HON MARTIN PRITCHARD (North Metropolitan) [ 11.31 am ] — without notice: I move —

That this house calls on the state government to assess the services and advice provided to deaf and hard-of-hearing children and their families to determine if they are being provided with the widest possible opportunities to maximise the child’s potential.

[speeches and comments of various members]

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [ 12.06 pm ]: I rise on behalf of the Greens to speak on this motion. I thank Hon Martin Pritchard for bringing on this really good motion. It is an important issue that we need to discuss. I appreciate that the motion calls on the state government to assess the services and advice that are provided to deaf and hard-of-hearing children because we want to ensure that they are provided with the widest possible opportunities to maximum their potential. It is a pretty good matter to discuss. As has already been acknowledged, the motion is timely because it is Hearing Awareness Week and it is a good idea that we hone our attention to this matter.

One in six Australians lives with some degree of hearing loss, and the numbers are expected to increase to one in four by 2050. Obviously, these figures include many older Australians. Newborn screening is critical and in many respects we have some of the best practice here in Western Australia; however, it is not perfect. I am a mother of three children and my youngest was one of those children who falls through the cracks because no-one picked up that he could not hear. It was not identified properly partly because we had a pretty lousy local child health nurse who was a bit hopeless and was never available. It was not until he was 15 months when he had quite delayed speech — actually, he had no speech — that we realised that there was a problem. At 18 months, my little poppet went to Swan District Hospital to have surgery, which was successful. While he was walking around in his hospital gown during his recovery, he said his first word. I certainly understand what it means to have a child who does not hear and the impact that that can have. He has finally caught up on his delayed speech, which was a result of that. I shout out to the wonderful state services that were available to assist him. I have some understanding as a parent how critical it is that people who live with deafness, including children and young people, are able to access appropriate services and supports that are tailored to meet their individual needs and circumstances, and, importantly, because of what we are talking about today, their preferences.

There is significant diversity among people experiencing deafness, in their identity and their preferences for support. As has been discussed already, some really great medical services are provided right from the start, such as those provided by Telethon Speech and Hearing. However, I agree with the concerns raised by the honourable member that we are not doing enough to provide support for the social and cultural aspects of deafness, including the learning of Auslan as early as possible. Around 95 per cent of deaf children are born to hearing parents, which means that those family structures need significant help and support. Parents want to be able to communicate with their children and equip them for language development as early as possible. We know that the earlier someone starts to learn a second language, the quicker the brain patterns change to enable them to do that. We know this from children who are already raised within bilingual or multilingual homes, and are subsequently able to pick up a range of languages, and it is exactly the same with Auslan. I am personally of the view that it would be wonderful to have Auslan as just a generically understood language. I feel the same way, personally, in wishing I could speak Noongar. For that matter, I would be happy if I could speak any language other than English, but unfortunately I am one of those people who can speak only English, although I do that exceptionally well. I recognise that the timing issue is really important.

I agree with the suggestion that all options need to be provided to parents, and that we should not be relying in the first instance only on the medical model, which receives a level of privilege in funding and service provision. We do it well, but we need to be looking at a much broader picture. For some families, a really successful approach can be through involving the whole family, so that parents, grandparents and siblings also know how to speak Auslan. I listened intently to Hon Donna Faragher’s contribution about the positive experiences of families that she has heard of, in sharing the learning of this language. It is also of concern that these services need also to be accessed in rural and remote areas; they are effectively not even there, and when they are available, people are often not sufficiently informed about them, so they do not know what options are available. The full suite of information about services and education should be available to families, friends, the broader community and medical practitioners. According to the 2011 census data, the number of Australians using Auslan at home increased by 124 per cent between 2001 and 2011, and 9 720 Auslan users are recorded nationally. I suspect that this figure has probably increased since then.

Our own WA Deaf Society has some fantastic programs, but they need to be funded, and they need to be part of the services made available at the point of diagnosis, rather than leaving families to just stumble across them. There is concern that the current medical model does not fully acknowledge that. It is essential that we engage with the deaf community. I have heard members speak about the WA Child Ear Health Strategy that was released yesterday, and I note the comments about how many people were consulted in that process, which is great, but I know that the WA Deaf Society was not consulted as part of that process. We can always do better in the area of consultation.

I want to make some quick comments about the intersection with the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Currently the commonwealth government, through the Hearing Services Program, contracts for the provision of a range of services to quite a narrow range of clients, including young people under 26 years of age. It is a very streamlined approach.

The deaf community is uncertain about whether we will go backwards under the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This is a national concern; it is not something unique to Western Australia. There are concerns about the transition process and people falling through the cracks, the lack of clarity around eligibility and, importantly, the duration of services that might be available. There are also concerns about eligible services, because, as we have already heard, hearing help is so much more than just the provision of aids or implants. Once the services transition in 2019 from the hearing services program to the NDIS, there is a risk of delays occurring because of the need to confirm eligibility, which is not currently necessary. That is quite a shift in how people will be able to access services. There will be delays associated with the NDIS planning process and the need to have an approved NDIS plan before accessing a preferred provider. Currently, under the Hearing Services Program, the child goes immediately from diagnosis to an appointment with Australian Hearing to discuss hearing rehabilitation and other early intervention service options. This is a concern because we know that time is of the essence when we are dealing with toddlers and babies in particular — two months is too long. These time delays can be problematic. I really hope that we will not go backwards with the NDIS considering it is meant to be an improved service for people with disability. The introduction of contestability in hearing services also poses significant risks, particularly for this small client group. A current Senate inquiry is considering these issues, but we will have to keep a very close eye on the matter.

[speeches and comments of various members]

Motion lapsed, pursuant to standing orders.


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