NFPs Warn Government Over Sale of Hearing Agency
19 February 2015 at 10:38 am
The proposed sale of Australia’s largest provider of Government funded hearing services has been criticised as a move that will see deaf and hearing impaired children fall through the gaps.
The Department of Finance is undertaking a Scoping Study to determine whether or not its statutory authority, Australian Hearing Services, should be privatised.
AHS was originally established by the Federal Government in 1947 to provide hearing services to children whose hearing was affected by a series of rubella epidemics and to assist veterans who suffered hearing damage during World War II.
According to the Department of Finance, it is Australia’s “leading hearing specialist”.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert told Pro Bono Australia News that her party would not support any sale of the organisation.
“We do not support the sale of Australian Hearing Services, they do very important work that is vital to hearing impaired and deaf children, particularly Aboriginal children,” Senator Siewert said.
“Aboriginal children are a particularly vulnerable group when it comes to hearing and we need to provide the best possible services to them.”
Founder and CEO of Not for Profit Aussie Deaf Kids, Ann Porter, said the potential sale could adversely affect the 20,000 hearing impaired and deaf children and young adults who access Australian Hearing’s services.
The clients range in age from birth to 26 years. Some have multiple disabilities and 11 per cent are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Australian Hearing offers services to hard of hearing and deaf children in Australia, regardless of location and socio-economic background. Australian Hearing gives them access to high quality technology that optimises their ability to listen and, in turn, to learn,” Porter said.
“The sale of Australian Hearing would put outcomes for Australian children with hearing loss at risk and could impact on the entire health, education and disability infrastructure that supports them and their families.”
Coordinator at Parents of Deaf Children, Kate Kennedy, said the sale could see children fall through the gaps and limit availability of services.
“If a new owner was to withdraw services, especially in rural and remote areas, it would have a devastating impact for Australian children with hearing loss,” Kennedy said.
The organisations said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children would be at risk if the asset was sold.
They said the Indigenous outreach service through which Australian Hearing provides culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in urban, rural and remote areas could be halted.
Deafness Forum of Australia Chairman David Brady said that moving to a commercial arrangement introduces a high degree of uncertainty for very vulnerable people.
“There is no guarantee there will be providers willing to take on this highly complex work, or they may not have the expertise needed, leaving clients with the greatest need without a reliable service,” Brady said.