Legislative Council: Wednesday, September 07, 2022


Autism Spectrum Disorder

The Hon. J.E. HANSON (15:51): Australian research published in 2007 found that one in 160 children between the ages of six and 12 years had a diagnosed autism spectrum disorder. Just four years later, the number of people diagnosed with autism, or ASD, was growing by around 14 per cent or 15 per cent annually. The 2018 Census placed over 200,000 Australians as autistic, with 39 per cent of South Australians participating in the NDIS having autism, which is higher than the national average.

Today, right now, one in four Australians has an autistic family member and I am proud to be part of one such family. In truth, for everyone in politics it is not every day that we can so proudly say that what we do best represents who we are but today, I can proudly say, is one of those days for me. I am proud that my Labor Party has taken such great steps towards establishing awareness about those who have a family member like my own.

While I am certain that I was not thinking all that much about having a family at the time, I recall being at a Labor conference in 2010. As part of the then Labor government's election commitments, we announced an additional $1 million a year for assessment and early intervention services to help those with autism. That was in 2010.

The commitment then, by current standards, was not grand, but it was an echo of what was to come. It marked then, in 2010, clearly that my party, much like myself, was seeking an understanding of the scope of what was facing us. It is fair to say that since that time we have that scope. It is fair to say that with the development of national initiatives like the NDIS there is a level of awareness that is well and truly established in the South Australia community.

Currently, autistic people are half as likely to complete year 10 as anyone else. Currently, autistic people are three times more likely to be unemployed than other people with disabilities. So while we have taken great steps forward, it is well past time that we move beyond just creating awareness and establishing scope.

I can proudly say that now, 12 years on from our 2010 $1 million dollar commitment, Labor has now moved on to lasting cultural change. We are investing, right now, more than $28 million to appoint an autism lead teacher in every single public primary school. We are investing $50 million to fund 100 additional speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists and counsellors for access in public schools. And, of course, unless you were living under a rock you would know that we have the world's first Assistant Minister for Autism, the Hon. Emily Bourke.

I am proud to say that, other than proudly watching our state feature on every single news bulletin, both here, nationally and internationally, our new assistant minister has hit the ground running. In just a few weeks the Hon. Emily Bourke has already established guidelines for autism inclusion teachers. Five of the 16 guidelines are specifically focused on assisting autistic students. The Hon. Ms Bourke has also established the autism advisory group, which consists of parents with lived experience, experts, community stakeholders, unions and, indeed, most helpfully, those with autism.

I look forward to joining the assistant minister and indeed the Premier at the autistic and autism community forum she has organised for this coming Sunday—I think about three weeks after she was first made an assistant minister. I am reliably informed that, unfortunately for everyone, the event is packed out, but I am certain that, consistent with Labor's and indeed Ms Bourke's commitment to the thousands of South Australian families with autism, very much like my own, we will not be short of action taken from it, and I look forward to seeing how far we are going to go.