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.