For members’ interest, the following statement was made by Disability Services Minister Hon Stephen Dawson MLC in response to this statement made a day earlier by the Hon Simon O’Brien MLC
HON STEPHEN DAWSON: I rise briefly to respond to an important issue that was raised last night in this chamber by Hon Simon O’Brien, who is away from the chamber on urgent parliamentary business. That issue was the importance of emergency services announcements being delivered in a way that is fully accessible to the whole community, including people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have hearing impairments. I thank the honourable member for bringing his comments to the chamber, which has given me an opportunity to bring them to the attention of the Minister for Emergency Services. I wanted to convey to the house how importantly the Minister for Emergency Services takes public information alerts. It is fair to say that an emergency incident, whether it is a cyclone, a bushfire or storm, can be terrifying. It is particularly terrifying when a person has to make a decision at short notice to pack up their belongings and get out of the area. They can be extremely tough and stressful situations. In many respects, they can be the worst days of a person’s life and many of them end in tragedy. It is really important that they are taken as seriously as they can be.
I want to comment on some of the comments made by the honourable member, both as the Minister for Disability Services and also as the minister in this place who represents the Minister for Emergency Services.
At the outset I want to convey, on behalf of the Minister for Emergency Services, his utmost respect for the Deafness Council of Western Australia and its president, Hon Barry MacKinnon. The council is a strong advocate for its members who are deaf or have hearing impairments. The minister takes this issue extremely seriously. Following initial advice from Department of Fire and Emergency Services, he personally requested that the department explore the Deafness Council of Western Australia’s suggestions on open captioning to complement the work of Auslan interpreters who have been used by DFES in emergency situations over the past little while.
I have been advised that each media outlet is responsible for and controls their own broadcasting of captioning. As each television channel broadcasts its own feed, each requires its own separate captioning capability. This would be subject to specific national commercial agreements between each channel and the provider of the captioning service. I understand that the ABC has its own live open captioning service for its television broadcast and it utilises that service when broadcasting media conferences live. However, because each television outlet decides whether to broadcast live media conferences, the policies differ. As the Minister for Disability Services, I give an undertaking to contact the various companies that broadcast in Western Australia to see how we might work together to ensure that there is open captioning for these types of emergency services events.
The minister recognises that he and the Department of Fire and Emergency Services have a role to play in advocating to ensure that these services are as accessible as possible. I want to take the opportunity on his behalf to run through exactly what DFES is doing in this area.
DFES and Access Plus WA Deaf have been working in partnership before and during DFES major emergencies to ensure that broadcasts are as accessible as possible to the whole community. This includes accessing the latest information and what action to take in an emergency via the Emergency WA website or through the DFES Facebook page or its Twitter feed. Recently completed initiatives include: WA deaf society interpreters routinely appearing alongside DFES spokespeople during emergency press conferences; the production of videos specifically for hard-of hearing people to explain what to do in an emergency, which have been promoted across each organisation’s channels and are ready for broadcast during emergencies; DFES acquiring LiveU technology that gives it the capacity to broadcast live to YouTube or Facebook, and it is currently investigating using a live open captioning service to broadcast to YouTube and Facebook; DFES funding WA deaf society interpreters to attend interstate emergency public information training; regular information exchanges and updates; and the hosting of reciprocal education and awareness sessions by both organisations to promote shared understanding.
The state emergency public information coordinator, based within the Western Australia Police Force, has the overall responsibility for educating and raising awareness with media outlets on the need to ensure that broadcasts are as accessible as possible. I will undertake to bring this issue to the attention of the Minister for Police, too, to ensure that she can use her powers or have conversations with that agency to ensure that it is doing its bit to ensure that we have live open captioning of emergency events. DFES supports and will continue to support this process through its contribution to the guide, “Emergencies in Western Australia: A Guide for the News Media”. This publication encourages media outlets to reach a wider section of the community through the use of captions and television crawlers.
I want to convey on behalf of the Minister for Emergency Services that he takes very seriously the issues raised by the Deafness Council of Western Australia. I am further advised that the minister has requested DFES to meet with the Deafness Council Western Australia to offer its support and to discuss options on public information for community members who have a hearing impairment. Finally, the minister requested I make some final remarks about the importance of not relying on a single source of information in an emergency situation; it is simply not considered safe.
People can access up-to-date information on incidents, alerts and warnings via a number of channels including the Emergency WA website, emergency.wa.gov.au; ABC Radio; and DFES’s social media channels, Twitter and Facebook. DFES encourages all community members to stay aware of their immediate surroundings and conditions in their area. It is imperative that if there is smoke and flames that people act immediately and do not wait to receive an official warning. I encourage everyone in this house to use every opportunity that they can to remind their community of the importance of this. The minister will be responding to the Deafness Council as a matter of priority. I thank Hon Simon O’Brien for bringing this matter to the attention of the house.