Labor welcomes the support of the Deafness Forum of Australia for the retention of Australian Hearing in government ownership.
Labor notes that the Department of Human Services Financial Statements classified Australian Hearing as ‘available for sale’ valued at $49.42 million (p.200 DHS Annual Report 2014-15).
Given the importance of Australian Hearing to providing hearing services to infants, children, young adults, pensioners and veterans and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the prospect of handing this invaluable public asset to multinational audiology corporations beggars belief.
The Deafness Forum has identified a range of access and service quality issues associated with privatisation that could have a detrimental effect on Australians with hearing impairment. These include the:
- Private sector audiology industry is self-regulated, with few safeguards to protect clients.
- Lack of certification for persons delivering services in highly specialised fields such as paediatric audiology.
- Lack of streamlined rehabilitation programs for infants and children diagnosed with hearing loss in the private audiology sector.
- Risk that people in rural and remote areas will experience reduced access to audiology services
- High risk that people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds will find it difficult to access services
- High risk that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in urban, rural and remote areas will lose access to a culturally sensitive service delivery model
- Ability and interest of the private sector to provide services to infants and children
- Move to contestability in the delivery of services to children resulting in market failure and leaving children with hearing loss and their families without the critical services they need
- Difficulty for audiologists to maintain their skills if contestability results in fragmentation of the market
- Significant increase in costs of delivering hearing services in the commercial market as opposed to service provision in the Community Service Obligation Program where government providers achieve cost efficiencies through economies of scale and bulk purchasing
Labor agrees with the Deafness Forum of Australia that the transition of services from the Australian Government Hearing Services Program to the NDIS involves a number of complex issues. These complex issues should be resolved without reverting to be ideological default position of privatisation favoured by the Abbott-Turnbull Government.
The Government should listen to the Deafness Forum of Australia in relation to the complexity of the issues associated with any privatisation of Australian Hearing and its internationally renowned research arm, the National Acoustic Laboratories.
Australian Hearing operates at no cost to government, has provided services to Australian citizens since 1947 and continues to be a valuable asset to government and the deaf community in Australia.
Labor opposes the sale of Australian Hearing and the National Acoustic Laboratories to international audiology companies who operate in an industry where profits come before people’s needs.