Parents fear deaf children could miss out under privatization of Australian Hearing

Summarized by Rachel Janis, staff writer

When Natalie Ryan’s daughter Lucy was fitted with hearing aids at 11 months old, she could finally hear the sound of a kookaburra’s call. Lucy was born profoundly deaf, while her twin Hannah is hearing.

“It’s just amazement, the first time your child hears anything. It’s all so new and wondrous,” said Ms. Ryan. With the help of a cochlear implant, Lucy was catching up developmentally with Hannah.

Now four years old, Lucy is one of thousands of people with hearing loss who are assisted by Australian Hearing—one of many public entities that the government is debating on privatizing because of budget measures. With Hearing Awareness Week as a motivation, parents of deaf children are asking the government to reconsider, fearing that people in regional areas won’t be able to receive hearing treatment. Also, Australian Hearing’s services will suffer business-wise.

During 2012-13, Australian hearing received $56 million from the government to provide services like hearing assessments, hearing aid fittings, and counseling for children and adults. Kate Kennedy, who is a spokeswoman for Parents of Deaf Children, said that the advanced technology and services provided by Australian Hearing made it easier for children with hearing loss to attend mainstream schools and socialize with their classmates.

Parents are afraid that a private organization would use cheaper technology and not provide as much service in regional areas, which puts children’s education and futures at risk.

Kennedy stated: “Our worry is that a private provider would not be able to deliver such a consistent and equitable level of service.”

She also said that Australian Hearing is the only place in Australia that trains pediatric audiologists. It also works with National Acoustic Laboratories for research.

“It cannot be packaged up to be thought of as just a business. It is too valuable a service and it puts at risk too many children’s futures,” said Kennedy.

Last month, Health Minister Peter Dutton informed the parliament that the government was going to evaluate the proposed privatization of Australian Hearing “to make sure that we are getting money away from bureaucratic servies and back to front-line services including and, in particular, in hearing.”

Labor’s Doug Cameron and Nick Champion are opposing the privatization, stating that Australian Hearing provided world-class services.

They said: “The Abbott government has not made a case for privatization and has failed to address the widely expressed concerns about risks to the quality of and access to services.” 

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