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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9226

Ms MACKLIN (JagajagaMinister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and Minister for Disability Reform) (10:51): Today I rise to pay tribute to a constituent in my electorate of Jagajaga who has perhaps done as much in the field of medicine as any other in this country. I am speaking of Professor Graeme Clark, the inventor of the cochlear implant. Next month is the 30th anniversary of this truly historic medical advance. In 30 years, people with profound deafness in more than 100 countries have had the bionic ear implanted. Because of the work of Professor Clark, thousands of adults who lost hearing, or never knew it, have had their lives changed. Thousands of children faced with a great barrier now know the joy of speech and sound.

While the bionic ear was and still is a remarkable medical discovery, it was about much more than that for Professor Clark. For him, this was about family. His father, Colin—a pharmacist—suffered from profound deafness, and for a young Graeme that was his spark. As he helped out in the pharmacy, he decided he would one day do something to help people like his dad. In fact, when asked by his primary school teacher what he wanted to do when he grew up, Graeme said he wanted to fix ears.

Professor Clark would go on to be the youngest clinical professor in Australia, at the age of 34. His early work in this field was carried out against opposition and criticism from others, who thought it all impossible. There were no government funds or grants, as it was not seen to be worth it. Instead, it was organisations like Rotary, Lions and Apex that kept Professor Clark's project alive. Despite the obstacles, he and his team kept at it, and we can all be thankful that they did, and we can be immensely proud of their achievements.

Among a long list of awards and recognitions, Professor Clark is a Companion of the Order of Australia for his services to medicine and science and a former Senior Australian of the Year. But his most indelible legacy is seen in the people whose lives he has changed and the many, many more yet to benefit. Across decades, ordinary people have been given a brighter future thanks to an extraordinary discovery by this remarkable man.

Professor Clark turned 77 last week. As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the bionic ear, we should also celebrate its pioneer. We should celebrate Professor Clark's remarkable achievements, a lifetime of accomplishment that began with a boy who just wanted to fix ears.