With the sector’s eyes firmly on the looming Federal Election, Vision 2020 Australia and its member organisations have been campaigning to ensure eye health remains on the agenda of both the Australian Labor Party and the Coalition. On 9 July Vision 2020 Australia held a Vision Summit with the Coalition and last Wednesday a second summit was held with representatives from the Australian Government. More than 40 CEOs from leading eye health and vision care organisations across Australia attended each of the summits to ask questions of federal parliamentarians.Both events facilitated effective dialogue around key policy changes needed to improve eye health for Indigenous Australians, the interface between DisabilityCare Australia and aged care reforms, the need for a national eye health survey and ongoing commitment to addressing eye health and vision care issues in Asia and the Pacific.
At the Vision Summits the eye health and vision care sector urged both sides of politics to close the gap for vision in Indigenous communities. In response, Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing, Peter Dutton said there was no lack of desire in addressing Indigenous health issues and the Coalition would make improvements by reducing red tape, utilising expertise and working with local communities.
Furthermore, Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing, Shayne Neumann said the Australian Government acknowledged the need to close the vision gap for Indigenous Australians. Mr Neumann said Indigenous eye health was a health priority for the Labor Government as evidenced by the $16 million that was assigned in the budget earlier this year to the elimination of trachoma in Indigenous communities.
On behalf of the sector, Vision 2020 Australia asked for $53.63 million to close the gap for vision in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, this was well received. Both sides of politics recognised the need to continue the investment towards the elimination of trachoma, as well as addressing other eye health and vision care issues affecting Indigenous Australian communities.
Vision 2020 Australia has also been campaigning to ensure that fairness and equity in specialised disability support will be afforded to people aged over 65 who are blind or have significant functional vision loss. It was very positive to hear Shadow Minister for Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector, Mitch Fifield state at the Summit with the Coalition that the DisabilityCare Australia oversight committee’s terms of reference would be expanded under a Coalition Government to include people aged over 65. While at the Vision Summit with the Government, the sector called for an advisory committee to be established to examine the interface between DisabilityCare Australia and Aged Care. Positively, Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers, Amanda Rishworth said she would take up the issue with Minister for Disability Reform, Jenny Macklin. Mr Neumann said there was a need to ensure that in the future aged-care packages looked more like the DisabilityCare Australia packages, being tailored to suit individual needs.
At the Vision Summit with the Government, representatives recognised there was a need to take ‘dramatic steps to reduce avoidable blindness’ and that the Australian Government was committed to helping people with low vision.
Among the sector’s key policy and funding proposals during the two summits was a recommendation to fund a national eye health survey. Both sides of politics acknowledged the need for such an eye health survey and promisingly Mr Dutton said the Coalition was keen to fund this recommendation if elected. Global issues were also considered during both summits, with the Government affirming its commitment to eye health in the future and both sides willing to concede that disability should be a feature of any aid program.
The Vision Summits were a great opportunity for both sides of politics to demonstrate commitment to eye health in the lead up to the Federal Election and it is hoped these discussions with key Members of Parliament will result in some lasting policy changes to support the needs of the sector.
We received strong, positive feedback from members on the timing, location, and effectiveness as an opportunity to engage and get feedback from key Members of Parliament and advocate for the sector.
Vision 2020 Australia will continue to advocate on behalf of the eye health and vision care sector in the lead up to the election on 7 September.