House debates

Thursday, 6 March 2014


Lachman Family

10:07 am

Photo of Jason WoodJason Wood (La Trobe, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today I am going to tell the chamber about an amazing family that lives in my electorate of La Trobe—the Lachman family. In 2007, Alan Lachman, his wife, Maria-Franca, and their three daughters decided to leave Italy and make Melbourne their home. Alan, originally from Australia, had moved to Milan where he had set up a business and eventually met Maria-Franca and raised a family. The move to Australia was not only about lifestyle change; they moved to Melbourne to enrol their youngest daughter, Francesca, in the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind.

Francesca was born blind. The Lachmans had done their research and several years previously had decided that the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind in Melbourne was the best place to send Francesca to be educated. Unfortunately one year later, in 2008, after 142 years, the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind announced its closure. The students were going to have to find other places to receive their special education. Many of the blind students were going to have to integrate into mainstream government schools. Imagine that—your son or daughter being forced to go into a state or private school where, sadly, there are no teachers to teach them Braille.

Alan and Maria-Franca were stunned. They knew that the education alternative for their daughter would simply not have the quality of a specialist school education. Alan, an extremely successful entrepreneur and businessman, was not going to take this lying down. He took charge, representing the group of parents and students affected—arranging a 15,000-name petition and widespread press coverage. However, this was not enough to stop the closure of Victoria's only school for the blind.

Not giving up, Alan resolved to open another school for blind students in Victoria—and not only one school but many schools. Late in 2008, the Lachman family and a small group of affected parents committed to the foundation of what has become known as the Insight Education Centre for the Blind and Vision Impaired. The journey had commenced.

A meeting with the Brumby Labor government for seed funding fell on deaf ears. But the team kept their resolve. The Insight Education Centre was to be built, no matter what. The famous and blind Italian singer Andrea Bocelli gave his full support to Insight and produced a video.

But the real breakthrough came for the group in 2010 with the Victorian state election. Now with a Liberal state government, Insight received $2.14 million in seed funding. Thanks must go to the state education minister, Martin Dixon, and also Wendy Lovell. Alan's vision could now start to take shape. A new greenfields site was established at Monash University's Berwick campus for the Insight Education Centre, and a mobile classroom in the form of a special converted Ford Transit van was purchased. I have seen this van. The whole purpose of it is to have satellite schools for those who are blind and visually impaired across the state and, eventually, across the country.

I met Alan in 2012 at the Casey Citizen of the Year awards. I sat beside Alan and he told me his amazing story. That night I said to Alan, 'If there is anything I can do to help, give me a phone call.' Guess what happened? The federal election was on and I got the phone call. Alan needed $1.5 million because there was a shortfall and if he did not receive that funding the project would fall over. I must give special thanks to Senator Mitch Fifield and Minister Greg Hunt for both personally intervening on the Thursday before the election date to secure this funding. There was no media. There was no fanfare. But this was one of those projects we were so happy to get behind.

However, there were then blow-outs in costs and the centre needed money urgently, so I got a phone call on 13 November. Guess who it was? Alan had driven up from Melbourne to Parliament House in Canberra to tell me that he urgently needed $1.5 million. We went around to the office of Minister Jamie Briggs and also made phone calls to Senator Mitch Fifield and Minister Greg Hunt. They gave their full support. The fantastic news is that Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who had previously met Francesca at my campaign opening, got behind this cause and signed the cheque. The great news is that this morning I got an SMS from Alan saying that the centre will be open in a month. Alan, you are a fantastic ambassador for the blind and visually impaired, and your family is too.