Speaking in the Parliament this morning, Federal Member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon called on the Turnbull Government to drop plans to privatise Australian Hearing and its research arm National Acoustics Laboratories (NAL).
The proposal to privatise Australian Hearing was part of the Abbott Government’s unpopular and unfair first budget. Strong opposition from community groups and peak bodies has caused the Government to delay the sell-off, but Finance Minister Matthias Cormann says he will announce a decision on the future of Australian Hearing and NAL by the end of 2015.
Advocates for Australians with hearing impairments including the Deafness Forum of Australia and Parents of Deaf Children have said that privatisation puts deaf and hearing impaired people at risk of reduced services.
“Labor will fight to ensure that people who have hearing difficulties in the Hunter electorate get the support and services they deserve, Mr Fitzgibbon told the Parliament.
“Australian Hearing has offices across Hunter including at Cessnock, East Maitland, Maitland, Muswellbrook, Scone and Singleton”.
Alex Jones, who is profoundly deaf, with a profoundly deaf son, told the ABC’s 7:30 program “It’s vital for deaf children around Australia. To privatise Australian Hearing, that will lead to risk, risk where children aren’t well looked after. Why would the Australian Government privatise something that’s working?’
Australian Hearing operates 137 permanent hearing centres, 380 visiting centres, 20 remote sites, 7 hearing buses and 233 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander outreach sites. There are no guarantees that those services will continue if the Turnbull Government goes ahead with the privatisation.
Australian Hearing provides low cost, accessible hearing health services to young people under 26, adults with complex hearing needs, people on Centrelink Sickness Allowance, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 50, returned service personnel and age pensioners.
Australian Hearing is internationally recognised as a best practice government hearing health provider and research organisation. The National Acoustic Laboratories is a world-renowned research institution responsible for developing new hearing technologies, particularly for infants and children with hearing impairment. Australian Hearing is the only organisation in Australian that trains paediatric audiologists.
In contrast, the unregulated private audiology industry has been plagued by accusations that patients are being misled into buying more expensive hearing aids in order for staff to meet sales targets and receive commissions. The ACCC launched an investigation September 2015 in response to the claims of upselling by private hearing aid companies.
Leading audiologist Dr Bill Vass told the ABC “It’s a cowboy industry that needs to be reined in, and I think the potential harm for people, whether it’s physical or financial, could be substantial and it needs to stop. In the private sector the regulation is completely absent.”
The Turnbull Government has not made a case for privatisation and has failed to address the widely expressed concerns about risks to the quality of services and access to trained audiologists that privatisation poses. Labor will continue to oppose privatisation in the best interests of hearing impaired people and the wider community.
Mr Fitzgibbon will begin a Save Australian Hearing petition and is appealing to people to join the campaign.