Autism CRC Speech

*Check against delivery*

Good afternoon and thank you Andrew for that warm introduction.

I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet today, the Turrbal and Jagera people.

I pay my respects to their elders – past, present and emerging and all First Nations people here today.

At the Autism CRC, it’s wonderful to be able to hear directly from autistic people and other members of the disability community. Thank you for being here with us today.

As Minister for Social Services responsible for Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031 and our whole of government approach to improving the lives of people with disability, it’s wonderful to be here and talk to you about the Government’s vision for a better future for all autistic people.

This vision is demonstrated through the Albanese Government’s election commitment to develop on a National Autism Strategy. It also builds on the work of the recent Select Senate Committee on Autism, and I would also like to acknowledge the ways in which autistic people, families and researchers contributed to that process.

From day one in this job, I’ve been determined that this Government will put people living with disability - including autistic people - at the centre of all consultation about disability policy.

We won’t be able to create a more inclusive society and drive meaningful change for the 4.4 million people with disability in Australia if we don’t.

And that would be a huge loss to Australia, because if we are not supporting everyone to reach their potential, then our society – and our economy – are missing out.

The ambition behind the National Autism Strategy is the same ambition that animates Australia’s Disability Strategy – better coordination, co-design, and work that improves outcomes.

I’m sure it’s an ambition shared by all of us here today.

We know that at least 1 in 70 Australians are being diagnosed with autism.

Yet at the moment autistic people experience some of the poorest outcomes of any group living with disability - and a 20-year gap in life expectancy compared with the general population.

We also know that for most Australians, when they think about autistic people they think about children. But adults living with autism need supports and a focus when it comes to universal accessible policy solutions as well.

Through the development of a National Autism Strategy, the Albanese Government will work to address these gaps.

We know they exist because services and supports are often poorly coordinated, and we recognise that the evidence on the needs of autistic people is new, emerging and continually updated.

Support for those living with disability needs to be embedded in all areas of society.

So it’s very important here to announce the start of the Government’s work to develop a National Autism Strategy, when that work will be grounded in evidence-based and evolving practice like we see from the Autism CRC, and on the voices and views of autistic people.

Alongside Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021-2031, this National Autism Strategy will support a national, coordinated approach to the improvement of services, supports and outcomes for people with disability, their families, and carers.

For people living with autism we need to consider their specific experiences: a child experiencing developmental delay has a very different context than a teenager or an adult.

We also need to ensure that there is an effective service system for all autistic people regardless of what stage in their journey to diagnosis they may be at, or regardless of whether they are an NDIS participant or not.

And we need to appreciate that as we understand autism better as an aspect of someone’s life. As more people come to appreciate the potential for how life changing a diagnosis can be, autistic people are constantly reflecting back their experiences and the latest evidence to governments, researchers, service providers, and the broader community.

Work of course is already happening -  the Department of Education is leading an important project as part of Australia’s Disability Strategy to facilitate early conversations between schools and families to strengthen support for students on the autism spectrum (diagnosed and undiagnosed), in their first year of primary schooling.

But we need to bring all this work together, and that is what the National Autism Strategy aims to do.

The initial design stage of the Strategy was funded in our first Budget, recognising the priority we place as a government on ensuring people with disability feel heard and know we intend to work with them to improve their lives.

We’ve already started the work on this strategy and I can announce today that the first meeting of an oversight council that will co-design and guide all phases of the strategy development is expected to meet for the first time in March.

I’ll speak more about the oversight council later.

I’m determined that this Government raises its game when it comes to measuring, tracking and reporting on outcomes for people with disability.

Based on what people with disability want; and what they tell us will drive change.

Because we need to do better.

One critical part of us achieving this is the Autism Cooperative Research Centre.

The CRC is going to play a critical role in this and I am thrilled to announce today that Government will be working in close partnership with Autism CRC.

The $2 million commitment for funding will enable Autism CRC to continue its role as a national leader in the development of best practice guidelines or other resources across a number of areas.

This includes the first national evidence based practice standard for the assessment and diagnosis of autism; its practice platform to assist educators and school leaders in implementing inclusive education; and its guidance to assist employers in recruiting, retaining and supporting neurodiverse employees as well as it’s myWay Employability web app which provides career guidance for autistic people to identity their strengths and interests and guides them to information about a relevant career path.

These resources help change systems and practices to better support autistic people; and they enable autistic people to better navigate opportunities and get the sort of life they want and deserve.

This funding will ensure these resources can expand and remain fit for purpose.  

Of course, Autism CRC builds these resources through a co-design process with autistic people.

It’s that expertise in co-design that will provide a basis for the development of the National Autism Strategy.

The committed funding for the Autism CRC will also enable them to analyse current research and data to build the evidence base for the Strategy.

Alongside this work, as I flagged earlier my department will soon establish an oversight council that will co-design and guide all phases of the strategy development.

Members will include autism community and sector representatives, researchers and relevant Australian Government departments. It will also feature an autistic co-chair who will be identified through discussions with autistic representative organisations.

This council will report to me and be supported by working groups focussed on key outcome areas.

You’ll hear more about this oversight council soon and I expect it to meet for the first time before the end of March.

In the next stage, we will work on consulting with the sector, building on the work of the Select Committee on Autism and ensuring that the voices of autistic Australians, as well as the broader disability community, are heard.

The work will also build on the evidence and final report of the Disability Royal Commission, due later this year, and the Government’s NDIS Review. Autistic people should not have to tell their stories twice.

All of this work together will culminate in the draft Strategy.

A strategy that will layout practical steps for improving the lives of autistic people. One that takes into account of the needs, goals and aspirations of autistic Australians.

A strategy informed by research and lived experience. So thank you to the researchers at the Autism CRC, your expertise and effort is making a difference.

The Government has also funded broader work, with $300,000 has also been allocated to the Department of Health and Aged Care to support the delivery of a National Roadmap to target health and mental health outcomes for autistic people.

And we have also committed $2 million to the AEIOU Foundation for Children with Autism to expand their early intervention centre in Townsville, Queensland. We look forward to working with the Foundation to progress this project.

Our guiding principles as a Government is to leave no one behind and hold no one back. The Prime Minister Anthony Albanese talks about it often.

It’s that spirit and ethos that we bring to improving the lives of people living with disability and in particular those living with Autism.

There’s so much we can do to improve the lives of Australians with autism.

And I look forward to working with you all to achieve it.

Thank you.