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Rachel Siewert 23 Mar 2011

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia) (3.42 pm)—I, and on behalf of Senator Fifield, move: That the Senate—
(a)    acknowledges the success of the Deafness Technology Demonstration Forum in Parliament House on 19 August 2009, and notes the interest expressed by parliamentarians in technologies to enable deaf students to better participate in mainstream education;
(b)    draws the attention of senators to recent progress in further development and application of the ‘Ai-Live’ system, which combines voice recognition software with trained re-speakers to deliver real time word accurate text translation or captioning of speech to the student and its successful application in schools and further education;
(c)    recognises the transformative impact that technology has had on the engagement and learning of deaf students with access to the technology, who as a result are now able to understand and follow what their teacher or lecturer is saying in real time;
(d)    notes that state and territory education departments have indicated in principle commitment to a national pilot of Ai-Live in high schools, which would see them meeting 75 per cent of the costs; and
(e)    calls on the Federal Government to provide supplementary funding, to cover technology, infrastructure and support costs, to enable a national pilot of Ai-Live to commence.

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) (3.42 pm)—by leave—During this parliament we have had by and large a non-political approach to disability issues. It is somewhat disappointing that the coalition and the Greens have put up this motion in this way. The government clearly supports—can I put it on the record—the first four points of the motion but cannot agree with the final point.

It is a well respected principle that parliaments are not the best place to make operational decisions on the delivery of programs or select the preferred providers of programs such as this. Whilst Ai-Live have demonstrated to the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, there are a range of other technologies both in current use and in development that may also assist children who are hearing impaired or who are deaf with their education. This government is committed to providing world-class education for all children and has demonstrated that through delivering the national curriculum, the BER program and the current review of funding for schools under Mr David Gonski. We will not and should not decide in this place which company should be funded to provide assistive technologies to our children. Surely, with respect, this is best done through the appropriate processes.

Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia) (3.44 pm)—I seek leave to make a short statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator SIEWERT—Firstly, if the government had wanted to ask us to amend this motion, they should have contacted me. I had no contact from the government about this. It is usual practice for them to contact people, and I am sure that Senator Fifield would have joined me in accommodating a discussion with the minister about this.

Secondly, this is an excellent program. I have seen it demonstrated a number of times and it has shown excellent and promising results. The problem at the moment is that there is no proper system through which people can get support for this type of project. There is no clear path. What happens is that people have to jump through a variety of hoops with there being no clear process to get funding for good projects. What we have here is good technology that is showing promising results and that is worth funding. And this could apply to another type of technology. We have seen a student, for example, go from the bottom of a class to the top of the class in three weeks using this technology. It is time that we saw this work at a larger scale. I do not like people not having clear access to this sort of technology, which would really help people with hearing impairments. We are saying to the government that they should please look at this. People have been jumping through hoops and not getting anywhere, which denies people with disabilities access to this sort of good support. If the government wants to come back to us and modify the motion, please talk to us.

Senator FIFIELD (Victoria)—Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate (3.45 pm)—I seek leave to make a short statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator FIFIELD—I agree with Senator Siewert. The opposition would have been very happy to make amendments to this motion so that there could have been unanimity. One of the reasons that the opposition is keen to support this motion is because funding a pilot program would enable this particular product to be made available to students with hearing impairments throughout Australia. Should a coalition government be elected, this is the sort of support for students with disabilities that the coalition’s education card, announced at the last election, would support. Up to $20,000 would be available to be directed to the school of the parent’s choice. This is exactly the sort of technology that that education card should support.

This is an extremely worthy project. The money in question to support the trial is not large. I and Senator Siewert would be absolutely delighted if shortly the government found its way clear to supporting this sort of project. It is a good project because it has demonstrated its effectiveness by lifting dramatically the educational outcomes of individual students in a short period of time. This is something very practical, very achievable and very doable. It is something that could be rolled out in a very short period of time. This particular pilot project or trial is well worth the government supporting and I hope that they see their way clear to doing so.

Senator LUDWIG (Queensland—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery)

(3.47 pm)—I seek leave to make a short statement.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT—Leave is granted for two minutes.

Senator LUDWIG—I thank Senator Siewert and Senator Fifield for their contributions. I will draw the minister’s attention to the transcript of what they have just said on these two points.

Question agreed to.

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