12 August 2019


I want to thank the member for Bendigo for bringing this very important motion to the parliament about Vision Australia Radio.

This unique and long-running service is relied upon by people in our community who are blind, have low vision or a print disability, whether through age, a health condition or lack of literacy skills. Labor is deeply concerned about warnings from Vision Australia that it will be forced to close a number of its radio services at the end of the year as a result of a funding shortfall associated with changes that relate to the NDIS. Currently the Vision Australia Radio network incorporates 10 community radio stations across Australia. According to McNair survey figures from January this year, Vision Australia Radio has an average of 701,000 listeners per month. Each of these listeners tunes in for more than 10 hours a week on average. Without a solution, only four of the stations will remain, and the closures will severely reduce the ability of many thousands of people to access information in their preferred format.

Vision Australia Radio receives support, including government funding through the Community Broadcasting Foundation, sponsorship and philanthropic donations. What's more, the network survives thanks to the time and dedication of more than 800 volunteers who provide more than $2.4 million worth of value to the service. I acknowledge and thank them. Despite all this, Vision Australia Radio can no longer sustain its much needed community service given that shortfall. The listeners and volunteers deserve a government that will examine all funding options as well as options to alleviate operating costs. A number of Labor members will meet and have met with Vision Australia, and Labor has written to the communications minister and the minister with responsibility for the NDIS with these concerns. We call on the government to meet with Vision Australia as a matter of priority and explore all options to ensure that these vital radio services continue into the future.

Equality of access to media is a fundamental human right. Blind and low-vision Australians aren't getting a fair go. Already they miss out on audio description on TV, and now many of the Vision Australia Radio services they rely on face the threat of closure. Now in its third term, this government has failed to ensure delivery of audio description for blind and low-vision Australians on free-to-air television. Audio description is an additional feature that describes the visual elements happening on screen that sighted people take for granted. Australia is the only English-speaking country in the OECD yet to provide TV audio description. This is shameful.

Labor is a longstanding supporter of equality of access to media. In 2010 we initiated the investigation into access to electronic media for the hearing and vision impaired. In 2012 we legislated for captioning to improve access to TV for deaf and hearing impaired Australians and funded a 13-week trial of audio description on the ABC. In 2019 Labor took a policy to implement audio description to the federal election. Meanwhile, this government has delivered nothing other than a further trial of audio description and a report that they have sat on since 2017. It is now well overdue for this government to act when it comes to ensuring TV services in Australia are accessible via audio description. For six years the engagement of this government on disability issues in the communications portfolio has been disappointing. On all the evidence, their approach seems to lack a plan to make communications more accessible. That's after six years in government.

The National Relay Service is another case in point. The NRS is an essential service which enables Australians who are deaf, hearing impaired or speech impaired to make and receive telephone calls—again, something the overwhelming majority of Australians and we in this room take for granted. It was founded on principles of access and equity, and it is important these principles are preserved. The recent NRS tender outcome poses many challenges as it will seemingly require NRS users to stop using CapTel and migrate to an alternative service. Last week I received a briefing on these challenges associated with this decision. One aspect that deeply concerned me was that the briefing did not adequately explain what users of the CapTel services themselves considered the impact of migrating services would be. The plan for engaging with the NRS community and providing transitional support for service migration remains unconvincing and unclear. Australians with a disability deserve better. They deserve better from this government. How the NRS transition is managed will be an important test.

In conclusion, I again want to thank the member for Bendigo, who is a passionate advocate for all people needing services to enable them to access the media and enable them to access communications that we take for granted. Again I pay tribute to the volunteers and all the supporters associated with Vision Australia.