Topics: Autism pilots, National Autism Strategy Oversight Council, JobSeeker, Stage 3 tax cuts, Budget
AMANDA RISHWORTH, MINISTER FOR SOCIAL SERVICES: I am really pleased to be joined here today by Cate, who's a mum of three children – one diagnosed with autism – and also Clare, our new Co-Chair of the National Autism Oversight Council. These two women have come here today to share their experiences. I'll make a few comments first about how important we see early intervention for children with autism but also how important our National Autism Strategy is. Firstly, our announcement today funded in the Budget is to provide two new early intervention programs for children showing signs of autism. I need to be clear that these early intervention programs are not about fixing children with autism. What they're about is providing parents with the right support when their children may be showing signs of autism early on to provide the right play environment, to provide the right learning environment and to provide the right social environment so that these children can reach their developmental potential. One of these pilots will be based on the Inklings program, which has been running in West Australia. It's shown really good signs of providing good evidence-based support for parents and led to good developmental outcomes. This is really important because we know that too often children are being diagnosed with autism later and are requiring more complex and costly interventions. If we can provide that environment and intervention with a strength-based approach for parents then we will actually get better outcomes for families and better outcomes for children. Now, today is also the inaugural in-person meeting of the National Autism Strategy Oversight Council, which will be guiding our National Autism Strategy. The National Autism Strategy was a commitment that we made at the last election, and it will sit alongside Australia's Disability Strategy in how we can promote a better inclusive society for those that are neurodiverse. It is really important that when we embark on this strategy, that we're not reinventing the wheel. Already so much good work has been done by the autism community in bringing up different issues and concerns they face. So our strategy will integrate that information that's already out there, but also seek to hear from the voices that haven't been heard. We see co-design as critically important, and the first meeting of the Council today is really important. Now I'm just going to invite Cate to say a few words from the perspective of being a mum to Reuben and also then invite Clare to say a few words as well.
CATE COOL, PARENT: Hello, I’m Cate and I’d like to thank Minister Rishworth for inviting me here today. I have a beautiful son Reuben who has been diagnosed with autism and he is the most amazing boy. The journey to start with though was tricky, knowing who to call, knowing exactly what support was needed and initiatives like this hands down really help to be able to help little ones to thrive. Not just to just survive but to thrive as an autistic person in this world. I think things like building social supports for these families in these initiatives, giving them the skills and knowledge on how to maybe play differently or do things differently so that the children with autism aren't having to change who they are but we are able to adapt our ways of playing with them and doing things so their world becomes a more friendly and inviting place rather than fighting to be here. So I'm really, really excited about this. This is a really great step in the right direction to be able to help people like my son Reuben to live in a world that he not only accepted but he's there and he's part of the world.
CLARE GIBELLINI, CO-CHAIR NATIONAL AUTISM STRATEGY OVERSIGHT COUNCIL: Thanks, everyone. I just want to say firstly, a great thank you to Minister Rishworth and to the Government for its commitment to ensuring that Australians with autism are actually part of the leadership of this Strategy. It's incredibly important that we do so because it will not be successful without us. This is our lives and it's really important that we get there opportunity to take charge. Autism doesn't live in a silo of its own. You know, we are intersected. We're part of every part of Australian society. We’re First Nations people. We come from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. We're part of the LGBTQIA+ community. We’re parents, we’re wives, we’re sons, we’re daughters – all those sorts of things. We’re are people sometimes with multiple disabilities, including intellectual, physical and cognitive disabilities. Our Council has been put together very deliberately and has a really great representation of the diversity of autistic folks across Australia. And I think that's incredibly important because we need to develop a strategy that actually makes sense to all autistic folks across the country. And we're very committed to doing so. So I want to applaud the Government for involving us in leadership at the very highest level. Thank you.
