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Wednesday, 19 June 2002
Page: 4002

Mr Martin Ferguson asked the Minister for Education, Science and Training, upon notice, on 14 May 2002:

(1) Has he been briefed on a meeting held at the National Library of Australia on 8 March 2002 to discuss problems relating to the provision of library services to people with disabilities, including (a) the fact that large collections of analogue tape held by the specialist libraries for the blind and vision impaired will not be able to be accessed in three to five years time as equipment to play the tapes will no longer be manufactured, (b) the fact that these libraries do not have access to funding to facilitate the transfer of information from analogue to digital tape and (c) the need to facilitate alternative formats for students with disabilities.

(2) What work has been undertaken by Government to assist in overcoming these potential huge barriers to learning by people with disabilities.

Dr Nelson (Minister for Education, Science and Training) —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) (a) (b) (c) The Minister for Education, Science and Training has not been briefed specifically on the meeting held by the National Library on 8 March 2002, although an officer from his Department did attend. In respect of his higher education responsibilities, the Minister has been briefed on the broad issues related to the high cost of translating written text into formats accessible by people with a visual impairment or other print handicap.

(2) The Government supports the right of children with disabilities to the same educational opportunities as other children. While the States and Territories have primary responsibility for the funding and delivery of school education, the Commonwealth provides substantial funding for both the government and non-government school sectors, which includes targeted funding to improve the educational outcomes of students with disabilities. The funding provided by the Commonwealth for students with disabilities in schools is block funding to the States and Territories and is not allocated for specific purposes. The State and Territory education authorities decide how it is to be used to support the needs of students with disabilities in their respective systems.

The Government has recognised the very high costs that some universities are bearing with regard to support for some students with disabilities, including students with a visual impairment or print handicap who require course materials and related texts in alternative formats. In the 2001 budget, the new Additional Support for Students with Disabilities Programme was announced, with some $8 million to be allocated between 2002 and 2004. The programme will commence in the second half of this year, with $1.834 million available to universities to assist with the high costs associated with supporting students with disabilities.

Officers of the Department of Education, Science and Training are monitoring the issue and participated in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's forum on the provision of alternative formats in the tertiary sector held in Sydney on 29 May 2002.

The Commonwealth continues to actively support the Regional Disability Liaison Officer (RDLO) initiative. Funded for three years at $800,000 per year, eleven RDLOs across the nation perform a range of functions, which are focused on the provision of practical assistance and support to students with disabilities to make the transition from school to TAFE or university and on to employment. RDLOs generally have a good knowledge of where students with disabilities can find information and assistance related to specific needs.

Under the national vocational education and training (VET) arrangements, funding for VET is a shared responsibility between the Commonwealth and States and Territories. State and Territory Governments are responsible for the delivery of training, including to people with disabilities. The Commonwealth provides funds for VET through the Australian National Training Authority to States and Territories. These funds supplement those provided by State and Territory Governments.

The needs of people with disabilities have been recognised. The Commonwealth and all State and Territory Ministers have signed up to implement Bridging Pathways: a National Strategy and Blueprint for people with disabilities in VET for 2000-2005 with the aim of increasing opportunities for people with disabilities in VET. The Commonwealth has provided $2 million for national actions outlined in the Blueprint. In the 2002-03 Commonwealth Budget, the Government announced that it would provide over $33 million additional funds for the VET system to meet the needs of people affected by changes to the Disability Support Pension.

This is on top of the Australians Working Together (AWT) initiative announced in the 2001-02 Commonwealth Budget, when the Commonwealth provided $24.4 million for four years from 1 July 2002 to contribute to States' and Territories' efforts to assist people with a disability to enter and complete a VET course. A Disability Coordination Officer (DCO) Programme, also announced as part of the AWT package, aims to provide information, coordination and referral services for people with a disability interested in participating in post-school education and training and to assist them to succeed in their chosen studies. The DCO Programme will commence on 1 July 2002.