Speech by Senator the Hon Jan McLucas

Deaf Australian 2nd National Conference & 25th Anniversary Celebration

Location: Hobart, Tasmania

Thank you Ann [Darwin] for the introduction.

I would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the Land on which we are meeting, and pay respect to their Elders past and present.

And I also acknowledge:

  • Mr Markku Jokinen, President of World Federation of the Deaf; and
  • Mr Colin Allen, Board Member (Australia) of World Federation of the Deaf

It gives me great pleasure to launch the 2nd National Conference for Deaf Australia and I would like to congratulate the Executive Officer, Karen Lloyd and President Ann Darwin for organising this important event.

Today we come together to celebrate the remarkable achievements of Deaf Australia over the past 25 years.

A quarter of a century of meaningful advocacy and dedicated, effective action, which is delivering a better quality of life for deaf people in Australia.

This special milestone coincides with a very important time for people with disability. 2011 is indeed shaping up to be a watershed year for people with disability, their families and carers.

We’ve endorsed the National Disability Strategy.

We’re delivering record levels of funding through the National Disability Agreement.

We’ve asked the Productivity Commission to undertake an inquiry into the costs, benefits and feasibility of a national long term care and support scheme for people with disability.

And just this week we’ve seen a federal budget handed down that includes substantial new funding for early intervention services and therapy services.

In case you hadn’t caught up on the news…from now on children with severe hearing impairment will get $12,000 in early intervention services from the Australian Government under our Better Start Program.

These programs will support a further 25,000 children, including children who are deaf… and their families… at the most critical time in the early development.

25,000 children who will be supported onto a better pathway…
… a pathway to school, to a good quality education
… a pathway to a good job
… and more generally, a pathway to full inclusion in the community.

And because that pathway doesn’t stop, when a person reaches 6 years of age, there is $200 million of new funds in the budget to better support the education of children with disabilities.

I worked as a primary school teacher prior to entering parliament. I have always recognised the value of an education.Every child in every school deserves a great education. It is the foundation upon which every individual builds his or her participation in society.

There is also $111 million to help people on the DSP to find employment, if they are able to… because the right to work is a fundamental right in Australian society.

These are core Labor values. They initiatives I’m proud of and that I hope people here would support and I might describe these changes more fully in a moment.


But… its been a big year so far and its only going to get bigger.

In my mind, Deaf Australia has been, and will continue to be, a critical contributor to the important discussion that is happening across the country about making our society a more inclusive and supportive place to live.

Deaf Australia’s engagement with government and industry has improved access to information, developed communication technology, and positively influenced participation and inclusion for with a hearing impairment.

Importantly, Deaf Australia has also fostered the growth and understanding of deaf culture in Australia.

The many highlights of the past 25 years have included setting up the Australian Sign Language Body and the National Relay Service, and hosting the 8th World Federation of the Deaf in Brisbane in 1999.

More recently, as a founding member of the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, Deaf Australia became part of a united voice to ensure people with disability have the same opportunities as other Australians to fulfil their potential and participate fully in life.

One of the greatest achievements has been the increase in captioning available on free to air and pay television and in cinemas since Deaf Australia’s inception.

The theme of this year’s National Conference – ‘from little things big things grow’ – aptly describes the expansion of captioning.

Twenty years ago captioning was introduced on the nightly news.

From this early, tentative initiative, captioning has expanded to include current affairs broadcasts and programming viewed by more than 6.5 million Australians[1] today.

The Australian Government is absolutely committed to making sure meaningful improvements to media access continue as our media platforms evolve.

The recent Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi provided a graphic illustration of why we need to keep improving access to information for all Australians.

Vital information about evacuation centres, flood preparedness and emergency services needed to be publicly available and accessible to all affected.

It is not an exaggeration to say that this information was life saving.

Which is why Premier Anna Bligh and the Queensland Government took the much celebrated step of using Auslan interpreters during emergency press conferences. And we saw this standard adopted in Christchurch and in Japan.

