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Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (3.41 p.m.) —I am pleased that the member for Griffith has raised this issue, because it does need the attention of the House. He has raised a concern that has been expressed by people in the community who are worried about the prospect of upgrades to cochlear implants.

There are two establishments within my electorate of Mitchell which care for people with impaired hearing. I wish to acknowledge the splendid work done by St Gabriel's School for Hearing Impaired Children and also the work that is done by the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children. Both of these organisations have a strong record of support and assistance to young people, to children in particular, with impaired hearing. This motion gives the House an opportunity to look at some of the wrong and perhaps mischievous comments made in the community about this issue, particularly in relation to upgrades of equipment—comments which are perpetrated to disturb parents and children.

The cochlear implant was developed in Australia with great success and it has had a massive worldwide impact. The government, in its policy on hearing impairment, developed a voucher system which commenced in 1997. This system improved the way in which people are entitled to receive benefits for hearing problems. There are 139 providers around Australia and, under the voucher system, 340,000 people receive benefit, assistance or support of one kind or another. Within the voucher system there is a community service obligation which applies specifically to young people under the age of 21. This program protects 35,000 children and it costs around $119.8 million per year. So this government gives significant support to hearing impairment services, particularly to young people under the age of 21. There is also a community service obligation which applies to a special needs group, which covers 11,000 special needs people. The community service obligation also requires the National Acoustic Laboratories to continue its brilliant worldwide research. Last year, the government spent a total of $209.5 million on hearing impairment services.

The government's role in the measure under discussion today lies in two parts: firstly, the provision of cochlear services; and, secondly, the implementation of new equipment. The new equipment comes within the Australian Hearing Services Act, and that new equipment has to be assessed as part of an ongoing assessment of new prostheses. That review is expected to be concluded by the end of the year but, whether or not that review is concluded on time, young adults under the age of 21 and their parents should have no fears about the government's ongoing commitment to the provision of upgrade processes and the assessment of new equipment. I thank the member for Griffith for raising this issue. It has been a valuable issue for us to discuss. Schools such as St Gabriel's and the institute for those who have a hearing impairment and those who are blind have no need to be concerned, because the government has the situation covered. It will look after young people with a hearing impairment and it will continue to expand the hearing program, as it did last year, as part of a five-year program, when it introduced upgraded funding for the program.

Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard - 24th June 2002
Release Date: 2 Jul 2002


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