Govt Considers Consortium Proposal for ‘Australian Hearing’
18 February 2016 at 2:06 pm
The Federal Government has been approached by a consortium led by the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children, alongside Cochlear Limited and Macquarie University, with a proposal to transfer Australian Hearing into non-government ownership.
In February 2015, the Department of Finance began 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.
“When establishing the NDIS, the previous Labor government made a decision, since re-affirmed by our government, to make funding for relevant services provided under the NDIS in the future, fully contestable,” Minister for Finance Senator Mathias Cormann said.
“This means that Australian Hearing will have to compete with other private providers in relation to all the services it provides to Australians with a hearing impairment.
“While Australian Hearing has already been competing with private providers in relation to a range of services for some time, as the NDIS roll out ramps up this competition will increase further and intensify.
“That’s why the government has been exploring the right future ownership options for Australian Hearing to ensure it has the strongest possible future and continues to be in the best possible position to provide high quality valued services to Australians with a hearing loss.”
Senator Cormann said the government would formally examine the proposal put forward by the consortium led by the Not for Profit organisation the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children.
“This will include further work with the consortium on the possible terms and conditions for any ownership transfer should the government decide to proceed with that approach.”
He said that as the government goes through this assessment process with the consortium it is important to note that he had not yet made a decision to transfer Australian Hearing into non-government ownership and there was no intention to change any of the current eligibility criteria or public benefits currently available for Australians with a hearing loss.
Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children Chief Executive, Chris Rehn, said that “the driver of the Consortium is the well-being of people with hearing loss, especially those most in need, and ensuring they continue to receive world-class services that dramatically improve their lives”.
“Preserving, protecting and extending services for all Australians – especially vulnerable CSO clients including children; the elderly; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; returned soldiers/veterans; and adults with complex hearing health needs – is the Consortium’s priority,” Rehn said.
“The Consortium approach seeks to extend upon Australia’s already world-leading hearing services, providing a total end-to-end service for people with hearing loss, including access to integrated assessment, diagnostics, hearing aids, cochlear implantation, therapy, education and additional rehabilitation and support services.
“By leveraging this full-service model, and the research capabilities of the Consortium partners, the Consortium also aims to support and further develop the work of Australian Hearing’s research division, the National Acoustic Laboratories.”
Peak body, Deafness Forum of Australia and a number of its member organisations including Parents of Deaf Children and Aussie Deaf Kids, as well as Deaf Australia, have provided submissions to the Government to identify the risks and highlight the concerns of stakeholders should the Government decide to proceed with the sale of Australian Hearing.
Deafness Forum of Australia needs to understand the implications and ramifications of the proposal from the consortium before it can take a position on whether to support the transfer of ownership of Australian Hearing to a non government entity.
“Any risks to service quality, access, device provision, and independent advice and support to people with hearing loss and their families and carers need to be identified, and any potential strategies to mitigate these risks need to be assessed before Deafness Forum can express a view on the proposed ownership arrangements,” Deafness Forum chairman David Brady said.
“We will continue to advocate on behalf of our members to ensure that their needs and those of families are protected and that client outcomes are not compromised should the Government decide to change the ownership arrangements of Australian Hearing.”