News Election 2019 Election race tightens as Labor targets senior votes on dental care
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Election race tightens as Labor targets senior votes on dental care

Newspoll, released on Sunday, showed Scott Morrison had narrowed the gap against Bill Shorten. Photo: AAP
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Scott Morrison has narrowed the Newspoll gap against Bill Shorten to just 51:49 as Labor unveiled a big pitch to seniors of “free” dental care for pensioners.

Three million aged pensioners and anyone who has a Commonwealth seniors health care card will benefit from Labor’s plan.

It will offer $1000 over a two-year period or $500 a year for dental work under Medicare.

“Friends, this is a ripper. Our plan will provide up to $1000 every two years to help pay for dental services for 2.6 million people on the age pension,” Mr Shorten said.

“And another 380,000 Australians who hold a Commonwealth Seniors Healthcare Card will get the same benefit.”

Newspoll shows tighter race but Libs’ primary still low

But as the ALP unveiled the big policies, Newspoll suggests the Liberals have narrowed the gap in two-party preferred terms.

Labor would still win an election based on the 51:49 result, but the result will make MPs nervous.

Crucially, the primary vote has actually slipped for the Coalition to just 38 per cent – a result that is still too low for the Coalition to claim victory.

For the first time, Newspoll has included Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party as a stand alone choice in the polls like the Greens and One Nation. It has the businessman on 5 per cent of the national vote.

The details of his preference deal with the Liberal Party will emerge more clearly in how-to-vote cards for pre-poll votes on Monday.

The Coalition’s primary vote dropped from 39 per cent in the past fortnight. Most political observers believe Mr Morrison cannot win an election with a primary vote that low.

Labor’s primary has also dropped by two points to 37 per cent over the same period. But it can form government on that primary as a result of Greens preferences.

On the question of preferred prime minister, Mr Shorten is also improving his performance to 37 per cent, compared to 45 per cent for Mr Morrison.

The latest Newspoll represents a solid improvement in the Coalition’s performance since March 7 when it trailed 54-46 on a two-party preferred basis.

How the dental plan will work

Labor chose to unveil a major new policy to extend Medicare to dental health to win the votes of seniors as pre-poll votes open from Monday.

The scheme will ensure that the first $1000 of dental work over a two-year period will be free.

By allowing seniors to build the value to $1000 over two years, it may help aged pensioners use the cash in a lump sum for more serious dental work.

“It will not come out of your bank account. It will not go on your credit card. You will not have to delay treatment because you can’t afford the care,” Mr Shorten said.

“It will be covered by your Medicare card.

“All of us know these things undermine your quality of life, your self confidence, your basic dignity,” he said.

“If you cannot get your teeth fixed, you are deprived of the simple joys.”

Children are already eligible for the $1000 payment under the Child Dental Benefit Scheme, introduced by the Gillard government. That scheme is the basis for the new plan for seniors.

“No policy matters more to me than making sure our pensioners can get the dental care they need,” Mr Shorten said.

“There’s nothing I’m more proud of than the fact we will be able to do something that has been talked about for so long.”

Mr Shorten again linked the big-spending policies with tough measures on taxing the “big end of town”.

“And friends, we can afford these investments in Medicare because my united team have been making the long-term reform decisions before today,” he said.

“We believe subsidising dental care for three million Aussie pensioners and seniors is more important than protecting tax loopholes for millionaires.

“This ground-breaking investment in pensioner and seniors dental is one of the dividends of our tax reform.”

Labor’s health spokeswoman Catherine King said dental care was vital for seniors and simply too expensive for millions of older Australians to even consider.

“We know that older Australians, one in five older Australians, have no natural teeth, and one in two suffer from gum disease – moderate to severe,” Ms King said.

“We know that for older Australians, this affects their health across the course of the rest of their life.

“Labor wants to expand dental when it comes to our Medicare system. This is a major investment in the cost of living for pensioners and senior Australians and something I am very proud of.”

Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and his wife Chloe Shorten at a Labor Party campaign rally at Box Hill on Sundayl. Photo: AAP

Seniors welcome Labor’s dental plan

National Seniors Australia have campaigned for the dental health scheme for years most recently through the Fix Pension Poverty campaign.

National Seniors chief advocate Ian Henschke said people in aged care have “almost no access” to dental care.

“Now it’s up to the Coalition to at least match Labor’s commitment. It is abhorrent that a country with a first-rate public health system like Australia has neglected this vital issue,” he said.

“Dentistry is an essential part of health care, yet it’s not treated that way. While dental care is essential to health and wellbeing, the cost of basic care has been largely privatised.

“Those able to afford private health insurance receive rebates when accessing private dental services; those without either foot the bill themselves or rely on overstretched and underfunded public dental services.”

The election campaign has just three weeks to run before Australia votes on May 18.