What is Save the NRS?

The future of the National Relay Service is at RISK!

Save the NRS is a campaign set up by various organisations to raise public awareness about the future of the National Relay Service.


Concerns about the National Relay Service began when the Department of Communications and the Arts (DoCA) invited submissions to a consultation paper – Communication Accessibility: 2016 and beyond – in March 2016. This was seen as an opportunity to continue toe informal partnership between the Government and interested community to observe, review and provide suggestions on how the NRS could continue to improve to meet the current needs and demands, challenges and new/emerging technologies in a thriving technological world.

In reviewing the Government’s announcement made on 23 June 2017 about the future of the NRS and the associated implementation plan, we have a significant concern about the ongoing efficacy of the NRS as a critical communications channel for Australians who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or speech impaired.

There have been big changes made by the Federal Government and the Department of Communications and the Arts without consultation or information to Australians who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, and speech impaired.

In January 2017, the NRS Outreach was scrapped. A Helpdesk service remains to service complaints and website management. Without a Outreach service, who will train and inform the next generation of NRS users, including younger and older people?

There is no 24/7 Video Relay Service (VRS) despite regular demand from Deaf and hard of hearing people who prefer to use Auslan. The VRS is still capped and continues to operate at limited hours since 2012. Why are Deaf and hard of hearing Auslan users still being discriminated with limited access to this vital service?

Capped costs does not allow the NRS to grow to meet the demand for calls made through the NRS.

Natural disasters such as Cyclone Debbie highlights requirement for 24/7 access to the NRS for deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind and speech impaired people to ensure access to communication and information for safety.

A Facebook page called National Relay Service: Future at Risk was set up in April 2017.

In June 2017, the Minister of Communications announced an implementation plan for reforms to the NRS following the consultation process in 2016. The implementation plan completely ignored the major recommendations made by many consumer and service organisations.

Later in the same month, a position paper and its recommendations was developed as a response to a strong and urgent concern on the status and direction of the NRS (including Outreach Program and the affiliated Telecommunications Equipment Program – DTEP) by a national coalition of deaf, disability and telecommunications organisation. See Resources for a copy of the position paper.

The coalition included:

  • Deaf Australia
  • Deafness Forum of Australia
  • Communication Rights Australia
  • Deafblind Australia
  • Australian Communications Consumer Action Network

Supporting organisations such as Deaf Societies, National Seniors, and Australian Sign Language Interpreters Association..

The paper demonstrated the Coalition as an united response with recommendations on the best way forward to ensure Australians who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, and speech impaired have a best practice and quality National Relay Service supported by a functional Outreach program and DTEP.

Despite constant requests for meetings with the Minister and regular correspondence, no meetings were held, expect for a short consultation process to consider a draft regulation of the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) which was reviewing the short and long term sustainability of the NRS held in late 2017.

On 4th April 2018, The Minister of Communications and the DoCA released the National Relay Service – Request for Tender documents.

This was not good news. Despite efforts by the Coalition group (Deaf Australia, Deafness Forum of Australia, Communication Rights Australia, Deaf Societies, ACCAN,  and ASLIA), DoCA and the Minister of Communications have ignored our concerns and communications from the last 8-12 months.

What’s included in the tender documents?

  • NRS will be budgeted at $22 million per year. During 2016/17, the operating costs was in excess of $32 million. The budget change will result in one-third reduction of service level;
  • Encouraging NRS users to use mainstream devices and communication options and less use of the NRS;
  • Scrapping of the Outreach Program. The NRS will only be providing a Helpdesk to manage complaints and website.
  • Tender bidders will be asked to consider changes to the current service delivery model to fit with the new $22 million annual budget. This means the bidders could influence reduced or changes to service options;
  • Emergency calls made to 106 or 000 through the NRS will be operational 24 hours per day, every day of the year;
  • Other services such as TTY, Internet Relay, SMS Relay, Speech to Speech, Captioned Relay, Video Relay, etc do not have a service guarantee of 24 hours per day, every day of the year;
  • All NRS users will need to register to be able to use the NRS

To compare the NRS tenders from 2012 with the current tender documents, and with the Coalition’s NRS RFT wishlist, please check out this table.

Our thoughts

There is a possibility the NRS could become a part-time and poorer quality service. We needed to act quickly, and our concerns were shared on our Facebook page with questions such as:

  • What to do about this?
  • Who can we contact?
  • What can we say to them?

Contact details for your local MPs and Minister Fifield are in the Resources.

What can we say to our local MP and to Minister Fifield?

  • I am concerned the NRS will be reduced by one-third of its current service with new cost limit.
  • All NRS service options including Video Relay MUST be available 24 hours per day, every day of the year.
  • Outreach Service is a MUST have to support all existing and new NRS users.
  • I am concerned about the proposed registration system – why must NRS user register? Why not everyone else who make calls?
  • NRS users want a world’s best relay service, not a reduced and potentially poorer service.
  • The cost of the NRS needs to reflect demand for the service – the cost for 2016/17 was over $32 million, and this is not enough. Now the Government and DoCA wants to reduce the budget to $22 million a year. This is not fair and not good enough.
  • NRS users are not second class citizens. Like all others, we have the right to world class communication options including the NRS.

We need to ACT now. The level of concerns amongst the NRS community and their supporting organisations has driven us to turn our action into a campaign to protest against the Government’s decisions and directions for the NRS. We want to be acknowledged, listened to and our recommendations adopted to ensure Australia has a high quality 24/7 NRS and a vibrant Outreach program.

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