Senate debates

Tuesday, 2 September 2014


Community Affairs References Committee; Report

5:54 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Women) Share this | Hansard source

In June 2011, the Speech Pathology Australia National President Ms Christine Stone first contacted the Community Affairs References Committee. At that time, there was a request for more consideration of the need for speech pathology services across Australia. There was also a desperate plea for coordinated research into the need and location of speech therapy services so that our country can respond with an effective plan to address that need and to ensure that we maintain the highest quality of speech pathology in our nation.

I want to put on record my absolute admiration of and appreciation for the tenacious efforts of SPA, who never let up. From June 2011 to when we finally got this inquiry on the road in December 2013, there was regular contact. Case studies and information were forwarded by SPA to reassure the committee that there was a need for this work and also to highlight the professional qualities of the industry in Australia. Through the committee, we saw the fruits of that work. Over the period of the hearings, we saw the lifelong impact of the need for communication. The committee begins with an overview, and it states:

The capacity to communicate verbally is fundamental to a person's development and wellbeing. The ability to learn effectively, to form meaningful and supportive relationships, to influence others, and to obtain and maintain employment can be significantly affected if a person is unable to verbally communicate.

We tend to take that for granted but through the work that we did, through the submissions we received and as a result of the enthusiasm with which people came to see our committee as though they had been waiting for the opportunity to share their knowledge, to share their experience and to share their demands, it became clear that the need greatly outstrips the available services. Even more than the need, the accessibility of the services was highlighted consistently across evidence from all states and from the professionals working in the area. We have come away from this committee absolutely assured that there is a need for much more work.

Our committee usually has many recommendations. In this inquiry we had 10 recommendations, but I can assure the Senate that they are big ones. There is a great deal of detail in them, and they call for effective research into how we can establish what the needs of the community are, how we can best look at matching those needs to a professional workforce and how we can use resources across the country—both at the state and federal levels—to get the best knowledge and put in place a plan to meet the demand for effective communication support. One of the most confronting aspects of the inquiry was the fact that the need is so diverse and so great. We heard from schoolchildren, people who are looking for work and victims of illnesses such as stroke and acquired brain injury. All of them had quite specialised needs for the skills of trained speech pathologists. Their needs were different but there was a commonality.

Throughout the process, the services available in Australia, and when people could access them, were widely praised. There was genuine admiration and respect for the quality of speech pathologists across the country and for the services they provided, but the need was not being met because there was not sufficient service across the board. It was heartbreaking to see the terror with which people approached our committee, telling us that they had need, they knew they had need but they could not afford the services to make their lives and the lives of their families, the lives of their children, better. Their cries are a challenge for all of us that we cannot turn away from.

I want to mention the wonderful work of the Speech Pathology Australia. They shared information with us, they provided academic research to us and they gave us referrals so we could talk more closely with families and organisations where there was need.

Senator Siewert has pointed out that I will speak about Glenleighden School. I have spoken in this place several times before about this wonderful facility in Queensland. The sadness is that there is but one Glenleighden. There are no similar places anywhere else in the country that look at the particular needs of students with communication issues. The students who go to that school come from a wide range of backgrounds and have a wide range of conditions, but their core need is for effective support in communication through a range of therapies, led by a need for effective speech therapy.

We had a session at Glenleighden, and I want to put on record my continuing thanks to Ms Cae Ashton and her team at the school, who gathered together a number of parents who gave up their time to come and speak to us. These parents told us a little bit about what their lives entailed, their feelings about the desperate needs of their children and the difference that going to Glenleighden makes. I will never forget that session, and I am a pretty regular visitor to Glenleighden. We were given the opportunity to have mums and dads who expressed their desires for their children and also the sacrifices that they had made to ensure that their kids could receive the services provided at the school. People had actually moved states, they had moved homes, so that they could have the services of Glenleighden. I put on record my continuing thanks for that.

We also had the opportunity in Brisbane to have a public hearing. Again being quite parochial, Senator Siewert, I will mention some of my mates who gave evidence at that hearing, in particular, people from the Centre for Clinical Research Excellence in Aphasia Rehabilitation. Over the last few years, I have got to know a number of people who are members of Aphasia Queensland. These people have had, as a result mostly of stroke but sometimes of brain injury, severe communication issues, issues that have hindered their ability to rehabilitate and to re-communicate with family and friends. In particular, I thank Wendy and Paul Corp, a wonderful couple. Mrs Corp has had a stroke event, and her partner Paul has worked with her as she rebuilds her skills and her confidence. This couple was determined to come to our inquiry to talk to us about the value of effective therapy, the particular value of the LIFT program at the University of Queensland, which is an exhausting program over days of intensive work, at the end of which there is a real difference. People are able to communicate more freely and more confidently and are then able to rebuild to make the most of their lives.

Other senators have spoken about other site visits. We need to thank those people for coming to talk with us and to reinforce the need that Speech Pathology Australia shared with us in 2011. The services are extraordinary. The need is great. But we as a nation have a responsibility to ensure that the services that are available to some are available to all, because we know it makes a difference. I hope to be able to speak many times in this place and pick up on some of the issues that came out through the people we met. The important thing now is that this particular report is taken up by governments so that together they can identify the needs that they have to ensure that services are effectively identified and resourced. We need to continue to ensure that those communication needs are met, that the personal cost to individuals and society at large can be acknowledged and that we can respond to that need by having the strongest possible services across our nation.

This is the kind of work that the Senate committees do, Mr Deputy President. We have a chance to listen to people who want to talk to us, share their knowledge and then feed back into government policy development ways that we as a whole society can work together to improve what is going on in Australia. We know that people need to communicate effectively. We know that the earlier that people have the services of effective speech therapy the better their chance of becoming fluent and effective communicators. Then their opportunities for education and work will be enhanced.


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