Speech by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

First Voice: launch of social cost benefit analysis of early intervention programs

Location:  Parliament House, Canberra

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Good morning everyone and welcome to Parliament House.

Thanks very much to Dimity, it’s great to be here.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

It is a pleasure to celebrate the good work of First Voice.

Unfortunately Parliamentary Secretary McLucas is not well and sends her apologies. I know she is very disappointed she can’t be with us this morning.

Thank you all for coming to Canberra to launch this report into First Voice’s early intervention programs.

I think it’s always good to have the data to back up what those of you in this room know to be true.

It is not surprising that this report finds that early intervention makes an enormous difference to children with hearing impairment.

Enabling children to attend mainstream schools and develop language skills comparable to hearing children.

And to complete year 12, which the report shows that 96 per cent of First Voice graduates did.

I had the wonderful pleasure recently of joining Jan McLucas and Tanya Plibersek at the Shepherd Centre, and Jim [Hungerford] it’s great to see you here again today.

We were launching our Better Start for Children with Disability initiative which we announced in the election campaign. One of the great opportunities we had that day was to meet a number of children of all ages who really demonstrated exactly what Dimity has just described – if you intervene early children will – not maybe – will grow up to their full potential.

I met a little boy called Max, who was about 7 years old, and he was already speaking fluently. If you didn’t already know he had been deaf you certainly wouldn’t know from listening him to speak. His hearing is now at the same level as other children his age and he is keeping up with his classmates. And it’s all thanks to First Voice’s early intervention programs and two Cochlear implants.

This report shows that early intervention is enabling children with hearing impairment to fulfil their potential.

There’s a story of a young man who became deaf as a baby following meningitis.

He’s already exceeded beyond what many of us would hope to achieve.

He is now 18 and has gone on to complete his International Baccalaureate, taking a Year 12 prize in Italian, and being accepted into university for a double degree in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering.

He too demonstrates what children can do if they get the chance to learn to hear, learn to speak and learn to grow.

We know how important early intervention is. That’s why the Government is delivering this program – because we want more families to be able to access these benefits.

This is why we are providing up to $12,000 in flexible early intervention funding to children under the age of six who have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Fragile X syndrome, or moderate or greater vision or hearing impairment including deafblindness.

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

Better Start is making quality early intervention services such as speech pathologists and audiologists and therapies more accessible to families.

I’m pleased to report that already 725 children have registered for services under the Better Start program in its first six weeks.

Of course, delivering the Better Start for Children With Disability program is not the only the thing the Government has being doing to support families of children with disability recently.

As most of you will be aware last year the Government asked the Productivity Commission to conduct an inquiry into care and support for people with disability.

We asked the Productivity Commission to examine reform of disability support services because we believe that the system we have today is not delivering the kind of care and support Australians expect for people with disability.

The Productivity Commission recommended a National Disability Insurance Scheme that would entitle all Australians to support in the event of significant disability.

The scheme would provide individually tailored care and support to around 410,000 people with significant disabilities.

A separate National Injury Insurance Scheme would provide no fault insurance for anyone suffering a catastrophic injury.

Three weeks after receiving the Productivity Commission’s report I’m very pleased to be able to say we have already made some important first steps toward delivering a National Disability Insurance Scheme. These include:

  • On Friday, COAG agreeing to major reform of disability services in Australia through a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
  • COAG also agreed to set up a Select Council on Disability Reform chaired by the Treasurer and myself, supported by an Advisory Group of leading disability experts and stakeholders.
  • Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister launched the Productivity Commission’s report and announced $10 million this year for initial work to lay the foundations for reform.

While there is a lot of work ahead, we are getting started quickly.

An important part of what the Productivity Commission recommends is a greater focus on early intervention.

They do this because they have seen the benefits of early intervention measures like those run by First Voice, documented in this report.

So it gives me great pleasure in launching this report today, at the start of Hearing Awareness Week.

I am confident it will make an important contribution to raising the community’s awareness of the needs of hearing impaired children, and especially the benefits of early intervention.

Congratulations to everyone who has been involved.

And congratulations for continuing your tremendous work in supporting hearing impaired children to fulfil their potential.

Thank you.