This reminder of the importance of disseminating essential information came on the heels of the Media Access Review Report which made recommendations to improve access to electronic media for people with hearing and vision impairment.

I am pleased to be working with my colleague Senator Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, to prepare legislation which will further improve captioning for both free to air and subscription television under the Broadcasting Services Act.

We want to work with the subscription television sector, disability groups, the Australian Human Rights Commission and other stakeholders to raise the captioning targets and introduce requirements for caption quality.

I look forward to working with Deaf Australia on these improvements, just as we have worked together to deliver the National Disability Strategy.

We delivered the National Disability Strategy in February this year after significant consultation with the disability sector.
The Strategy is a 10 year plan to bring about real change.

For the first time, State, Territory and Commonwealth Governments have a clear and wide ranging road map to address the barriers people with disability face.

And from our point of view, the Gillard Government has no intention of seeing this Strategy sitting on the shelves gathering dust. We are already delivering practical initiatives to support the Strategy by:

  • Making local buildings and public spaces more accessible
  • We’re improving access to digital content in public libraries
  • Helping develop the leadership capacity of people with disability
  • Encouraging discussion and debate in the disability community through the ABC’s new website – RampUp – which I encourage you to bookmark
  • Promoting the use of universal design principles in new housing;
  • (and as you are aware) Improving access to cinemas for those who are deaf, blind, visually or hearing impaired.

These are real, tangible, meaningful measures that I have been working hard to deliver in the past 9 months since my appointment as Parliamentary Secretary. This is just the start.

On that final point, I would like to share some comments from a cinema go-er with you. Speaking of his first CaptiView experience at Robina’s Event cinemas on the Gold Coast, one man said in a letter to me:

“I have probably gone to 20 movies with my three young children where I have just twiddled my thumbs and played with my iPhone, instead of being able to enjoy the movie experience fully with them.”

I have been waiting for many years for this and with only 2 accessible movie experiences in my 41 years on the planet, I am looking forward to catching many more movies with my family and friends and seeing how others find this technology”

There is a lot more work to be done to ensure that Australians with disability can enjoy this same experience.

By the end of 2014 captions and audio description will be available in at least one theatre in every one of the 132 cinema complexes run by Hoyts, Village, Event and Reading Cinemas. This will equate to captions and audio description being provided at 242 screens in 132 complexes.

This is just one way the National Disability Strategy will change how mainstream services and programs are delivered to the deaf community.

But the strategy will have a broader impact. Implementing the Strategy is not confined to the disability sector, it involves us all – government, business, industry and community.

It’s about making sure all government decisions in areas such as infrastructure, health services, transport, education, housing and employment take into account the various needs of people with disability.

It’s about fundamentally changing our thinking so that the needs of people with disability are considered at all stages of policy development and delivery, rather than as a patch up when access issues arise following implementation.

Most especially attitudes that have caused passive discrimination, defining people by their disability and not by their abilities.

The National Disability Strategy will help us honour the principles underpinning the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

And it is informing the development of future policies and programs like the Better Start for Children with a Disability Initiative – which is, as I mentioned earlier, a key measure delivered in the federal budget earlier this week.

And because the Federal budget was only delivered a few days ago, I’d like to take a moment to flesh out two of the initiatives mentioned earlier which the Gillard Government has introduced.

The budget is a clear statement of what the Labor Government puts the highest value on.

We have put a focus on jobs, on spreading the benefits and dignity of work.

The right to work is a fundamental right in Australian society. And people with disability should share that right. We need to focus on people’s ability, not their disability.

The benefits of having a job go well beyond a weekly pay packet. There are social benefits, like the boost to one’s confidence and self-esteem.

