THE government’s new commitment to improving dental health will be widely applauded in regional and rural Australia – and particularly in Ballarat.
Coming on the back of the recent announcement of a site for a new public clinic in Ballarat, the $4 billion package will provide greater access to dental services to those who need it most.
Children aged two to 18 in Family Tax Benefit-A eligible families will get basic dental treatment, capped at $1000 per child over two years.
The $2.7 billion initiative will address dental decay in children, which has been rising since the 1990s.
The government will also spend $1.3 billion on treatments for pensioners, concession card holders and people with special needs.
It’s a significant investment to assist in solving a problem which has troubled Ballarat residents in recent years. In May 2008, the public dental waiting list was 53 months. It’s an extraordinary embarrassment that such an important service could have been so severely under-serviced.
It will also be seen as a potential precursor to universal dental care – which must be the end goal.
It comes after the Labor Party struck an agreement with the Greens, which had campaigned strongly on the issue following the 2010 election. Health Minister Tanya Plibersek wasn’t totally convincing yesterday when explaining just how the measures would be funded, particularly given the government has committed to maintaining a budget surplus.
Such is the government’s challenge with maintaining its commitments to all parties when the parliamentary numbers are so evenly divided. For the Opposition’s part, treasury spokesman Joe Hockey suggested yesterday that Labor would not deliver a dental scheme and that taxes would have to rise to pay for the government’s commitment.
The government has shown a renewed vigour in recent weeks, and is gaining momentum in the opinion polls. It should be commended for action on dental health but the public should expect greater explanation on just how it impacts the budget bottom line.