Private Members Business: Australian Hearing Services

This is a terribly important issue and it affects over four million Australians—hearing loss affects over four million Australians, and a full half of them are at working age. It would probably surprise you to know that, when you look at the employment statistics for people with hearing disabilities, males are 20 per cent more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population; it is 16½ per cent for females. So we cannot underestimate the importance of this issue. Ours is a wealthy country doing very, very well in a whole heap of areas of providing health care and services for people who are less advantaged or have a disability, but it would astound you, I am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, to know that 24 per cent of people who need a hearing aid do not have one.

I congratulate the member for Wakefield on bringing this motion before the House, because the purpose of it is really quite transparent. It is to seek a champion on the other side of the House for Australian Hearing. The member for Wakefield, a champion in his own right, is willing to stand up here and say, 'We need to defend Australian Hearing services.' The member for McPherson has called us irrational or emotional. That is quite right: we are quite emotional about this because Australian Hearing was established by Ben Chifley in the immediate aftermath of World War II. There were lots of Australian servicemen coming back with hearing impairments. Combined with veterans and young people suffering hearing loss, something needed to be done. We could not, as those opposite have suggested, just leave it to the market. There was a clear need for Australian government intervention.

This is an incredibly important service. It provides services from over 468 locations around the country. There are five in my own electorate, providing an invaluable service. A few weeks ago, I had the benefit of talking to the family of young Felix Williams. He is an infant receiving a cochlear implant and, since shortly after birth, has had the benefit of services from Australian Hearing in my electorate. His parents are very, very worried about the prospect of privatising Australian Hearing and they are encouraging us to take a stand in parliament.

During this debate, we have heard two speakers from the other side: the member for Bennelong and the member for McPherson. I see that the member for Ryan is going to speak on this issue. Maybe the member for Ryan will be the champion that we are looking for on the other side of the House to stand up for Australian Hearing, the staff who work there and the services that they provide to people with hearing impairment throughout the country. We call upon the member for Ryan to be the champion that this parliament needs on the coalition side of the House to stick up for Australian Hearing services.

We have heard speakers before such as the member for Richmond, a great champion for regional Australia, speak up about the importance of Australian Hearing in providing services to regional and rural Australia because this is an area where nobody seriously suggests that the market is going to provide a solution. And we already know that incomes are lower, distances are greater and all the other social disadvantages and health disadvantages are greater in rural and regional Australia. I am very surprised, astounded that we have not got a member from the Nationals standing here debating the importance of maintaining Australian Hearing. But they are missing. They are absent in this debate as with so many others.

What Australian Hearing does in the way it is able to provide bulk purchasing arrangements for hearing devices is something that will be lost if we contract it out or if we fragment the way the purchasing occurs in the audiometric market. What Australian Hearing does very well, apart from the great work of the National Acoustic Laboratory, is it provides as a bulk purchaser of the very expensive hearing devices. I mentioned Felix Williams in my electorate. The cochlear implant is around $20,000 for one device. Australian Hearing, through its market interventions, is able to drive down the cost.

It is a great pity that we do not have more time to speak about the impact this is going to have on Indigenous Australians. We already know that Indigenous Australians have chronic rates of hearing loss, up to 10 times higher than the four per cent of the non-Indigenous population that has hearing loss the World Health Organization classifies as a massive public health problem. So it is a great pity that we do not have more time to debate this as well. This proposition should be rejected. Those opposite should champion Australian Hearing.