Dental Health Isn’t A Government Priority: The Real Reason?
Dental Health Isn’t A Government Priority: The Real Reason?
Athens. Rome. London. Three great democratic capitals of the world. Cleisthenes; Augustus Caesar; the Magna Carta. Centres of cultural, political, and legal power. Cities that burst and thrived with life: the persistent push and jostle and contact of officials, citizens and decision-makers in crowded marketplaces that were so critical to the economies of their times.
Doesn’t much sound like Canberra, does it…? No jostling and cheering or jeering between officials and citizens there – at least not citizens who make homogenised milk seem something exotic begging to be conquered and worth a paradigm stretch.
Almost 25 years ago travelogue writer Bill Bryson quite rightly gave Australia’s capital city the descriptor, “Canberra: Why wait for death?”
Unlike other purpose-built cities, Caaannnnnnbra (or the boganesque Can-berrah) had little purpose except to be built.
For years after Federation in 1901, Sydney and Melbourne had been bickering and refusing to flip a coin for whether Australia’s new Commonwealth seat of government address would have a ‘2’ or a ‘3’ beginning its postcode.
What must have been a practical joke that went horribly wrong, it took more than a decade to finally decide that some backwater, inland sheep station at Limestone Plains, some three-and-a-half hours from Sydney was the most brilliant spot to trap all the country’s political hot air.
Being that Canberra’s twice the distance from Melbourne as Sydney, clearly the Victorians won and no doubt chortled over numerous sherries until their monocles fell out.
Bone-chillingly cold in winter and furnace hot in summer, at 580 metres above sea level and 150 kilometres from the coast, Canberra is the ugly child of mismatched parents.
Defendants espouse it’s a “convenient, clean bush city” and a “great place to bring up kids”; socioeconomically it’s as flat an expanse as the expression of joy on Peter Dutton’s face.
By its own definition, Canberra is the ‘meeting place’ of people who would claim The English Patient as the intertwining of identity and love, rather than the unethical murder of three hours of good cinema time; and cite Mrs. Doubtfire as one of the greatest comedies ever.
It’s no wonder that very little good ever comes from the discourses and courses over subsidised eats at the Queen’s Terrace in our nation’s capital. According to historian Sir William Keith Hancock (1888-1988), “Canberra is a document of Australian immaturity.”
It’s an immaturity we’ve yet to grow out of, and seemingly never will.
There’s been almost a hundred years since Hancock made that observation, and here we are: building ecologically inappropriate ego-rubbing McMansions, applauding the avarice of private schools, and having politicians and the medical fraternity still trying to convince us that the mouth has no correlation whatsoever with the rest of the body.
Just as Canberrans have a hidden psychological bias towards their runt city, government leaders and decision makers have the same distortion with policy making.
Maybe it’s something in the (hot) air.
Which is where you have to be, to see what Walter Burley Griffin had in mind for this ‘ideal’ city, because it really didn’t translate. Just try getting from DFAT to DITR, from the High Court to anywhere, and try making new friends if you don’t live on campus – because running across other people.. what? You can’t even get a coffee after 2pm.
The city seems to mirror Parliament House itself with its interminable corridors, massive expanses and convenient segregation of people, pollies – and every other type of life not determined by APS Act and Executive Level classifications.
Canberra is no world-class, thriving democratic hub. It’s not a space designed for easy and spontaneous human exchange: even its retail outlets close at 5.30pm so good luck returning that ill-fitting shirt.
How is it even remotely possible for innovation to arise and surprise when issues like homelessness, elder abuse, and the working poor that are widely experienced across the country, are not seen here in Public Service Walley World.
It’s all teeth-gnashing stuff. But don’t do that. Better to keep bashing your head against a brick wall because at least that’s covered by Medicare.
There’s an inherent inefficiency about Canberra because that’s government job security.
Extortion, power and money all rely on obstructions and hindrances to solve; and always across a multitude of entities, organisations and sectors.
It’s guaranteed failure by design.
Because if it worked, social, political, wealth and health issues would at least evolve rather than simply revolve – and nobody would begrudge, bemoan and disparage the salaries of parliamentarians and the system that supports them.
Dental health isn’t a priority because those who hold the positions that make the changes can afford to send themselves and their kids to the dentist.
Hell, they can afford to have their dog’s and cat’s teeth professionally cleaned.
God knows you can’t have Toto, Droopy, Sir John the Sheepdog or Mitzi the cat suffering chronic diseases, malnutrition, cancer, high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s all because their teeth need regular and proper care – that’s just unabashed cruelty.
It was the Whitlam government in 1974 that wanted to quite rightly, logically and ethically include dental care under what was then known as Medibank.
Doctors were making negotiations hard enough, consuming so much of the government’s efforts and resources it was a herculean task. (I mean, jeopardising people’s health above monetary gain – who knew? Seems the Hippocratic Oath was changed to the Hypocrisy one without any flash and fanfare. It was the ‘70’s. There was swirly chocolate brown, harvest gold and flared pants to deal with.)
Inevitably, poor Gough didn’t want to relive the hard-fought wins of the medical fraternity. The entire process had prepared his cabinet for the likelihood of profit over professional ethics and obligations with dentists as well, so the idea of oral health coverage quickly dissolved like Pop Rocks in Coke.
In the fifty years since (fifty!) there have been paltry reforms to this; and the huge gap between health and oral health remains.
Naturally the rules vary depending on where you live, but typically all welfare recipients are eligible for free dental – but it’s just the basics of check-ups and fillings at state and territory run dental clinics that receive a bit of funding from the federal government.
The Australian Dental Association estimates that 1 in 3 Australians are in fact eligible for these services – which makes about 8.7 million people.
Across the country, accessing these services has a minimum waiting list of two years; proving it to be the solution that was never intended to solve anything that the well off couldn’t resolve themselves.
Meanwhile, disparities in oral health and dental aesthetics continue to reflect our deepest social and economic divides.
Each federal government’s great hue and cry against implementing a universal dental scheme is of course cost: which doesn’t appear to ever be offset against the annual 800,000-plus GP appointments and hospital admissions for untreated oral conditions needing emergency treatment.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, between 2019 and 2020 about $AU10 billion was spent on dental services – the bulk of which was paid for out-of-pocket.
During that same time, the Grattan Institute estimated the cost of a fully operational, universal oral health scheme to be about $6.5 billion a year.
It spends $9.3 billion a year on Catholic schools.
The view governments have of real-world problems is dangerously narrow. There’s an insistence that human rights are of fundamental importance – and yet you can still die of hunger, infection, chronic disease, and embarrassment while suffering deprivation of opportunity purely from the lack of access to affordable dental care in a First World country.
So there you have it. The real reason it’s not a priority because bad dental health doesn’t affect important people, only impoverished ones.
Dental health isn’t a government priority because every federal parliament knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.
We don’t have a universal dental scheme for exactly the same reason we do have negative gearing and Stage 3 tax cuts: inefficiency, inequity and amassing wealth for the ruling elite.
And you thought there must be good reason. It’s all just Greek to me.
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