National Deaf Week

 I rise to speak on the motion by the member for Parramatta. I am very happy to speak about the National Week of Deaf People.

Most Australians take their ability to hear for granted. It is the old story: you do not value something until you no longer have it. Approximately 30,000 Australians have total hearing loss. Currently, about one in six Australians are affected by some hearing loss; and, by 2050, that is likely to be one in four. It is not only the ability to hear that we take for granted; along with that ability comes a whole raft of inclusions in the community that we often do not realise excludes others.

In this National Week of Deaf People, we acknowledge and celebrate the deaf community, their contribution to society and their many achievements. There have been some famous Australian with hearing issues. Henry Lawson, one of my favourite short-story writers, became ill at nine and had progressive hearing loss, leading to major hearing loss by the time he was 14. Former Prime Minister John Howard suffered hearing loss from an early age but did not let that interfere with his time in politics—and I know that is the case for other MPs in this chamber. Could I also mention Jamie-Lee Lewis, daughter of Wally Lewis, who was born profoundly deaf and had a cochlear implant at aged four. Jamie-Lee has played touch football down here with her dad—who also played a bit of footy!—and is a very successful water polo player and a member of the Brisbane Barracudas in the national league. I have mentioned just a few of the many great Australians who have succeeded despite the difficulties they have faced due to hearing impairment.

But there is no doubt that Australians who are deaf or hard of hearing still face many barriers—in their working lives, accessing services and generally participating in community activities. Organisations such as Deaf Services Queensland, headquartered in Moorooka, just down the road from where I live in Moreton, help the deaf and the hard of hearing break down barriers to be more included in the community. They have been operating since 1903. They are a not-for-profit organisation that work with the community to enhance the services and programs that benefit deaf and hard-of-hearing people in Australia. Notwithstanding the great work that Deaf Services Queensland and other support and advocacy services do, sadly there are still some barriers that are insurmountable.

The High Court recently considered a Queensland law that prevents people who are deaf from participating in jury service. A Queensland woman, Gaye Lyons, who is deaf, received a request to perform jury duty. She was happy to participate. However, she was then notified by the deputy registrar of the court that she would not be able to participate and she was excused from jury duty. Ms Lyons, who wanted to serve her community, took her complaint to Queensland's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner. When this case eventually found its way to the High Court they concluded that Queensland law does not permit an Auslan interpreter to assist a juror while performing jury duty and it is, therefore, impossible for a juror who is deaf to perform the functions of a juror.

The history of the current Jury Act in Queensland shows that the state's lawmakers have tried to not generally exempt people who are deaf. The predecessor to the current act expressly exempted from jury service anyone who was deaf, but when the current act was legislated it did not have this express exemption. So, while the Queensland legislators may have attempted to be less discriminatory when the new act was made, the reality for prospective jurors who are deaf is very different. This decision of the High Court highlights the difficulties Australians who are deaf or hearing impaired face when it comes to participating fully in our society.

This motion notes that deaf Australians are a minority both culturally and linguistically. In my view, as a nation, we are generally doing a much better job of being inclusive of minority sectors in the community. But there is still more to be done. Communication is the greatest barrier preventing the deaf and hard of hearing from fully participating in the community. While Auslan is now recognised as a language in its own right, it is still uncommon for hearing Australians to be proficient in Auslan—and, as the member for Parramatta noted, it is hard to find translators, even in Canberra, the seat of government.

In this National Week of Deaf People we should all take the time to make sure we are doing our bit to help ease the barriers facing the deaf and hard of hearing. Perhaps learning some simple Auslan signing would be a good place to start. I commend the motion put forward by the member for Parramatta to the House.


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