Labor’s candidate for Page, Janelle Saffin, last week joined Senator Doug Cameron’s campaign against the Australian Government’s proposed privatisation of Australian Hearing.
Senator Cameron and Ms Saffin attended a forum, Help Stop Australian Hearing Privatisation, at the Grafton District Services Club on Tuesday December 15 – forums were also held in Hobart and Springwood, NSW during the previous week.
“Labor is opposed to the sale of Australian Hearing and its world-renowned research arm the National Acoustic Laboratories,” Senator Cameron said.
“The Abbott/Turnbull Government spent $548,000 on external consultants alone during its scoping study into the sale of Australian Hearing.
“Finance Minister Cormann says he’ll announce the future of Australian Hearing before the end of the year.
“He should listen to Australian Hearing customers and deaf community groups and cancel the government’s plans for privatisation.”
The Senate’s Select Committee on Health recommended in its September 2015 report that Australian Hearing should not be privatised and called for the government to “provide clarity around the work already done on the transition of the Hearing Services Program to the National Disability Insurance Scheme”.
It also called for any “implementation plan” to be made public as soon as it is finalised, so as to reassure stakeholders that the quality services provided by Australian Hearing continue to be available, in order to ensure that hearing impaired Australians can live the life they deserve”.
On the other hand, dissenting Coalition senators on the committee recommended that “the government continue the methodical, transparent process of transitioning hearing services to the NDIS”.
They said in a statement in the report that “a communications strategy will … be developed to support the transition plan”.
“These documents will be placed on the website, along with further updates and opportunities for stakeholders to be involved in the activities needed to support the transition,” the report states.
The scoping study, however, has not been available to various groups that made submissions to the committee.
For example, Parents of Deaf Children (PODC) was unable to get a copy under freedom of information – the group was asked to pay a $1,700 fee.
“That money was to investigate whether they would release the document in the first place,” a PODC representative told the committee – PODC asked for a fee waiver, but had not received a response when presenting to the committee.
Ms Saffin said the Department of Human Services financial statements classify Australian Hearing as available for sale at a value of $49.42 million.
“It is worth so much more than $49m to the community, especially here in northern NSW,” she said.
“Privatisation could see the closure of the local offices at Grafton, Lismore and Ballina, and the [outreach] sites at Yamba, Woolgoolga, Casino and Kyogle.
“This service doesn’t cost the [government] anything; they’ve spent half a million dollars on a scoping study that they won’t release.
“They also said they will make a decision by the end of the year … and we haven’t heard anything, so it’s still alive and still a hot issue.
“I’m defending the community’s right to access proper hearing health services.”
Senator Cameron said Australian Hearing has operated for the benefit of Australian citizens since 1947 and that it provides services to infants and children, young people under 26, adults with complex hearing needs, aged pensioners, returned service personnel and Aboriginal people and