Australian Hearing Awareness Week

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (11:16): I start by thanking the member for Wakefield and shadow parliamentary secretary for health for bringing this matter of hearing awareness before the House. Members will not know that he is a fierce champion for the users of Australian Hearing Services inside our caucus—they may be familiar with his advocacy work within the community, but he has a fierce voice and he is ever active on the matter.

If good government were to start today, the first speaker from the government side on this motion would have been the Minister for Health. The minister for health would have taken the very short walk from her office to the dispatch box and she would have assured the House that the government no longer intends to proceed with the privatisation of Australian Hearing Services. That would be a welcome decision by this government; it would be a decision welcomed by all members on this side of the House. Members on this side of the House feel very protective of Australian Hearing Services. Of course it is an institution that belongs to all Australians, but we feel protective of it because it was a Labor Prime Minister in Ben Chifley who established Australian Hearing Services in 1947. It was, as the member for Shortland has told the House, started to provide hearing services to returning soldiers who had lost their hearing during battle in wars throughout the Pacific and in the European theatre and also to children who had lost their hearing from rubella outbreaks. It has done a very good job in government hands ever since.

Australian Hearing provides over 468 hearing centres right throughout Australia, including in many rural and regional centres where hearing health services might not otherwise be available. I hope there are going to be some speakers, apart from me, who will stand up for rural and regional constituents, because these are the areas that, more than any, rely on services that would not otherwise be available to them. In my own electorate of Throsby Australian Hearing has outlets in Warrawong, Dapto, Shellharbour and Albion Park. Many low income families in those areas simply would not have those services available to them were it not for these outlets. I take the opportunity to commend the work of the staff at Australian Hearing Services in those outlets and indeed right throughout the Illawarra and Southern Highlands.

Together with its research division the National Acoustics Laboratories, Australian Hearing helps people with often complex hearing health problems to participate fully in daily life. This is achieved through helping them to develop language skills, participate in education and enjoy the family and social activities that lead to a fulfilling life—things that we all take for granted but things that they would not be able to participate in without the services that Australian Hearing provides. Of Australian Hearing's 468 locations, over 210 are located in remote and rural communities throughout the country. It is hard to imagine who will service these communities if Australian Hearing is privatised. I know that I speak for many hundreds of families throughout rural and regional Australia when I echo their concern and stand in parliament today to champion their needs. I also point out the plight of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, around 70 per cent of whom live outside capital cities. They experience the highest levels of ear disease and associated hearing loss in the world. Rates of hearing problems in these communities are often 10 times more than rates for non-Indigenous Australians, and it is inconceivable how they will have those services provided if the government gets its way and proceeds with its plan to privatise Australian Hearing Services. Over 50 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the Northern Territory have some form of hearing loss, with about 10 per cent of those having moderate to severe hearing loss.

If you want to look for a cause for people not being able to fully participate in education or if you want to look for a cause for people not being able to fully participate in the workforce, you need look no further than their incapacity to hear properly. How can we blame a child who does not attend school because they cannot hear what the teacher is saying because they do not have hearing services available to them? As a wealthy country, as a smart country, we can do a lot better than this. We must protect Australian Hearing. I commend all those on the Labor side and all those who support the same position on the other side of the House for championing the cause of Australian Hearing, which must remain in government hands.