I rise to speak on this excellent motion by the member for Perth that notes the importance of the CapTel handset to at least 4,000 people in the Australian hearing impaired community and condemns the government for removing this important service without consultation. I thank the excellent member of Perth for moving this motion. I note the fact that not a single government member has the guts or intestinal fortitude to get up and defend their decision. The new member for Curtin—probably in an act of being new to this place—put her name on the list to speak about this and suddenly she's been detained.
I look forward to her coming up after the member for Newcastle. There are a couple more speaking slots and I look forward to her come up to defend this appalling decision by the government after I and the member for Newcastle speak. The truth is that this heartless Morrison government is making life harder for Australians with a hearing impairment, particularly older Australians who have lost their hearing altogether. Like many others in this place, since mid last year I've been contacted by constituents with a hearing impairment who are alarmed and distressed at the news that, from February this year, they are no longer able to use their CapTel phone service. February is here and we've seen some panicked reactions by the minister for communications, but no satisfactory solution for elderly deaf Australians and their families. Why on earth would this government remove access to the CapTel handset from the National Relay Service? The answer is, quite simply: budget cuts. Some Australians have come to rely on this service. People in my electorate such as Noel, aged 85, who has cancer, relies on CapTel to make medical and transport appointments. Maree, aged 77, has partial hearing but relies on CapTel to make sure appointment details are accurate. Andrina, aged 69, still has some hearing and can enjoy the sound of her grandchildren's voices but relies on CapTel for adult conversations. John is aged 70 and his wife had a long career as a teacher but lost all confidence when she lost her hearing. With CapTel she has confidence to make her own appointments. Marilyn, aged 75, relies on CapTel to keep in touch with her daughter. Paul, aged 86, needs CapTel to call the ambulance when his wife collapses. And Kathy, aged 63, says CapTel has changed her life. She is no long socially isolated because of her deafness and can manage her own affairs. All this is being ripped away by this government.
The minister has not taken responsibility for his appalling decision. He's so far blamed the 2013 Labor government, the Public Service and the previous National Relay Service provider, and he's now blaming the American company that licences the technology, all because the government won't admit this debacle is its own fault. All we are seeing is cost-cutting. The communications minister did expect and acknowledged that the transition to this new and, as we've discovered, inferior technology would be challenging, particularly for older Australians who may not be as familiar with technology. He said the migration to alternative services would be supported by 'extensive training, information and transition', including in some cases 'in-home assistance'. What does this training look like? In the words of one of my constituents from Valentine:
"Since my last email I have had a government trainee to my house.
The National Relay Service is useless!
No one from NRS answers and you have to use a log on every 18 hours.
My lovely helper in the home from the government rang me through the NRS and we both chatted for ages ... no, not on the phone, side by side, while waiting for the NRS to answer!!
the NRS worker—
had to hang up but said the on hold music was very nice.
And how would other people know how to ring us through the NRS?
So I tried the Live Transcribe option holding one mobile screen up against the speaker on the other mobile
This does a great job of transcribing what I've said, but I know what I'm saying …
It was absolutely hopeless, useless, for transcribing the caller.
Mostly nothing came up, but if a few words did they were incorrect anyway.
My constituent goes on to say:
This Liberal Government has no empathy whatsoever. They cannot have even got any experts to look into this to see if it would actually work.
He or she finishes by saying:
PLEASE SAVE CAPTEL.
This is what happens when a government fails to plan. This is what happens when a government does not care—when a government puts the budget bottom line ahead of Australians who need support. Elderly and deaf Australians deserve so much better than this, and I condemn the government for its heartless treatment of these 4,000 Australians. I dare the minister to come to my electorate and meet with some of my constituents who have broken down in tears, explaining what this service meant to them. Shame on this government for attacking so many vulnerable Australians.
You can view the speech here