Train Wrecks

I am a mere passenger. I sit in my chair, carry out my duties for work and family man while the Deaf sector seemingly self destructs. It’s like a sedate drive in the country. Quiet winding roads, cows in the paddock, the odd kookaburra flying by while the mists hover enchantingly inches above the grass. All is right with the world and then one comes upon a train wreck, the illusion is shattered bringing one back to reality. In this case the train wreck is the Deaf sector. The Deaf sector at the moment seems to be a tragedy in motion, seemingly hell bent on self destruction.

It started with the stoush between Deafness Forum and Deaf Australia. Deafness Forum innocently prepared a policy paper focusing on recognising Auslan as an official language in Australia. The idea of the policy paper was to create discussion and debate on the merits of Auslan as an official language. It would mean that Auslan has legal status and would provide enormous benefits for Deaf Australians when they argue for access to Auslan in education, employment and everyday life. One would think the Deaf community, particularly Deaf Australia would embrace this – but NO!

What should have been embraced turned into an embarrassing public stoush. When a simple phone call to clarify the purpose of the discussion paper would have cleared things up Deaf Australia chose to publicly criticise Deafness Forum. They sent out a media release and they got the World Federation of the Deaf to do the same – quite simply they said to Deafness Forum,  Auslan is our territory – BACK OFF.

The public slanging match necessitated the Government getting involved. This, despite the Government, particularly Bill Shorten, consistently asking the sector to show solidarity. Parliamentary Secretary for Disability, Bill Shorten, must now mediate this very public falling out. It is totally embarrassing and Deaf and hearing impaired people just look on in bewilderment as our advocacy sector seemingly self destructs. The outcome could well be the end of both Deafness Forum and Deaf Australia as the Government seeks to streamline the advocacy sector. The message is work together or perish – a message that Deaf Australia continue to ignore. We are lucky that there is an election coming up as the Government, if they are returned to power, is unlikely to act until after the election.

In Tasmania we have lost Australia’s first Deaf sector CEO. Grant Roberts did not have his contract renewed. Diplomatic messages have been sent out stating that TasDeafhave decided to not renew his contract. The official line is that TasDeaf have made – ” the decision to restructure the organisation so that the role of CEO has greater duties and responsibilities in relation to the financial management and growth of the organisation.”  Given that the former CEO, Grant Roberts, navigated the organisation through turbulent times which included relocation of Tasdeaf and the selling of financially draining assets such as the Pleasant Pines facility, one would have thought that Mr Roberts had already demonstrated his capabilities in this area.  But, no, in their wisdom TasDeaf have decided that they need a FINANCIAL brain. Community awareness and understanding of the needs of Deaf people would seem to be a low priority, something Mr Roberts has in spades.

The Rebuttal understands that there was no one employed as an Accountant at Tasdeaf. Mr Roberts was a very much a CEO and a community worker as well. This was necessary because of the lack of resources, fiancial or otherwise, at his disposal. He did not have an accountant employed to manage the day to day finances and ensure Tasdeaf reduced it debt.  He was expected to be a jack of all trades. Consequently Mr Roberts has fallen on his sword. The Board of  TasDeaf have decreed that his achievements to date and his obvious drive for self improvement were not sufficient. Clearly there has been a lot going on in the background that people are not aware of but one would have hoped that TasDeaf would have given mr Roberts the opportunity to continue to develop his skills and drive TasDeaf forward.

Keeping in mind that the Tasmania signing community is about 60 to 80 widely dispersed people and with only two FTE AuslanInterpreters Mr Roberts had a very challenging job indeed. Instead, despite navigating TasDeaf through some tough times, Mr Roberts has been given the heave ho. In a further development Colin Allen, who is also Deaf, has been appointed as Acting CEO of Tasdeaf for two months. While Mr Allen is experienced, he would seem to have had no more financial experience than Mr Roberts, having been in his role at the Deaf Society of NSW less than a year. In fact the TasDeaf President has described Mr Allen’s appointment as – professional development for Mr Allen. The Rebuttal thinks Mr Allen is imminently qualified for the role but clearly much has been happening in the background. There are many questions left unanswered.

Queensland Deaf Services have an interim CEO, Brett Casey, who is Deaf. This came about after Deaf Services Queensland severed ties with Deaf Services Australia CEO, Damian Lacey. They are currently going through their selection process to appoint a new CEO. We believe that Mr Casey is immensely qualified for the job, and one hopes that Queensland Deaf Services will see fit to allow Mr Casey to continue, if Mr Casey has applied for the position. If they do not, it may be a double whammy for Deaf people – first Grant Roberts then Brett Casey.

