocking text messages that we have seen. I think Julia Gillard has an obligation to make a statement today.

Thanks very much.

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