House of Assembly: Thursday, March 09, 2023


Autism Strategy

Ms HUTCHESSON (Waite) (14:33): My question is to the Minister for Human Services. How has the community responded to the public consultation on the state's first Autism Strategy?

The Hon. N.F. COOK (Hurtle Vale—Minister for Human Services) (14:33): I thank the member for Waite for her question, and interest and support for autistic members of our community. I will emphasise that I will be using identity-first language in my answer and acknowledge that some people prefer person-first language, those who prefer identity first and there are others who use both terms interchangeably.

The Malinauskas Labor government is committed to making South Australia a leader on autism inclusion. Autism is a condition that affects social interaction, communication and behaviour. It's the largest primary disability group in the NDIS. Despite its prevalence, people with autism often face a lack of understanding and acceptance in the community. They can experience discrimination, exclusion and isolation. This is not only unfair but can have serious consequences for mental health and wellbeing.

We went to the 2022 election with a clear message to the autistic community: that we see you and we will walk with you as we navigate these challenges together. Our commitments included:

a $28.8 million investment in autism inclusion teachers in public primary schools;

increasing staff in preschools with qualifications in autism;

exploring more early intervention in children's centres;

developing a state autism strategy;

requiring government agencies to sign up to an autism charter; and

investing $50 million for speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists and counsellors in public schools.

Last August, we appointed the Hon. Emily Bourke MLC as the nation's first—and, as Emily's children proudly exclaim, the galaxy's first—Assistant Minister for Autism. Within our many election commitments, I am responsible for developing a state autism strategy, alongside our State Disability Inclusion Plan. I am thrilled to have the assistant minister helping in this work. I offer my sincere thanks to Assistant Minister Bourke and her team for their tremendous effort in organising more than 20 community forums across the state.

While we know they are doing their jobs, I also offer thanks to Katherine, Ksharmra and Melissa and the entire DHS social inclusion team for their very hard work. Their level of commitment, compassion and care makes me very proud of our public servants and the important work that they do.

To ensure the community was involved in developing this strategy, the Department of Human Services assembled a group of 19 autistic adults to develop the Autism Strategy Discussion Paper. This paper was the basis for 12 weeks of public consultation. I am delighted to report, although I am not sure the public servants are so thrilled, we received more than 1,000 submissions. We were also overwhelmed by the community's response to the expression of interest for the Autism Strategy Advisory Committee.

I have been deeply moved by the passion, energy and thought that has been shared with us by the autistic community throughout consultations. I can assure the house and the autistic community that we are listening to the experiences and voices of those who understand the challenges faced, who know how we can solve that together.

In another nation first, the Malinauskas government is creating the Office for Autism and that will be held within the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, a central agency. It will collaborate with government agencies, private industry and community to drive change in our society. Most significantly, autistic people will be at the heart of the office. Recruitment is now underway to fill senior positions with autistic people. I look forward to updating the house as we work together on the strategy.