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Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Page: 9672


Senator LINES (Western Australia) (15:45): Senator Peris and I included Senator Siewert as a mover of general business notice of motion No. 981, standing in my name and the name of Senator Peris for today, concerning the Close the Gap initiative, with specific reference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children's ear services, so my apologies.

The PRESIDENT: So included.

Senator LINES: I, and also on behalf of Senators Peris and Siewert, move:

That the Senate notes that:

(a) support to 'Close the Gap' on health has been a bipartisan commitment;

(b) the World Health Organization has declared incidents of ear disease in communities in Western Australia and the Northern Territory to be a 'massive health problem', with the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in remote community suffering with middle ear infections to be as high as 93 per cent;

(c) the relationship between hearing loss and early interaction with the justice system has been recognised by Indigenous health experts;

(d) the Western Australian Minister for Health, Mr Hames, has, during the week beginning 29 November 2015, cancelled the Government funding of the Telethon Speech and Hearing's Ear Health program, an Aboriginal children's ear clinic based in Perth, despite its rating of 'outstanding' in an independent review; and

(e) to achieve progress toward closing the gap across Australia, governments at all levels must recognise the importance of adequate funding for ear health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

I seek leave to make a short statement.

The PRESIDENT: Leave is granted for one minute.

Senator LINES: This motion arose because of a snap decision of the WA Barnett government to close the ear service that is run by the Telethon Kids Institute in Western Australia. It is run primarily to pick up hearing difficulties for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. It has an outstanding reputation. It works well, right across the state, and yet, without warning, it has had its funding cut. This is a backward step, given that we are not meeting the targets on Close the Gap.

I would hope that the minister in here, Minister Scullion, speaks urgently to the Western Australian government about their intentions and why they have closed this outstanding service that is of absolute importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. I would urge all in this chamber, particularly the Western Australians, to take this matter up directly with Premier Barnett.