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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7937


Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (17:45): I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This is the Australian Hearing report for 2016-17. Australian Hearing is, of course, the very body that the government originally wanted to flog off, to privatise, and I am particularly glad that the government have changed their mind on that. Australian Hearing has received absolutely overwhelming support from people who have accessed its services, particularly parents of children who receive the excellent services from Australian Hearing. But I want, for the short time that I've got available, to concentrate on the work that Australian Hearing has been doing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and in particular for regional and remote communities.

Australian Hearing is the service provider for many Aboriginal communities. People have heard me speak in this place very often on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' hearing. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are disproportionately impacted by their hearing. Hearing has a direct impact on people's opportunities in life, and there is a direct correlation between hearing, Aboriginal people's hearing in particular, and the justice system. One of the assessments that was done around this issue was of Aboriginal people in the Darwin Correctional Centre, and 92 per cent of the Aboriginal people in that correctional centre had a hearing impairment or were deaf.

The association there is, in particular, because people are affected by otitis media. Young children get it. Very young babies, babies around three weeks old, can get it. This is then associated with a hearing impairment, which, if left unaddressed, affects their ability, their numeracy and literacy skills. If you have a hearing impairment, it affects your learning abilities. Your brain allocates the space to something else. So if Aboriginal children in particular don't get that support, because they're not identified as having a hearing loss, they end up going to school behind, not having developed their literacy and numeracy skills to the level of those of their peers, and they fall behind in school. It's quite a well-articulated process. That is why it is so important and why I, for one, fought so hard, along with many others, to ensure that Australian Hearing continued as an entity.

Australian Hearing do vital work in Aboriginal communities. I was pleased to note, in some of the statistics that they put out for 2016-17 about what Australian Hearing do, that they provided services to 4,944 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people under the age of 26. Of course, the community service obligation is for those under the age of 26. Again, I am significantly pleased that sometimes you see progress in this place, as when the government increased that age from 21 to 26 in response to excellent work that the community affairs committee did. Yes, I am blowing the trumpet of the community affairs committee in this instance because a number of positive things in terms of hearing came out of that, and one of those was to increase that age from 21 to 26 for young Australians. That represented 14.6 per cent of the total number of children and young adults who received services from Australian Hearing. Let's point out that the percentage of Aboriginal children in the population of Australia is much less than that, showing the disproportionate number of Aboriginal children who receive support because of the particular circumstances of Aboriginal children's hearing. So I'm pleased to see that there was an overall increase of five per cent in the total number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children seen. In my book, it is very important that we are seeing an increasing number of children because that means that more children are being treated. It's very important work that Australian Hearing does. I congratulate them for the work that they do. I want to see more and more effort put in to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children's hearing, in particular, because it's so important, if we are going to address disadvantage, that we address that particular issue. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.