PAULA TAPIOLAS: Now if you have a child with a disability in your family, keep listening because the Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs and the Minister for Disability Reform, Jenny Macklin, is in Townsville today announcing some funding which is helping children with vision and hearing impairments to access specialist services, and there’s a link here to the NBN. The Minister’s with me in the studio, can you explain a little bit more about it?
JENNY MACKLIN: I hope so. It is so exciting. It’s great that from Townsville - because you’re already getting access to the National Broadband Network - for children and parents who do have vision or hearing impairments, what they’ll be able to do in the future is get access to specialist services that might be some distance away. So for example, a child with a hearing disability could have a session with a speech therapist who’s located in Brisbane. It can all be done online - a speech therapist can test the child and teach the parents all of the things they need to know, to make sure that a child gets access to those specialist services in a way that otherwise they might not be able to.
PAULA TAPIOLAS: And you’re heading to the Townsville, I believe it’s the Aitkenvale Library today.
JENNY MACKLIN: That’s right.
PAULA TAPIOLAS: Why the Library?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well it is an example of a community place where people might in the future be able to conduct these services. But of course they may be able to be done from a person’s home if they’ve got the technology and the link-up already there. They might be able to do it from another community facility, so we’re just using the library today because it’s obviously a great community resource. But it’s not just libraries of course, that will be able to be used in the future.
PAULA TAPIOLAS: So what are some of the services that the children today will be getting, speech pathology or something similar?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I think they’re linking up with a person from Mt Isa, a physiotherapist I think, from Mt Isa, to really, and so we’ll have three little children there today who’ve got different disabilities, and we’ll be able to show that they can connect up with this specialist in Mt Isa. That’s where the specialist is and it will really bring home to everybody how practical and how helpful this will be to the child.
I think any parent who’s listening knows how critical it is to have early intervention. The sooner you get your child diagnosed, the sooner people can do an assessment and figure out specialist services that will help your child the better and then of course, make sure you get the services. And what we’re announcing today is this extra money that it will help pay for the specialist, it might be a physio, it might be a speech therapist, but also pay for upgrades that parents might need as well to their technology.
PAULA TAPIOLAS: One of things that’s been a big issue in our region is getting enough specialist services and attracting people to regional areas.
JENNY MACKLIN: Exactly.
PAULA TAPIOLAS: Is this in some way going to work against attracting people to regional areas if a specialist knows that they can do it from Sydney why would they want to come to Mt Isa or Townsville?
JENNY MACKLIN: I think it recognises that we’re not going to have people out in the more rural and remote places. I mean Townsville’s a pretty big place so of course we know how important it is to get specialists here, but there will be smaller towns and of course in remote communities, even less likelihood of there being specialists, so this really is aimed at rural and remote towns. But there will be advantages too for people here in Townsville where you don’t have either the particular specialist or you don’t have enough of them to be able to get access to people in Brisbane or some other place.
PAULA TAPIOLAS: And if we can speak about the National Disability Insurance Scheme because I know there’s a lot of interest.
JENNY MACKLIN: Yes.
PAULA TAPIOLAS: Where are you up to now with the planning for that?
JENNY MACKLIN: It’s so exciting. I think so many people with disabilities, so many carers and their families have been waiting for a change for so long. We were really pleased to receive the Productivity Commission Report, just in August last year that we asked for that, of course, recommended the establishment of a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The Government has got on with it straight away. We know how desperate people are. We’ve already established some money that is already being spent on some of the building blocks if you like, some of the work that needs to be done to establish a National Disability Insurance Scheme. So to give you one example, we need to know what will be funded, what early intervention works, how we’re going to assess people so we need a common assessment tool, the work’s being done on that. We’re doing that with the States and Territories.
I suppose that’s why I was so disappointed yesterday when Mr Abbott just put it on the never-never and …
PAULA TAPIOLAS: Well he says it’s too expensive. He says that Australia can’t do it until the surplus is increased. Is it too expensive to do now?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well I don’t agree with that. I think we have to get on with it and recognise that we cannot keep treating people with disability and their families and carers in the way that we have.
We cannot have people waiting for years and years for services and equipment that they just can’t get now.
So all of the States and Territories have agreed with the Commonwealth to get on with it.
That’s what Labor intends to do, it is a Labor thing to do. It’s a bit like we built Medicare, we intend to build this.
But that’s what’s so disappointing about Mr Abbott just saying, well we’re putting that on the backburner. We need everybody committed to this and if we have to do it ourselves, we will do it, because we think working with the States and Territories we can really make a difference to people’s lives.
PAULA TAPIOLAS: Will you do it in this term of Government?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well we’ve already started.
PAULA TAPIOLAS: Physically when will we see a plan?
JENNY MACKLIN: Well what we’ve announced already, so this is already out there in this commitment, that we want to see all the work done to prepare for a launch of the scheme in mid-2013.
So there’s a lot of work to be done before then to get all this technical preparation done as I’ve just given some indication of. We actually have a meeting with all the State and Territory Ministers again next Thursday in Canberra, so we’re certainly getting on with it.
PAULA TAPIOLAS: All right, well we’ll see what comes of that meeting in Canberra. Jenny Macklin, thank you for coming in to the studio.
JENNY MACKLIN: Thank you
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