Launch of Deafness Forum of Australia’s “Access to Communications and Access to Life” Expo - Hearing Awareness Week - Parliament House Canberra - 22 August 2011
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Thank you very much David for your introduction to the opening of Hearing Awareness Week.
Thanks also to you who have come along.
Can I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land that we are meeting on today and pay my respects to their Elders, both past and present, in the spirit of reconciliation.
I thank the three senators, Rachel, Mitch and Jan, who is not here today, for their cooperation. Sometimes when you look from the outside, you think all we do in this place is fight. From time to time, we have the capacity to reach across party lines and show real cooperation and bipartisanship - tripartisanship, even, around causes of great importance. So, thank you to those three senators.
Hearing impairment has been for many years a significant issue for Australia. With our capacity to live longer, healthier lives, the prevalence of hearing loss will, along with ageing, increase over the next few decades. Currently it impacts one in six Australians. Because of ageing, those numbers will increase to one in four over the next 40 years.
Ageing is the principal cause of hearing loss. But we know it does not discriminate against any age group or any other group in the community. Congenital hearing loss continues to be a cause of significant challenge in Australia. Hearing loss through preventable means, workplace or audio technology, are ongoing concerns for Australians as well.
Indigenous Australians continue to suffer far greater incidences of hearing loss than the national average. This is a cause of government and community focus.
Although these problems have been around for a long time, the level of awareness and focus on hearing loss needs to be increased.
There was some research released in the last couple of days from Cochlear indicating that 52 per cent of Australians with hearing loss have done nothing about it. 20 or 25 per cent of people who actually get a hearing aid tend to put it in a drawer and not use it. We need to raise awareness around hearing loss and encourage people to get tested. We need to let them know about the extraordinary technology that can assist them to continue to lead productive lives.
As with so many areas of health today, we are enjoying a technology boom. Things that we thought 10 or 15 years ago could never be done, we now see around the room today. Who knows what we will be able to enjoy in another 10 years. Hearing aids are better and are now even able to be waterproof.
One of the greatest Australian inventions ever is the cochlear implant. It transforms the lives of newborn infants, but I have also heard that 94-year-old Australians are receiving cochlear implants and advocating to get their driver's licenses back.
Other wonderful assistive technologies are becoming more common like hearing loops in places like Parliament House and offices and classrooms across the nation.
Things that can transform day-to-day life.
And can potentially save lives, allowing people to contact emergency services.
This is a wonderful picture. But the ‘Hear Us’ Senate inquiry report reminded us that there is much more that we could and should be doing. This is an incredibly important report that should serve to guide our actions as a government and a community. A number of measures in the 2011 Budget stem from the work that that Senate inquiry did.
I am happy to say that we were able to rebase the community service obligation funding which will allow us to deliver many thousands of additional services to children and young Australians, to Indigenous Australians and to adults with complex needs.
We were able to extend the eligibility for young Australians up to the age of 26. We know that the early 20s - although it is a long time ago for many of us - is a formative time when people are studying or establishing their careers and becoming financially independent. That support for another four or five years will be incredibly important.
The voucher program and other changes, bringing our office into the 21st century, will ensure we can provide better services. Minister Macklin’s “Better Start” initiative and Minister Garrett’s additional $200 million into disabilities into the schools portfolio, again, will make a real difference across Australia.
There are a number of recommendations in the report that we have accepted in principle but still need concrete action on. We will continue to work with the sector about that. We also need to talk to the State and Territory governments about some of the areas that are under their jurisdiction.
As David said, I think, you will also be interested in progress in developing the foundations of the National Disability Insurance Scheme that was released a couple of weeks ago. Many of you will have seen that the Treasurers and Disability Ministers from all jurisdictions will form a Select Council endorsed by COAG’s meeting on Friday to develop the foundations for that scheme to be considered in early 2012.
There is an enormous amount happening in this area.
In large part, because of the hard work that people in this room have done for so many years, lobbying for support from government, and the amazing technology and community services that exist in Australia for people with hearing impairment.
Thank you very much for coming along and being part of this and giving all parliamentarians the capacity to come and see just how fast things are moving and how high the levels of support for Australians with hearing impairments are.
I hope we can keep you here the whole week. Thank you very much for the invitation to be here and I wish you all the best.
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