If they do not appoint Mr Casey, all we will have left is Collin Allen as Acting CEO of Tasdeaf. – At least he is half a CEO.  At Vicdeaf, they actively provide opportunities for Deaf people. At last count they apparently employed 33 Deaf people including some in senior management – At least they are proactive in recognising the talents and benefits of providing opportunities to skilled Deaf people. The rest of the Deafness sector should take note.

And the carnage continues for the Deaf Services Australia empire. The grandiose scheme to have one organisation servicing the whole of Australia’s Deaf Community is at deaths door. Queensland Deaf Services severed ties with Deaf Services Australia in February despite making nice noises about – “continuing the partnership.” Rumours have it, unconfirmed, that the Western Australian Deaf Society, who are the last part of the Deaf Services Australia umbrella, is next on the chopping block. After several years and thousands upon thousands of dollars being spent on the concept,  it all seems to be over.

The penny has dropped that unless one can provide a consistent and even service all over Australia and a service that can incorporate the differing political landscape of each state it can not work. Money that could have been better spent on developing strong Victorian services has been spread too thinly. The concept was sound but the reality something different all together. In Victoria the Deaf services Australia ship is listing badly with several employees leaving the organisation in a very short time span. At least Queensland, having been in financial strife, came out of it stronger but overall the concept has provided no benefits and has been an enormous financial drain.

The destruction in the Deaf sector does not stop here. Apparently one accommodation service was so badly monitored that the accommodation was a health risk. the accommodation was unkempt and mouldy food found in the fridge. In another area staff have allegedly been dismissed for speaking out about service delivery and have even threatened strike action. Meanwhile Deaf and hearing impaired people look on in amazement as the damage from one endless train wreck after another means that much needed resources, that should be targeted towards them, are swallowed up in repairing the mess.

The shining light has been the cinema captioning campaign. Last week the campaign and major stakeholders met with the CEOs of the big four Cinemas. A lot of debate occurred before the meeting and at one stage it looked like the various stakeholders might self implode. But in the end sanity prevailed and, as The Rebuttal understands it, the various stakeholders entered the meeting showing a united front. The outcome, it seems, was very favourable. The Cinemas even agreed to a period of community consultation so that the community can provide their input to the solution that they have proposed. This is what can happen when people work together for a common purpose. Watch this space because the success of this cinema captioning campaign could well be the Deaf sectors saviour.

3 thoughts on “Train Wrecks

  1. This article is riddled with errors and doubtful statements.

    DF seeking to have Auslan has an official language cannot happen because English in itself is not an official language. Doh! It need to be recognised as a Government language if it is to achieve DF’s objective. Why did DF not simply adopt what DA has already done and prevent reinventing the wheel?

    The fact that Bill Shorten is going to mediate between DA and DF is short on embarassing if this is true.

    The appointment of an Acting CEO for Tasmania coming from Sydney must be quite insulting to Mr Roberts and a poor reflection on the Board. A quallified accountant is a specialised skill and if this is deemed a weakness in its current operation then the Board should have ensured allocation of fund is provided to provide TasDeaf outsourcing support or inhouse at least to address this issue. It is not difficult and you still keep a Deaf CEO who knows his stuff inside and out and keep the community on side. To TasDeaf Board, thanks for your vote of confidence!

    The fact that they will have to accomodate this person from Sydney over this time would have provided same amount of funds that would have been better to secure an inhouse or outsourced accountant to get the books in order or at least offer professional financial advice. The TasDeaf Board decision and statement to the community is bordering on farcial the more I hear about it. They need to come up with a better reason than this because Deaf people can see through what appears to be a phoney excuse.

    One can’t help but see TasDeaf becoming another ACE-pedimic. That is, it ends up run by bean counters who have no connection with the community and lose the culture as well as many capable deaf people with it. They will end up sitting on a nice golden egg and do nothing for a couple of years before they realise they have an obligation to adhere to their constitiution and members. ACE did that and there are still too many bean counters running the company with a very small number of staff with disabilities. That is despite after the previous CEO has turned the organisation around and put them in a better position and then get gutted by the powers to be. Sounds similar? Has greed gone to their heads?

    VicDeaf has Deaf staff serving in senior management? Can someone tell me who they are because there is no one I can find within VicDeaf that serves in this capacity. Maybe at management/supervisory level but not in senior management level otherwise we would see a Deaf COO or at least Deaf Deputy CEO. But that won’t happen with the current VicDeaf Board attitude because it will affect certain Director’s ego. Then if it does happen it will only go to the person who is buddies with certain board members as part of the ‘clan’. Thats been obvious for years but no one will have the gumption to challenge it.

