Legislative Council: Tuesday, March 21, 2023


Autism Services

The Hon. H.M. GIROLAMO (15:16): I seek leave to provide a brief explanation before asking a question of the Assistant Minister for Autism regarding waiting lists.

Leave granted.

The Hon. H.M. GIROLAMO: Families of children with autism and members of the autistic community face massive wait times for services, including speech pathology, occupational therapy and psychological services. Many providers are at capacity and waitlists are between six and 18 months. Some do not even take on new clients. My questions to the Assistant Minister for Autism are:

1. What is the government doing to ensure children with autism can access services within the public system?

2. Will the assistant minister consider potential action to encourage more transparency in regard to wait times?

3. Will the assistant minister work with the Minister for Education to increase the number of graduates in key areas outlined within allied health?

The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (15:17): I thank the member for her very important question. There are many things we need to do in this space because, as the honourable member has highlighted, a diagnosis is important. A diagnosis enables someone to know who they are as an individual; it goes beyond just getting support for them throughout life—but also just knowing who they are.

I notice the member has focused on children, so I will respond on that behalf. I am happy to take that on notice and get a response from the education minister. I believe—and I am happy to get further advice on this—my memory is that there was an announcement made just recently about getting extra support through our universities for allied health, but again I will get information for the honourable member on that.

In regard to what we are doing as part of a policy commitment within our school environment, we are having access to psychologists, speech pathologists, OTs—I am advised they are the areas we are looking into. But I will, again, get further information on that for the member, as I am not the Minister for Education. There are lots of things that we are doing in this space. We also need to make sure that we are doing things for the immediate, the interim and also the long term, because we know that there is concern in this space. People need to be able to get access to a diagnosis, so we are looking at all those levels and we will continue to do that.

We have continued to do that through our strategy discussion. I am pleased to advise the chamber that we are very competitive in South Australia, particularly when it comes to Victoria, as the Hon. Frank Pangallo has just highlighted. We did our strategy consultation just recently and this was an issue that arose from that discussion. I am pleased that our discussion and our strategy was far more engaged than the Victorian strategy, which is often seen as the state that has been able to develop a lot of policies in this area.

It highlights again in South Australia that we are leading the way in what we are doing in this space because we had over 1,000 people participate in our discussion paper and the Victorians only had 700, or around that. When you put into perspective how many people live in South Australia in comparison to Victoria, I feel we are doing considerable work in this area.

The most significant thing from that strategy discussion is that 33 per cent of those participants are autistic, so we are listening directly to the community. I believe that in Victoria, I was advised, participation was only 15 per cent, so we know that we are not just talking at a community, we are working side by side with the community to know what they actually want. I am happy to take your questions on notice. I'm not the minister, but I'm happy to get that information back to you.