Thursday 18 October 2007




Mr FINCH – (Rosevears) - Mr President, I would first like to take the opportunity to welcome members of the Australian Dental Prosthetists Association to our Chamber this morning.
Mr Aird - Hear, hear.
Mr FINCH - Watch, your teeth might fall out. Be careful.
Members laughing.
Mr FINCH - As nobody listens to my special interest contributions, I thought I would bring my own audience.
Members laughing.
Mr Wilkinson - What about your own teeth, have you got those?
Members laughing.
Mr FINCH - Mr President, there is a phrase that is heard frequently, 'Let's cut out the middleman' which suggests greater efficiency in delivering goods and services and implies that delivery will be cheaper because someone in the supply stream will not be taking a percentage of the profits.  But middlemen fight hard for their place and for their cut, Mr President.
The word 'parasite' is sometimes used to describe the role of middlemen.  Well, Mr President, this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of an important move by a Tasmanian government to eliminate the middleman in an important health profession. That statement is probably a little unkind to dentists, Mr President, because they were not really middlemen in this case, it was more a competitive situation.  It is probably also a little unjust to use the word 'parasite' as well.  So what exactly happened 50 years ago, at around this time?
Tasmania's was the first government in the world to pass legislation to legalise dental technicians or dental mechanics, as they were then called and to allow them to work directly with the public.  It is yet another example of Tasmania as a trailblazer, Mr President, and of course this House had an historical role in what happened.
It was a further 15 years before the next State, Victoria, passed its legislation and a further 21 years before Queensland, in 1993, became the last State in Australia to legalise the profession.  That is, it took 36 years for it to become nationally adopted.  Even more amazing, Mr President, is that the United Kingdom only passed its legislation two years ago.  How did all this come about, I hear you cry.  How did the technician working for a dentist become a professional working directly with the public?  Well, at the beginning of the 1900s, legislation started to come into place around Australia to govern the practice of dentistry and not before time, you might say.  In Tasmania, this occurred with the passing of the Dentists Act of 1919 which required dentists to practise for a specified qualifying period.  Those dentists who had been practising for less than the qualifying period were suddenly ineligible to work as dentists, so unless they sat examinations or went to university to obtain a qualification they were out of a job.  Some ignored the legislation. 'Tut, tut,' I hear you cry.
Mr Harriss - Tut, tut.
Mr FINCH - Thank you. And they continued to practise.  Some, however, were employed by dentists to do their technical or mechanical work, as it was termed then, becoming labeled as dental mechanics.  As time went by dentists also employed apprentices to learn the skills of making dentures from themselves and the mechanics that they employed.  During the Great Depression, it was no longer possible for many dentists to continue employing mechanics and many were laid off.  It was a difficult time for mechanics.  Those who were laboratory owners could either depend on the variable and often financially unrewarding demand for their services by dentists or go outside the law to supplement their income by providing services direct to the public.
In 1947, two Launceston dental mechanics, William Ellis and Max Crawford, organised a meeting of dental mechanics which resulted in the formation of an organisation called the Tasmanian Dental Mechanics Association.  It had two main aims: one, the establishment of an award to cover those employed in the industry and two, eradication of the uncertainty, fear and frustration of those who had been on the wrong side of the law by changing the law of Tasmania to give dental mechanics chairside status to conduct business direct with the public.  That was the start of a 10-year battle.  The Australian Dental Association was vigorously opposed to any move towards chairside status for dental mechanics and used all its influence, politically, publicly and behind the scenes in an attempt to stop the passage of any such legislation in Tasmania.  They knew this would set a precedent for the rest of the country.  However, after the 1955 elections the Cosgrove Government did introduce a bill that got through the lower House but was defeated by one vote in the Legislative Council.
Mrs Rattray-Wagner - That was close.
Mr FINCH - Very close. In a second attempt, when the bill was presented to the Legislative Council, there was a move for a select committee.  This is an example of the crucial role of our committee system.  The committee interviewed some 43 witnesses over the course of 10 months and surprised all by recommending the registration of dental mechanics.  The bill was finally passed through both Houses in December 1957, 50 years ago.  The rest, you might say, is history.
Mr Martin - A good year.
Mr FINCH - It was a good year. You must have been born then, the member for Elwick.
Ms Forrest - On 4 November, I believe.
Mr FINCH - We may not know who made Queen Elizabeth I's tin teeth, but Tasmania was the first in the world to put the profession of dental prosthetists, as they are now known, next to the dentist chair where they belong.