    Would the Rebuttal think differently if a different Deaf person took up a CEO role at the Deaf Society than those named above? It appears that The Rebuttal is bent on certain people and not considering other capable people who may also offer their skills and expertise? So if another unnamed Deaf person gets the job, you have just indicated to the community that they don’t deserve it.

    Im all for D/deaf CEOs but not in the manner that this article is portraying.

    • Ok, firstly Deafness Forum put out a Discussion Paper that examined the merits of having Auslan as an official language. The Rebuttal has discussed the reasons behind this discussion paper before … You can find this at where you will also find that we stated that Australia has no official languages. DA had never, to my knowledge, discussed Auslan as an official language. They certainly have information about Auslan being a recognised language but not an official one. Auslan as an official language is an entirely different matter. The sensible thing was for DA simply to join in the debate without all the hoo hah that followed. I had no wish to go into the detail of the earlier article again but if you wish to revisit the earlier article, please do. There was no error here on my part here.

      I agree with your views that it is embarrassing that Bill Shorten is mediating. As a board member of DF I can assure you that the last I heard this was indeed the course of action that would occur. Deaf Australia requested that the government department that funds both DA and DF (FACHASIA – I think it is the correct acronym) mediate but they declined. Hence the involvement of Bill Shorten. Embarrassing on all fronts. I have not heard anything further of the mediation. It is possible that it will now not occur – But it certainly was ABOUT to occur.

      I have no argument with your views on Mr Roberts and his circumstances. I agree fully that it is very insulting to him. It certainly does not show TasDeaf in a good light.

      I will admit to an error on the Vicdeaf situation. They have one senior management person who is deaf. This is Gavin Balharie (forgive my spelling Gavin) who was appointed as the Information Services Manager. I should not have used the plural in this instance. The fact remains that they are proactive in appointing Deaf people. With 33 deaf staff I think this is proof enough. So again I stand by that argument. Perhaps I have erred in seeing Gavin’s role as senior management but it is certainly my understanding that in the structure of Vicdeaf that is what he is. I am happy to be corrected if, as you say, he is a mere manager/supervisor.

      I do not think that I said anywhere that I consider only Mr Casey or Mr Roberts as the only Deaf people that can be employed as a CEO. What I did say, and I quote, was that if we lose both Mr Casey and Mr Roberts as CEOs – “it may be a double whammy for Deaf people.” Note the word MAY – implying that we may lose two Deaf CEOs in a very short space of time. In my view this would be sad for Deaf people. If, however, another Deaf person gets the job then I will be the first to celebrate. As I said I think Colin Allen is well qualified to be the CEO of TasDeaf – I question the method though and, like you, think it was an enormous slur on Mr Roberts. I think he has been very unfairly treated. So in answer to your question, no I don’t think these are the only two capable of filling the CEO jobs. In fact I find it confusing that you assumed that I did. Hopefully this response clarifies that.

      Anyway thanks for your response. Its important that people point out any errors. In this case I dont think I have made any, unless I am wrong that Mr Balharie is a senior manager when he is not. If so I apologise for that but reiterate that with 33 Deaf staff in a variety of roles, Vicdeaf are leading the way.

  2. Thank you Gazza. Will read the link about the discussion paper. There is a lot of confusion surrounding this.

    If Mr Balharrie is in fact in a position that is regarded as ‘senior management’, or there are other Deaf/hard of hearing people in such role, why do these organisations like to water down the title and not state the role as it is? Why do they always create titles that does not give the Deaf/hard of hearing person appropriate recognition?

    Hearing people get appointed and their titles are always fancy that will help them further their career. A deaf person getting the same role will sooner or later have a different title that means nothing to another employer if they want to progress.

    VicDeaf is starting to lead the way like what ACE was doing back in the 1990s. But a slow one at that because the Board has remain the same for sometime yet only starting to listen to the community. NSW Deaf Society are also making changes (at last) which has been a shock to many.

    Thank you for clarrifying the ‘..double whammy..’ comment. I am happy to be corrected on that.

    Now if only we could see such forth rightness and integrity from the leaders of the deafness sector to respond in the manner that you have done.

    These issues strike the core of Deaf/hard of hearing people and the leaders should show bravery by coming forward and communicating in the manner you have done. Or are they really not leaders?

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