Legislative Council: Wednesday, March 22, 2023


World Autism Awareness Day

The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (17:06): I move:

That this council—

1. Recognises that April is Autism Month and 2 April is World Autism Awareness Day.

2. Acknowledges that Autism Awareness Day recognises and celebrates the rights of autistic people to lead full and meaningful lives as an integral part of our society.

3. Congratulates the Malinauskas government on its commitment to improving the lives of our autistic and autism communities through—

(a) appointing the nation’s first Assistant Minister for Autism;

(b) investing $28.8 million to fund access to an autism inclusive teacher in every public primary school;

(c) seeking to increase the number of autism-qualified staff in preschools;

(d) working with service providers to offer early intervention services in children’s centres;

(e) developing a state autism strategy that will operate with the state disability plan and requiring all government agencies to sign up to an autism charter; and

(f) investing $50 million to fund 100 speech pathologists, occupational therapists, psychologists and counsellors for access in public schools.

4. Thanks everyone who participated in the public consultation on the development of the state's first autism strategy and charter.

Today, I rise to speak on the autistic and autism communities and the important value they have within our community. For those who do not know, April is Autism Month and 2 April is known internationally as World Autism Awareness Day. Indeed, we know one in four families in Australia will find this an important time of the year as that is how many families in the country have an autistic family member. Autism is also the largest group on the NDIS, with 40 per cent of participants being autistic.

Despite the statistics, though, the autistic and autism communities have historically been relegated to the side, with little to no dedicated government attention and focus. On the eve of Autism Month, I am proud to say that worrying trend has come to an end. Just over six months ago, the SA Premier, Peter Malinauskas, from the other place, the member for Croydon, set about making South Australia not only a state leader or a nation leader but a world leader by creating a government member role solely focused on the autistic and autism communities.

For the last six months, I have been incredibly honoured to have taken up the role, to listen and meet with many in the autistic and autism communities. It is exactly these people whom I would like to dedicate this speech to. While it will be impossible to name all the people we have been working with, I will name but a few of the many incredible members of the autistic and autism communities.

When I first began in this role, I was like many in our community—I had heard of the word 'autism', I probably thought to myself that I knew a lot about autism, but my knowledge barely scratched the surface and went beyond real knowledge. In other words, there was a gap in my knowledge between the word 'autism' and what autism is in its many variants.

What I have come to learn over the last six months is exactly that. Autism is a diverse, broad and varied community and that has been made especially clear by the many diverse and unique individuals I have had the pleasure of meeting and even calling my friends over the last few months: from Paige and Oaklan and Paula and Nash, to Emma and Katharine, to Tammy, Mel, Amanda and Dylan, just to name a few of the many who have joined not only myself or the autistic and autism communities but the South Australian state and beyond in shining a light and giving voice to the autistic and autism communities to help build knowledge and make lasting cultural change.

Indeed, over the last six months, at every meeting, every forum and every conference, the importance of knowledge and of building knowledge—whether that be in our schools, or workplaces, or our sports clubs, or even the general community—is always seen as a top priority. The South Australian Malinauskas Labor government has listened to the voices of the autistic and autism communities; we have listened to Emma, Dylan, Katharine, Tammy, Mel, Paige and Oaklan, Paula and Nash and Amanda and, more importantly, we are not only listening but we are working to make this change together.

Our government has begun to build knowledge in our schools by investing $28.8 million to provide access to an autism inclusion teacher, also known as an AIT, in our public primary schools. More than 400 autism inclusion teachers have begun in their new roles to help build South Australia's understanding and knowledge to support autistic children and young people and influence the practice of other staff in schools.

We know big cultural change does not happen overnight, but we have not waited 10 years, five years or even two years to make change. Within six months of my role being created we have delivered the nation's first statewide autism inclusion teacher network. Beyond our schools, our government is also working to create the state's first autism strategy, a strategy that is co-designed by autistic and autism communities.

Over the last three months we have consulted with the autistic and autism communities and travelled across our state to make sure we collect as many stories, as many ideas and as much feedback as we possibly can. Importantly, this consultation was guided by the discussion paper that was co-written and co-designed by 19 autistic adults. After all, it is the force behind the voices, goals and aspirations of the South Australian autistic and autism communities that we are seeking to drive, and we are going to do this through our state strategy.

We will use the feedback to not only develop a state strategy but, as the state's largest employer, the Malinauskas Labor government will lead the way in bringing a whole-of-government approach and change to our workplaces through the creation of a charter, which will be rolled out to all South Australian government agencies.

To help guide the strategy, we are also creating an autism strategy advisory committee, believed to be the only state government committee in the nation which will be predominantly autistic-led. I look forward to chairing the nation's first predominantly autistic-led autism strategy advisory committee, as the Malinauskas Labor government continues to work side-by-side with the autistic and autism communities to help build knowledge and create a more inclusive society for all.

Importantly, while it is important to make big policy changes in our community, we must also make sure we do what we say and say what we do. We must lead by example and make sure that we have an autistic voice at the heart and centre of government and in leadership roles. The Malinauskas Labor government has announced we are creating another nation first, an office for autism, to be based in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, and are filling the two senior roles, including director, with autistic people.

The importance of a centralised hub of information led by autistic people has continually been raised as essential for the autistic and autism communities through the last three months of consultation on the state's first autism strategy. The Office for Autism will be tasked with supporting the implementation of our state's autism strategy and autism charter, which will be rolled out to each government agency. Further, the office has the ability to work with all government agencies, private industries and the community to help make lasting cultural change required in our schools, built environment, hospitals and more.

Once again, I thank the autistic and autism communities for the knowledge they have provided me and the ways in which we have been able to work side-by-side over the last seven months and into the future. Happy World Autism Awareness Day.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. L.A. Henderson.