Legislative Council: Wednesday, April 10, 2024


Matters of Interest

World Autism Awareness Day

The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (15:24): I rise today to speak about Autism Awareness Day and month. For those who do not know, 2 April is celebrated worldwide as Autism Awareness Day, and April as a whole is recognised as a month where we celebrate autism awareness and seek to build knowledge. Last Tuesday, on World Autism Awareness Day, we reached another important milestone in our state's journey to become the autism inclusive state. We launched the state's first ever Autism Inclusion Charter, a resource that will now be rolled out across all government, and also include training resources to enhance knowledge and understanding, wellbeing, connection and belonging, employment and opportunity.

On the day, the Premier and myself joined over 130 government agency and private sector chief executives and their representatives to officially launch the Autism Inclusion Charter. From the Gold Foundation to Telstra, to Adelaide Oval, to autistic advocates, to Autism SA, and the department CEs, the room was filled with a variety of individuals all united by the same goal of improving life outcomes for autistic individuals by showing their support to build knowledge.

At the event on the stage there were two printed copies of the Autism Inclusion Charter pledge. On one of the copies that was displayed there were many members of parliament who had signed a pledge: members from the cross-bench in this chamber, for which I say thank you; members of the government in this chamber, for which I say thank you; and to members of the government and cross-benches in the other place who signed this pledge to build knowledge, I say thank you.

I am guessing it will come as no surprise to many in this chamber that the party that did not come to the table and sign a simple pledge to say that they wanted to build knowledge, understanding and opportunity in the employment workforce for the largest disability group was the Liberal Party.

An honourable member: What!

The Hon. E.S. BOURKE: 'What!'—exactly. Not the Leader of the Opposition, not the shadow minister for disabilities, who has stood in this chamber week after week after week asking questions about how to be more united and work together to build knowledge—quite unbelievable. It also comes as no surprise that I have also been advised that despite the fact that we have just gone through the largest consultation period—one of the largest consultation periods for the disability community with the creation of the draft strategy, where over 1,200 people could give their time, could rock up, could share their views, could share their values—the opposition could not be bothered rocking up and sharing their views.

It is disappointing because we are talking about the largest disability group in our community. We are talking about an opportunity for us to come together. As we have seen, the CEs of every government department gave their pledge that they want to make change. They want to change the statistics that show that if you are autistic, you are half as likely to complete year 10; if you are autistic, you are three times more likely to be unemployed than someone else with another disability; and if you get to age 50, you are an old autistic.

These are statistics we are seeking to change by doing something as straightforward as building knowledge in our community. We must start with the largest workforce, and that is the state government workforce. So I say thank you to the CEs who signed this pledge to start that very process. On the day, the CEs were trained by the autistic-led Office for Autism, who provided knowledge about what is autism and what we can do to support our colleagues who may be autistic or neurodivergent in our workplace, so that we can start to create a more inclusive workplace in our largest workforce: state government.

What are incredibly disappointing, as I have shared in this chamber previously, are the thoughts of the Liberal opposition leader that it is only virtue signalling to have a position of the Assistant Minister for Autism, and his comments about the autistic community in regard to the benefits of having such a role. It is not the government that I would advise the opposition to be apologising to but the largest disability community in South Australia: the autistic community.