Tuesday, 2 September 2014
Community Affairs References Committee; Report
I take the opportunity to add my voice to the debate on this report by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee. I thank my fellow senators. I think it was a good process. There was a bit of give and take, but it is important that we got to a point that the committee members could all agree on. The government should, therefore, take this report particularly seriously. I commend the report to the government. The report is a reflection of the importance of this issue and of the importance of getting solutions, of working together to do that. As has been touched on by other speakers, this is an issue that goes right across jurisdictions. States and territories have a very big part to play in this, but there is a view in the committee that the Commonwealth also has an important leadership role in this space. The inquiry came about largely due to the strong advocacy work of Speech Pathology Australia, so I take the opportunity to thank them and the many community organisations and individuals who took the time to share their experiences with the committee.
We all know that the ability to communicate orally is key to a person's development, to their wellbeing and to their connection with their community:
… a person who suffers from a speech or swallowing disorder is susceptible to poorer educational outcomes, reduced employment prospects and increased likelihood of social, emotional and mental health issues.
We do not want to see that. That is why speech pathology is so important. Evidence was submitted to the inquiry that adults aged 34 years:
… who had a language impairment at the age of five have up to seven times higher odds of poor reading, five times higher odds of mental health difficulties and three times higher odds of unemployment.
Many witnesses gave evidence of long waits for diagnosis and difficulty in accessing services in regional and remote areas. This is disheartening to hear when we know how important early intervention is. Access to speech pathology services is a complex issue. There is no one factor that would solve access issues. While the federal government does play a role in funding some services through particular programs, it is the states and territories—