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Private Members’ Business – Hearing Health Services

20 October 2014


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (11:06): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this motion and I thank the member for Wakefield for giving the House a chance to hear the Abbott government’s track record in this important policy space and its determination for a strong, independent review process of the recommendations made by the National Commission of Audit.

Since its creation in 1947 Australian Hearing has developed an enviable reputation for its work with hearing-impaired people. They are a trusted provider of high-quality hearing services, committed to access and equity, quality clinical care and excellence in customer service. Australian Hearing continues to perform strongly in a contestable and increasingly competitive environment, achieving a before-tax profit of $12.5 million in 2013-14. It is now one of over 230 registered hearing providers under the Australian Government Hearing Services Program and its research division, the National Acoustics Laboratories, is a world leader in hearing-loss assessment, prevention and rehabilitation.

In 2013-14 Australian Hearing provided 446,870 hearing health services to customers, almost 70 per cent of which were provided under the voucher program. It continues to build on its legacy with a greater focus on innovation and collaboration and is well placed to provide hearing services as policies, markets and technologies change.

In response to recommendations by the National Commission of Audit the government announced a scoping study on future ownership options for Australian Hearing and funded this study in the recent budget. Following a competitive procurement process, PwC and Freehills were appointed to provide independent advice and recommendations around possible future ownership options to ensure the objectives of the scoping studies are met.

These objectives are to: maintain service at quality levels for customers and private investors, included in regional and rural Australia; ensure any recommended outcomes treat Australian Hearing employees in a fair manner, including through the preservation of accrued entitlements; minimise any residual risks and liabilities to the government; and maximise the benefit to the government.

The scoping study will assess the capability and competition in the market and is intended to identify the most effective and efficient way of delivering services to the public in an evolving market. The government has not made a decision on the future ownership options of Australian Hearing and will not do what the member for Wakefield desires—to confect the outcome before the results of the independent expert review are received.

Australian Hearing’s head office is located at the Australian Hearing Hub at Macquarie University, in my electorate of Bennelong. I have been fortunate to tour this unique, world-class facility that was purpose designed to facilitate collaboration and research into hearing disorders. Through its position within the hub, Australian Hearing maintains a strong connection to organisations like Cochlear, Siemens Hearing Instruments as well as academia and community sector groups.

Last Friday I was delighted to welcome the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health for a tour of Cochlear’s facility next door to the hearing hub. This tour followed a government announcement a $538.8 million to help Australian health and medical researchers find the cures, treatments and medical devices of the future. The funding will support 773 National Health and Medical Research Council grants to ensure Australia remains a world leader in medical research. The tour also followed the Prime Minister’s announcement last week of the industry and innovation competitiveness agenda, which Cochlear CEO, Dr Chris Roberts, stated ‘would enhance their international competitiveness, cut red tape, grow their export capacity and streamline market access’.

Over the past few years, I have been campaigning strongly on a key plank of this agenda: the recognition of approval by trusted international standard organisations for medical devices. For Australian patients, this will facilitate the speedy access to the latest generation medical devices offered by Bennelong based companies like Cochlear, J&J, Medtronic Australasia and St Jude Medical. To quote Dr Roberts, this is a huge win for an export company like Cochlear that sells devices into dozens of countries around the world that require country of origin approval. It means Cochlear is better placed to export its products, create jobs and improve health outcomes. It is clear that in 12 short months the Abbott government has taken strong action to support a competitive hearing services industry and find Australians in need of these health services. I again thank the member for Wakefield for giving us the opportunity—