JOURNALIST: What is the cost of the Coalition's JobSeeker policy to raise the income free threshold and are you opposed to 50,000 more low income earners moving on to that payment?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Firstly, I would say that the opposition has made clear that they are opposed to a $40 increase to the base rate of JobSeeker. That is our plan along with extending the eligibility for people to access parenting payment up to their child turns 14, along with that allowing people aged 55 and over to access a higher rate of JobSeeker. This is our carefully calibrated well costed plan. In terms of the Coalition's plan, they put a number of figures out there. Clearly they have not costed their plan and this has not been thought through. At one point on Sunday, the Coalition was saying it was $750 million. Peter Dutton said on radio yesterday it was $2.3 billion. So I'd like to see their costings. Where are the opposition's costings if they are serious about this plan? In terms of what we want to see when it comes to supporting people on income payments – we want to make sure that they are supported and that is why we've increased the base rate. That is why we have increased Commonwealth Rent Assistance. It's why we are focusing on energy support for those most vulnerable on income payments as well as many families around this country. We focused our support on strengthening the safety net. And the opposition has just torn that down. It's really up to them to explain why they are focused on this policy. But while we're strengthening the safety net, we also want to ensure that people are able to move off income support into careers, into jobs that are meaningful for them. And that's why in this Budget, we've invested in foundation skills, for example, and actually tackling some of the real barriers that exist for people entering the workplace.
JOURNALIST: So moving off income support into careers, does that mean that you are concerned that there would be more people receiving JobSeeker under the opposition’s plan rather than Labor's?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: What I want to see is people accessing welfare when they need it, accessing income support when they need it, but ultimately, what I'd like to see is us tearing down the barriers for so many people on income support. If you look at the moment 75 per cent of people on JobSeeker and other working age payments are not reporting any earnings, which means they're not even using the income fresh free threshold that's available to them. When I speak to those people, they experience age discrimination, disability discrimination, they may have been lacking the skills – whether that's foundation skills or the technical skills. We want to ensure that people have meaningful jobs and that were able to provide strong support, a strong safety net when they need it, but are ultimately able to be supported into meaningful, well paid jobs.
JOURNALIST: Are you ruling out supporting the opposition's policy?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: I wouldn't call it a policy. Let's be frank, there's no costings, there's no analysis of what actual improvement it will mean for all those people that have been locked out of the labour market. But what we are considering if we talk about broad economic participation, is a range of measures through our White Paper on employment. We need to look at across the board, what we can do to support people take the opportunities of work, and that is the work that we're doing through our White Paper process that is comprehensive, it is thorough and it requires the policy and evidence base that needs to be applied to policies like these.
JOURNALIST: Minister Stage Three tax cuts, according to PBO costings are now going to blow over $300 billion over the next 10 years. What's your comment on that?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: The Government has said there is no change to our plans around Stage Three tax cuts and obviously, when it comes to changes in the Budget, these will be updated as per normal timelines.
JOURNALIST: ACOSS has submitted to a parliamentary committee at the moment that the Government should remove Work for the Dole schemes, saying that they are punitive – mutual obligation systems are punitive – and increase anxiety and stress for JobSeekers. What are your remarks on that?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: At the moment, there is a House of Representatives inquiry into Employment Services and the support that is available for job seekers to be able to get into employment. I'll be waiting, as will Minister Burke who has responsibilities in these areas, to hear the outcomes of that committee but ultimately we want support for people to get into meaningful jobs and that is our aim.
JOURNALIST: You said you want people to be able to access welfare when they need it? Does a person earning just a few hundred dollars a week need JobSeeker as well?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: Our idea is to have a strong safety net. A strong safety net in which people then can transition into work and that is our purpose, that is our point. The interactions around disincentives and incentives will all be looked at through our White Paper process, along with what can break down the barriers for people getting into meaningful employment.
JOURNALIST: Just on the stage three tax cuts again, that's a 23 per cent difference from what was the figure that was originally forecasted. How could something like that happen? Any clues as to why it is such a big discrepancy?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: I think that's a question for the Treasurer.
JOURNALIST: On the Autism announcement today, 1500 babies that's the starting point. Will it be increased or expanded in the future and what's the eligibility? How can parents know whether their kids are eligible?
AMANDA RISHWORTH: We will be working through all those details, but the idea is that we will have two different trials and we will be evaluating those trials and then looking at the evidence. We want evidence based policy to deliver in this area. So we'll be looking at the evidence base and look at how we might further expand those trials if they prove to be having good outcomes for parents and children. But they are showing in WA good outcomes. There is promising evidence here. And so this is incredibly exciting. In terms of the children that will be referred to the process it will depend on which state and territories will be running these trials. Children are expected to be identified through their early check-ups shortly after birth, to be identified of whether they would be suitable for the trial. Thank you.