What happens to Felix without hearing service?

Felix Williams has the latest upgrade for his Cochlear implants.Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

Felix Williams has the latest upgrade for his Cochlear implants.Picture: CHRISTOPHER CHAN

AS five-year-old Felix Williams prepares to start school next year, having access to the best, most up-to-date hearing equipment is vital.

The Windang boy was born profoundly deaf and has used Cochlear implants since he was five months old.

Just a few weeks ago, he was given the latest upgrade for his implants by the government-owned Australian Hearing Services, which has helped him better pick out the voice of his mum, Joanne, in crowded rooms.

"Knowing there is a non-biased government body not being driven by money is really comforting ...''

At preschool, Felix is also getting used to having his teachers use a microphone system linking directly to his implants so he doesn't miss out on important information during class.

However, with the federal government investigating options to sell off the public hearing provider, Mrs Williams fears access to this equipment and other hearing services could disappear.

The hearing service was among four agencies listed as have potential for privatisation in the budget and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann recently announced a scoping study into the most "effective and efficient way of delivering services".

Mrs Williams is worried selling Australian Hearing could affect the quality and cost of hearing services, especially for families in regional areas.

"Felix has been supported by Australian Hearing since he was two weeks old," she said.

"In those first few months, the family is really grieving and distressed, and if you had to go and find a reputable private audiologist who worked on a voucher system, it would just be so mind-boggling and confusing.

"Knowing there is a non-biased government body not being driven by money is really comforting because, being a government agency, Australian Hearing is really focused on giving children what's best for them, whereas a commercial enterprise might not do that."

She also fears health costs for deaf children could rise, as the upfront charge for equipment such as Felix's latest Cochlear upgrade can reach $20,000.

"If we had to pay for it, we would take out a mortgage and do whatever we had to do to get the money together," she said. "But not all families have those resources and some children would fall behind because those first five years are so critical."

During National Hearing Awareness Week, Mrs Williams and other parents are asking the government to reconsider the privatisation. The Illawarra's Labor MPs, Stephen Jones and Sharon Bird, have joined the call, asking the government to guarantee it will not go ahead.

"Without Australian Hearing, there is no way that children like Felix would reach all the academic, physical and social goals of other five-year-olds or even enter mainstream school," Mr Jones said.

A Department of Finance spokeswoman said no decision had been made.

"The government has indicated that regardless of whether the government or the private sector owns Australian Hearing, it is expected that the same high level of service will continue to be provided," a spokeswoman said.

"The scoping study ... will identify the most effective and efficient way of delivering services, taking account of changes in demand for, or diversity of, available services."

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