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Wednesday, 8 December 1976

Mr McLEAN (Perth) - I would like to speak tonight about a matter that has been brought to my attention by a number of my constituents. It concerns the possible introduction by this Government of special telephone services for use by deaf people. I refer to the Magsat telephone typewriter which is manufactured by the Magsat Corporation. I think the honourable member for Burke (Mr Keith Johnson) mentioned this matter during the Estimates debate a couple of months ago. I commend him for that. I often get the feeling that the deaf people are not as well catered for by governments as are other handicapped people. This is partly due to the nature of their disability. For a start, because of their affliction, the majority of the prelinqually deaf have to work in unskilled employment and therefore do not have normal earning capacity. Also because the deaf are employable they do not receive any special benefits or concessions from the Department of Social Security. They do not individually possess the capacity to meet the costs of financing developments, such as these communication devices, which would simplify and improve life for the deaf.

Briefly, the devices I refer to are telephones which operate on the teleprinter principle. They are small, lightweight and portable. When the telephone is connected a display light glows informing the user that the line is open and ready for his call. If the person being called is deaf his telephone ringing indicator system will activate a flashing light. The device can also attract a hearing person in the normal way. Therefore it can be used for deaf people to communicate with members of their family, their relatives and their friends who do not suffer from this affliction. Once this has been done the 2 parties can type to each other and the letters will be displayed simultaneously on both screens. This to my mind is a magnificent technological advance designed for the sole purpose of helping partially to overcome the difficult communication problem of deaf people. In my representations to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) I was pleased to learn that several of the devices which can be used in this regard are being obtained by Telecom Australia for evaluation to assess their suitability for use within the Austraiian telephone network.

I am also informed that some of these types of equipment are fairly costly. I certainly understand that. They represent very sophisticated electronic advances. The Minister has informed me that the Australian Telecommunications Commission intends approaching the various social welfare departments- the Department of Social Security, the Department of Health and the Department of Veterans' Affairs- to investigate whether or not they will be prepared to assist possible users financially by subsidising purchases or rentals of these devices. I submit that these people are just as entitled, and probably much more entitled, and deserving of tele- phone services at a cost no greater than that borne by other individuals in society for the installation and renting costs of telephones.

The Government has a very substantial obligation to provide these services to these handicapped people. If capital costs are very substantial perhaps a pilot scheme could be introduced linking such telephones to emergency services such as hospitals, police, fire brigades, and the ambulance services. This could subsequently be extended, if it is possible financially, to include a communication network between all deaf people and between them and their families, relatives and friends. If costs are such as to make the Government equivocate on introducing such a scheme I suggest that it lay faith in the well deserved reputation the Australian public has of raising money for charitable purposes. I emphasise that this is essentially a government responsibility. I ask the Minister to give this project top priority. It would not only greatly benefit the 8000 prelinqually deaf people in Australia- I think there are more than 400 in Western Australiabut also it would benefit those people who have sustained a severe hearing loss later in life and who cannot use the normal telephone services. I urge the Minister, the Government and this Parliament to take a compassionate view in this matter.

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