Mr FITZGIBBON (Hunter) (10:13): We have a new PM but the policies remain the same.
Today I call on the Turnbull government to drop Tony Abbott's plans to privatise Australian Hearing and its research arm, National Acoustic Laboratories. I am very pleased that the health minister is here with us this morning to listen to this discussion. 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 the finance minister has indicated that a decision will be announced prior to 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, including in my own electorate of Hunter, get the support and services they deserve. Australian Hearing has offices across my electorate, including at Cessnock, East Maitland, Maitland, Muswellbrook, Scone and Singleton. Alex Jones, who is profoundly deaf and has a profoundly deaf son, told the ABC's 7.30 program:
'It's vital for deaf children all 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, seven 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 Tony Abbott's plan to privatise the organisation. Australian Hearing provides low-cost, accessible hearing health services to young people under 26, adults with complex hearing needs, people on Centrelink services, our returned services and, of course, age pensioners.
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 to receive commissions. Leading audiologist Dr Bill Vass told the ABC, 'It's a cowboy industry that needs to be reined in.' The Turnbull government has not made a case for this 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, and I will continue, to oppose privatisation in the best interests of hearing-impaired people and the wider community.