As I said earlier there is $111 million in this budget to support and encourage people with disability into employment. Let’s be clear about what that funding does because there is plenty of misinformation out there at already…

  • The funding will provide DSP recipients services and supports to find work.
  • It will allow some DSP recipients to work up to 30 hours a week (up from 15 hours) without having their payment suspended
  • And it provides new incentives for employers to take on a person with disability such as:
    • New wage subsidies for employers who employ people with disability in jobs for at least 15 hours a week for 6 months.
    • Very long term unemployed job seekers with disability participating in Disability Employment Services and Job Services Australia programs may also be eligible for a wage subsidy of approximately $5,700 over six months.
    • And from 1 July 2012, a new Supported Wage System Employer Payment will also be available to employers who employ people whose productivity is reduced as a result of their disability. The $2,000 incentive payment will be available to eligible employers after they have employed a person under the Supported Wage System for a minimum of 15 hours a week, for a period of 6 months.

So this is about investing in the capacity people who want to… and are able to… work… but perhaps haven’t been properly supported in the past to do that. So that’s the first thing we’re doing.

We also know that investing in early intervention for children with disabilities before they get to school, gives them the best chance to achieve their potential.

So we will be broadening access to early intervention services with the Better Start for Children program.

We have announced $146.5 million over four years in this federal budget to deliver this initiative.

It will provide greater access to early intervention programs and to qualified, experienced specialists for children with disability.

Every child in Australia has the right to grow up happy, healthy and safe, and able to take up the opportunities that are open to them.

And children get the best start in life in a loving family that has the financial, social and emotional resources to support them.

But many families need help at some time and for families supporting a child with disability this is particularly true.

Today there are approximately 1,800 children with moderate or greater hearing impairment, with nearly 300 additional children requiring assistance each year.

We know that early intervention for children with hearing loss is critical to developing the communication skills needed for getting through school and to enjoy taking part in the broader community life.

The budget ensures that from July, families of children under the age of six with moderate or greater hearing impairment will be able to register to access up to $12,000 in early intervention funding.

For families of eligible children who live in outer regional, rural and remote areas there is also an additional one off payment of $2000 to help meet the costs of accessing early intervention services, such as transport costs.

Eligible children will also have access to new Medicare items for a range of allied health services.

It eases the financial pressure on families and helps parents focus on getting the right support for their child’s development.

It really does ‘take a village to raise a child’ and children with disability need the love, support and encouragement of many to give them the best start.

That’s why we want families to be able to use their child’s funding to pay for a range of support services – occupational therapists, speech pathologists, audiologists, psychologists and physiotherapists.

Children with hearing loss will have greater access for the fitting and use of hearing devices. And greater access to specialists in oral speech and language development.

More children will have the opportunity to take part in programs that encourage early literacy understanding and language development through play, parent-child interaction and everyday life experiences.

Our consultations with Deaf Australia and early intervention professionals made it clear that Teachers of the Deaf and Special Education Teachers, as well as other specialist providers, should also be supported through this initiative.

This is why we are recognising the professions on the front line of special education through the Better Start Early Intervention Service Provider Panel.

And I am really pleased new funding will support one of the most important interventions for hearing impaired children – the teaching of Auslan to children.

‘From little things big things grow’.

Who knows how many inspiring adults will emerge among the children supported today through the Better Start for Children with a Disability Initiative?

As I mentioned earlier, we need to focus on people’s ability, not their disability. We need to give our young people the best possible start in life.

These are core Labor values. That’s what this budget is about.


Twenty five years after it began, Deaf Australia continues to represent the interests of the deaf community with the same outstanding passion and persistence shown by your remarkable founding President, Dorothy Shaw.

In closing I am reminded of the quote of an inspirational person known the world over for her humanity, rather than her disability – Helen Keller.

She said ‘alone we can do so little; together we can do so much’ and that is really the key.

By working together we can make sure that from little things big things grow.

By working together we can bring about the big extraordinary changes that will give people with disability the same opportunities as all Australians.

Thank you.

  1. February 2011, The Australia Institute Report for the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network and Media Access Australia.