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Speech on putting dental and mental health in Medicare

On Monday 24 June 2024, I made a speech in Federal Parliament about putting dental and mental health into Medicare. You can watch the full speech here or read the transcript below.


I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) too many people in Australia are not able to access essential dental healthcare, and are living with preventable diseases and oral conditions;

(b) additionally, Australia is experiencing a mental health crisis, and the ten psychology sessions available under the Better Access Scheme are not enough; and

(c) dental and mental healthcare is essential and should be accessible free of charge to everyone; and

(2) calls on the Government to tax the big corporations and billionaires so that we can make dental and mental healthcare free under Medicare.

This motion calls on the government to tax the big corporations and millionaires so that we can make dental and mental health care free under Medicare. As the cost-of-living crisis bites, more and more Australians simply cannot afford a large dental bill or access to mental health services. You shouldn't have to choose between paying the rent and seeing the dentist or a therapist. Forty per cent of Australians are avoiding the dentist due to cost, and thousands of children are being hospitalised each year for preventable oral problems.

Meanwhile, people are rationing therapy sessions to spread out the 10 subsidised sessions—cut down from 20 per year by the Labor government—over the year. A quarter of people who need mental health support are delaying or just not seeing a psychologist due to cost. That's hundreds of thousands of Australians suffering for no other reason than our heartless government.

The old parties tell you that putting mental health and dental cover into Medicare is too expensive.

An honourable member interjecting

Ms WATSON-BROWN: This is nonsense. The government can afford it. Everyday people can't. We're paying hundreds a year just for teeth check-ups and hundreds more if something needs fixing. For those needing frequent psychological visits, you'll be thousands out of pocket.

These same major parties are on a unity ticket to spend hundreds of billions on nuclear submarines, tens of billions of fossil fuel subsidies that make the climate crisis worse and tens of billions in investor subsidies that make the housing crisis worse. It shouldn't be this hard to make the health of Australians a priority. It's a no-brainer.

Almost 40 per cent of Australians aged between 16 and 24 experienced a mental disorder in the last 12 months. Young people are suffering the most from this cost-of-living crisis, but Labor is abandoning young people who need mental health help. They cut subsidised mental health sessions from 20 to 10 per year. This is just the subsidy we're talking about. It doesn't even cover the full cost. They also make you jump through extra hoops to get the last four sessions of the ten—you need another referral from a GP, which will cost you unless you're lucky enough to be bulk-billed, which is getting rarer and rarer.

The narrative that mental health is not the government's responsibility is so purposely ingrained that it's considered completely normal that government agencies routinely just tell people to contact Lifeline if they're in distress or in crisis—Lifeline is a charity reliant on volunteers that is already completely overwhelmed and unable to help everyone who calls. Just bring mental health into Medicare and make it free for everyone.

Medicare is broken in Australia. We do not have a universal healthcare system. Mental and dental health are excluded from Medicare, and public hospitals are absolutely overwhelmed and underfunded. To top it all off, our amazing GPs on the front line cannot keep up. In my electorate of Ryan, it's pretty much impossible to find a GP who will and can bulk-bill. If you're lucky, you might pay $40 to cover the gap, but in many cases it's much higher than that. As a result, everyday Australians are forced to cover these giant holes in Medicare.

Meanwhile gas corporations like Santos can get away with paying just $15,000 in tax on an income of $6 billion. Everyday people are having to make impossible choices between feeding their kids or seeing a doctor, but Santos are paying less income tax than most full-time workers in Australia. This broken system has serious consequences—consequences for people enduring long-term health problems because they couldn't afford to see a GP when first suspicious of a problem, consequences in our hospitals due to a lack of preventive health care. But Labor clearly prefer things getting materially worse for everyday people to taxing their corporate donors to pay for the health care of all Australians.

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