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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2875

Senator TATE (Minister for Justice and Consumer Affairs) (10.06 p.m.) —I thank honourable senators who have spoken in support of the Hearing Services Bill 1991, a very important piece of legislation. I believe that they have indicated the sort of practical approach which characterises this chamber when it is dealing with a matter of such concern in the general community, as I was able to discover when, a few weeks ago, I opened new premises for the Tasmanian Deaf Society in Hobart and launched Deafness Awareness Week. I must admit that I was quite surprised and moved by the response from members of the community to certain comments I made at that time. It is a revelation for many of us who enjoy reasonably good hearing, if somewhat impaired in various respects, that there are so many people in our community who have a quite severe hearing loss, impairment or disability which can prevent their full participation in the social and recreational life of the community, quite apart from the paid employment aspects, which are also of vital importance to any household.

  This Bill, which provides for the establishment of the Hearing Services Authority, achieves various objectives on the part of the Government. It does not change the eligibility under the Act. I suppose that in large measure Senator Lees and Senator Harradine were speaking about situations, perhaps exacerbated by present economic conditions, in which persons are forced out of the paid work force into unemployment and yet do not qualify for arrangements such as the family assistance supplement in their family situation which would enable them to qualify as eligible to receive the services to be provided by the Authority.

  I understand that Senator Lees has received certain assurances, at least for consideration in relation to certain matters she has raised, in relation to Newstart participants and all health care cardholders. I think the Minister undertook to look at those matters, but I also believe that he pointed out that those who are unemployed and under 21 will qualify automatically by virtue of their age. That is an important point for the young unemployed in our community. As for those who are impaired—I do not know the exact criteria—and who qualify for assistance from the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service, they too will be able to receive the services to be provided under the auspices of the Hearing Services Authority.

  Honourable senators have commented also on the joint venture between NAL and its commercial partner, Australian Hearing Aids. This venture holds great promise, particularly as to the development and the marketing of high technology, new generation, programmable hearing aids. This applies not only to clients within Australia but also to those export markets, namely the United States and Europe, which one has to keep in mind as the very important aspect for any firm or undertaking in Australia: that it tries also to earn export dollars for this nation whilst providing a very good service or product for the Australian marketplace.

  I hope, as Senator Harradine said, that the infusion of some of the quantities which come from the private sector will enable the costs of the production—and we are talking about the taxpayer in this instance—of these hearing aids and various ancillary services to come down. This could then enable the Government perhaps to widen the eligibility criteria and provide the Australian community with a greater availability of the very admirable products and services of this organisation.

  Senator Patterson mentioned in particular the work of this organisation with young children. She commented very favourably on a particular instance which I have heard her mention before. But it is a very apt illustration and it is nice to get on the record that endorsement and expression of thanks on the part of a client whose children have been so well helped in that regard.

  Senator Patterson also spoke about a number of matters that were raised by the Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills. Despite her thoughts to the contrary, I understand that a reply has been made available to that Committee. Whilst the problems that the Committee saw in relation to primary legislation being extended by delegated legislation are conceded, it is also a fact that determinations by the Minister are subject to the disallowance provisions and therefore subject to parliamentary scrutiny. Whilst I take the honourable senator's point, the ability of the Parliament, and particularly this chamber, to exercise its supervisory power and to disallow an instrument or a determination which it finds unsatisfactory does reassert the power of the Parliament in this regard.

  The Committee raised a concern in relation to the acronym NAL. I understand that this was simply to protect the National Acoustic Laboratories' logo, NAL. The Minister has given an undertaking to the Scrutiny of Bills Committee that, rather than postpone the passing of the legislation, he will introduce a clarifying amendment in the next session to make it very clear that that was the only purpose of dealing with that acronym.

  I also understand that the Scrutiny of Bills Committee commented on clause 70—the question of whether the delegation of the powers of the authority could be to any person or to a person who was a member of the authority. The Minister replied to the Chairman of the Committee in terms of undertaking to amend the legislation during the next session to achieve that purpose. But I understand that the Opposition has foreshadowed that at the committee stage it will move an amendment to substitute for the words, `a person', the words `a member of the board or a member of the staff of the authority'. That will achieve the objective and we would have no objection; we will accept that amendment.

  Some honourable senators raised the question of the $25 annual charge. There is not much more that I can say in relation to that. It has been introduced to cover repairs and maintenance services and the annual supply of batteries for all NAL clients. In relation to the sort of situation that Senator Harradine raised—I do not have the exact figures before me—there are special provisions in the regulations to allow for a reduced fee where there are, for example, two children in the household. In other words, it would not be $25 per child within the family setting. In fact, I am informed by an officer that the children of the eligible clients are exempt, so that is even better. I may have to clarify that and provide Senator Harradine with a written note on that matter.

  I believe that the Hearing Services Bill 1991 is a most important piece of legislation. I thank those senators who have indicated their support for its passage. In passing the Bill, the Senate will be serving very well people in Australia who will use the services of this authority. I therefore wish the Bill a very speedy passage.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

  Bill read a second time.

  The Bill.