Cynic? Who me? and I wonder why? by Gary Kerridge

Deaf Children Australia is a reasonably rich deafness organisation that was set up in the 19th century by a Deaf man, Frederick John Rose. Originally this organisation was set up as a school for the deaf and later expanded to become a service  provider. Over a hundred years later the organisation still exists. Its purpose, at the moment, seems to be to swallow up every deaf services organisation in Australia. The Australian Deaf community have a great deal of cynicism regarding the motives of the organisation. The question on every one’s lips or hands is, “What will they or HE do next?”

The people that run Deaf Children Australia and their partners believe that Australia needs a national deaf services organisation. Currently Deaf Children Australia has a partnerships with two other Australian deaf services organisations. They work in partnership, seemingly sharing resources, administration, governance, business, financial services and blah blah. They remain separate companies but have one CEO – the CEO signature on emails reads CEO – Deaf Children Australia, Deaf Services Queensland and Western Australian Deaf Society, rather like a roll call of honour that cries POWER!  This POWER in the hands of one person is what worries so many in the Australian Deaf community and deaf services sector.

The cynics, of which I am one, believe that the motive behind the expansion of Deaf Children Australia is one of ambition rather than a desire to develop a stronger deafness sector. The cynics believe the issue is one of control rather than one of efficiencies. The cynics believe that Deaf Children Australia are spreading its considerable resources too thinly in the name of control and power. The traditionalist want a return to community links and services instead of grandiose business ideas.

The cynics believe that the term partnership is nothing more than a front. It’s a nice term that leads people to believe that everyone is working together with shared visions, equal input and equal power. This is nonsense because part of the reason that the partnerships were set up was because the partnership organisations were in such a dire financial situation that they needed DCA money to get them out of trouble. The cynics believe, nay they know, that the POWER lies with the one who has the money, which is Deaf Children Australia.

In the interest of fairness it is necessary to list the “For Arguments”. In a perfect world  we would have one Australia wide deafness service. It would have one management structure servicing all the state based branches. It would have one brand which will increase fundraising. State government’s would recognise it and fund it accordingly. Funds would be distributed evenly so that all states had equal service. Streamlined management would lead to funds being alloocated for better services in regional and rural areas.  These are the FOR arguments. BUT – are they realistic?

Having been in the disability sector in Australia for 20 years I honestly do not believe they are. Australia funds its service organisations very much on a state basis. South Australia funds very differently to Victoria as does Western Australia. Queensland is a different kettle of fish again. The reality is there are huge discrepancies in state funding. The partnership model does not address these discrepancies. As such, unless Deaf Children Australia are prepared to top up funding to ensure equity accross the states nothing much will change. What is more, it means that money that is for Deaf Children Australia’s core business – children – is being directed away from that core business.

The aim of Deaf Children Australia is, in the future, that the partner organisations become one Deaf Services Australia. If, right now, Deaf Services Australia existed as a one organisation it would have to deal with the huge discrepancies of funding from the states. Presumably a Deaf Services Australia would distribute any fundraising moneys equally so funding was equitable – not equal equitable! How they would work this out is anyone’s guess.

It is argued that a one brand will help with fundraising. Quite how is not clear. Theoretically it could but the reality is that deafness has always been the poor cousin when it comes to donations. The public give to visible and well known charities like the Salvos, RSPCA and the Blind. One brand will not change the public perception. Deafness will still be the poor cousin. It is questionable whether the money and resources spent on Developing a Deaf Services Australia will make much dent into the public fundraising psyche. In theory it sounds good but there is no evidence to show that the one brand will increase fundraising to deafness in anyway. The probabilities are that it will not. Some huge losses have been made in recent fundraising initiatives in the deafness area and with the current Credit Crunch fundraising is unlikely to improve in any great way.

Deaf Children Australia talk of a shared services model that will be marketed under the one banner of Deaf Services Australia. Presumable they feel it will improve services nationally, increase fundraising dollars and lead to better services all round. Quite how this will occur has not been fully explained. The model is flawed because it fails to take into account state politics and funding. The model has an unrealistic view that the one brand will somehow make a huge difference to fundraising. This authors view is that it wont and in the haste to TAKE OVER Australia blind ambition has gotten in the way of rational argument.

In the meantime, while thousands of dollars are spent trying to set up the model and while boards and management spend countless hours flying around Australia and staying in Hotels at great expense the dedicated services staff of Deaf Children Australia try to maintain services while the focus is elsewhere. It is a  sacrilege that thousands of dollars are being spent on what will most likely make very little difference. What Deaf Children Australia could do is to service Victorian deaf children well with its considerable wealth. Instead it has chosen to spread itself thinly around Australia in what the cynics see as a mindless power grab. Will it improve services in anyway? This cynic thinks not. For the sake of our deafness sector one can only hope that the plan succeeds because the heritage that great Deaf pioneers like FJ Rose established is in real danger of being lost.

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