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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11670


Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (11:01): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) National Week of Deaf People runs from 17 to 24 October 2015;

(b) one in six Australians are affected by hearing loss;

(c) there are approximately 30,000 deaf Auslan users with total hearing loss;

(d) projections for 2050 indicate that one in every four Australians will have hearing loss; and

(e) 90 per cent of people born with hearing impairment are born into hearing families;

(2) congratulates the deaf community and celebrates its outstanding contribution to the nation;

(3) acknowledges Auslan as the language of the Australian deaf community;

(4) reaffirms the need for deaf people to be fully included in the Australian community;

(5) recognises that significant challenges still exist for the deaf community when dealing with governments and government departments; and

(6) encourages the Government to improve communication with the deaf community by ensuring that information is translated into Auslan on its websites.

This week is Deaf Week—a time when the deaf community in Australia celebrate who they are, and they are a community worth celebrating. But Deaf Week is also a time for us all to reflect on how, as a community, we can ensure full participation for deaf people. I would like to concentrate on just one area where the government can do a better job at providing access to government information, and that is by providing that information in Auslan. It seems we are lagging a bit behind where we should be. Let us look at what we should be doing, not just because it is right but because we said we would.

The federal government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in July 2008, so we have had a few years. The relevant article, in terms of access to information, is Article 21b:

Accepting and facilitating the use of sign languages, Braille, augmentative and alternative communication, and all other accessible means, modes and formats of communication of their choice by persons with disabilities in official interactions;

That is the legal wording of Article 21b.

Some organisations in Australia are pushing ahead. The Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Law Reform Commission both provide access to information in Auslan. In fact, the Australian Law Reform Commission provides it in 20 languages plus Auslan, but federal government departments are not doing so well and in many cases are not providing Auslan at all. My local deaf advocacy organisations, including the Deaf Society, have tried to encourage a number of federal government departments to provide material in Auslan on their websites, without much success.

It is noted that the NDIA, which is responsible for information on the NDIS, provides information on what is the NDIS in at least eight different community languages. It provides recorded spoken versions of those languages, but it does not provide information on the NDIS in Auslan. Another example is the Australian Tax Office, which has several community languages available, including 42 documents translated into Arabic, yet it has only one document in Auslan. My Aged Care provides their information in at least 18 community languages and none in Auslan. I repeat that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed in 2008, so this crosses more than one government—it has been quite a while.

I note too that the Australian parliament is not translated into Auslan either, but I do acknowledge my colleague Jane Prentice in the Federation Chamber today. Jane raised this with the Speaker early last year. I am aware that there has been action behind the scenes, and maybe today Jane will talk about that. But I am sure we will hear more about it in time.

I know a lot of people will be thinking: we do not need Auslan because deaf people can read print. And they probably think that captions are enough, or written English is enough, but this is not the case. I think we need to be clear about this: Auslan is not English. I spoke Auslan in the parliament recently, but I spoke English with Auslan words. A few people made remarks on that. It is not the same. It is grammatically different, and there are concepts in Auslan that do not actually have simple English translations. It is a different language. It grew organically in the community and has all the complexity of a language of its own. For many deaf people, English is their second language not their first; the language they prefer, because it is the language they are mostly likely to understand, is Auslan.

Many deaf people have experienced systemic disadvantage throughout their lives. So the level of English literacy among the deaf community is less than desirable and, in many cases, less than adequate for them to be able to understand the complexities of government information in a second language, which, for them, is English. When we start talking about translating information into Auslan, many people assume that there are certain kinds of information that you would do first in Auslan—this speech, for example, because it is about the deaf community. But I want to stress that people who are deaf need information on all things. They send their kids to school. They work, they get a job, they pay tax and they grow old. So the information that they need in Auslan covers the broad range of information that governments provide, and they do not just need it so that they can understand the government services that are provided; they need it so that—as people who do send their children to school, go to work, pay taxes and grow old—they can contribute to the debate that this country has about our policy. They can also contribute with an understanding of what it is to be deaf, but it is their general lives that we need in the debate.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Southcott ): Is the motion seconded?

Mr Laundy: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.