Auslan Interpreters Needed During Emergency Broadcasts

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I seek leave to make a brief explanation, if that is alright with you, Mr Maher, before asking questions of the Minister for Emergency Services regarding the emergency caused by floods in Adelaide last Wednesday 14 September and broader questions regarding the accessibility of information relating to emergency management.

Leave granted.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: Mr President, you will be aware that, following work by Dignity for Disability with the State Emergency Management Committee (SEMC) and the emergency services minister, the State Emergency Management Plan, policies and procedures, were amended in 2015 to ensure that Australian sign language (Auslan) interpreters would be employed for relevant TV broadcasts pertaining to emergency information, such as bushfire or flood—

Members interjecting:

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: And I am happy to slow down until everyone is listening but, until then, let’s all put our hands in our laps, put our listening ears on and listen. Okay? I am not in the mood today.

The Hon. T.J. Stephens: Boohoo!

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: No, not boohoo. It’s parliamentary procedure, actually, Mr Stephens. It’s not about my feelings, it’s about parliamentary procedure.

The Hon. T.J. Stephens: Just get on with it.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Stephens, the Hon. Ms Vincent has the floor and I think she deserves our respect to be able to give her contribution and question in silence. The Hon. Ms Vincent.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I also understand that, at the July 2015 emergency management committee meeting, the Premier also deemed it desirable for an Auslan interpreter to be present at any live emergency/warning media coverage where the Premier or the minister or a senior executive is present. The State Public Information and Warning Advisory Group (SPIWAG) of the State Emergency Management Committee has been working with government agencies and service providers to develop a whole-of-government approach for the provision of Auslan interpretation services, and processes are being developed to provide contractual arrangements for the provision of these services.

However, last Wednesday, no Auslan interpreters were present on any TV broadcasts that warned of rising floodwaters across metropolitan Adelaide, nor in warnings not to drive, walk or move through these waters. Rapid Bay Primary School was, as you will recall, evacuated via a tractor or digger, while images of people surfing across Bridgewater Oval were, concerningly, broadcast. However, no Auslan interpreters, for deaf South Australians who rely on interpretation, were present to warn them about these issues and, therefore, they risked missing out on this information.

I also note that people requiring captions reported to me that they found the captioning on these news services inadequate and inaccurate in many instances. My questions are:

  1. Given the Premier deemed, at the July 2015 State Emergency Management Committee meeting, that it was desirable that an Auslan interpreter be present at any live broadcast, why was this not the case?
  2. Can the minister guarantee that Auslan interpretation will be used for television broadcasts for this coming fire season, given that we are facing a high-risk season following heavy rains this winter?
  3. Can the minister provide an update on the introduction of other measures, especially captioning, to ensure that safety-related information can also be accessed by people who are hard of hearing but do not use Auslan?
  4. Can the minister provide an update as to the production and distribution of accessible information about emergency preparedness for individuals in contrast to the information available once an emergency is declared?
  5. What action has the minister taken to ensure that South Australia has an adequate number of qualified and accredited Auslan interpreters to service this need?
  6. If no action has been taken, will he speak to the Minister for Higher Education and Skills in the other place about the need to recruit more Auslan interpreters to fill this need in this state?

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS (Minister for Police, Minister for Correctional Services, Minister for Emergency Services, Minister for Road Safety): I thank the honourable member for her question and her ongoing advocacy of South Australians who suffer from a hearing disability. The honourable member is right to refer to key dates last year regarding this particular issue. I am advised that on 25 June last year, at a meeting of the State Emergency Management Committee, an amendment was made to the State Emergency Management Plan to provide for the use of Auslan interpreters for declared emergencies. To be more specific and for the information of the Hon. Ms Vincent, under section 7.8 of the State Emergency Management Plan:

In addition to other methods of disseminating public information and warnings, the Control Agency is responsible to ensure that all live televised warnings, or major public information press conferences (e.g. attended by the Premier, State Coordinator and / or State Controller) issues for declared emergencies are supported with the use of an accredited Australian Sign Language (Auslan) interpreter.

In the event that securing an accredited Auslan interpreter would cause critical delay in the broadcasting of an urgent message to the community, the Control Agency will determine if the message should be broadcast without that support.

Critically, under the State Emergency Management Plan, what this provides for is Auslan interpretation services, as far as is reasonably practicable, to be provided in the event that there is a declared emergency. Last week was a significant weather event and it resulted in a number of South Australians being affected through storm damage and also flood damage, which is of course regrettable, but it did not constitute a declared emergency.

A declared emergency is something that is far more significant than that and something that, obviously, would represent a significant and imminent threat to life. Once that threshold is met then, of course, under the State Emergency Management Plan, or this particular amendment (which I know the Hon. Ms Vincent played a role in advocating for), Auslan interpreters would be made available.

Indeed, the government has established processes to provide for contractual arrangements for the provision of Auslan translation services for emergency incidents relevant to the CFS as well as the SES. Bookings require minimum notification times of at least one hour for those services to be able to get into the CBD and up to two hours plus travel time for services in metropolitan and regional areas.

What we have to try to pursue here is a bit of a balance. We want to make sure that when there are significant emergencies that present, in particular, a significant threat to life, or if there is a declared emergency, we go out of our way to make sure that we have Auslan interpreters. Whether or not that is something that is practical every single time there is an emergency services announcement is a separate matter.

If the Hon. Ms Vincent has concerns about the arrangements that exist within the State Emergency Management Plan, as always I am happy to sit down with her, or any other advocate who is concerned about this issue, and contemplate whether or not there needs to be further amendments made to that plan. As it stands, the events of last week occurred in such a way that the plan was complied with in respect of Auslan interpreters.

The advice I have received from my officials in Emergency Services is that the current arrangement is adequate and appropriate. Of course, if there is a view that the State Emergency Management Plan can be improved in any way, I am more than happy to take representations for that.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: A supplementary. Can the minister also outline any work he is doing to ensure that staff, such as camera operators, are trained to be aware that, for example, they need to keep the interpreter in the frame so that they are not cut out from view?

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS (Minister for Police, Minister for Correctional Services, Minister for Emergency Services, Minister for Road Safety): Yes, I can answer that. I can advise that I am not doing any work in that respect. We do, of course, have the freedom of the press and, despite my best efforts in the past, I can assure members that I have never been successful in trying to persuade a journalist to ask a particular question or a cameraman to take a particular angle.

However, I would very much hope and encourage those who are present at press conferences, particularly those who are providing for live news feeds, that where Auslan interpreters are provided for, those wider camera angles take into account the fact that Auslan interpreters are used so that members of the community who have a hearing impairment can see the Auslan interpreter. I could be corrected on this, but I was of the understanding that the live feed that was taken from the one press conference held last week where there was an Auslan interpreter was indeed taken with a wide camera image.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I heard that they were criticised for being cut out of the frame. A further supplementary, sir. Why was an Auslan interpreter included on Thursday, after most risk was over, if it were not a declared emergency? If it was never a declared emergency, why did the minister see fit to provide an interpreter for one such television broadcast and not another?

The Hon. P. MALINAUSKAS (Minister for Police, Minister for Correctional Services, Minister for Emergency Services, Minister for Road Safety): As I said, the State Emergency Management Plan was complied with last week, and in its current form that does not provide for Auslan interpreters to be present at events that aren’t declared emergencies. Regarding the later press conference where there was an Auslan interpreter, I understand that a decision was taken by the SES chief to have an Auslan interpreter there, and of course that was accommodated.