One of the driving forces for me in making the decision to stand for State Parliament in 2010 was the lack of disability services in East Gippsland.
It gave me great pleasure as Shadow Minister for Disability to last week announce a $50 million policy package that will change the lives of many Victorians touched by autism, including East Gippsland families.
Since 2010 we have achieved much locally. With State and Federal funding we constructed new modern supported accommodation units at Noweyung; we funded the establishment of Cells Café as a disability social enterprise; we expanded Noweyung’s footprint into the old high school in Dalmahoy Street (now known as The Hub) and built the All Abilities Playground on Davison Oval.
That playground, which has not only become an important stop over point for travellers, is a great respite facility. Parents of kids with special needs can take a coffee and paper there to enjoy some peace and quiet while knowing their kids are safe and within sight at all times. Its benefits in this area alone have been significant.
Victoria is fortunate to have some fantastic organisations with amazing people that provide incredible support, such as AMAZE, Parents Line and Carers Victoria.
But there is more that can be done.
AMAZE estimates that around 55,000 Victorians are on the autism spectrum, and around 250,000 Australians have the condition – although possibly undiagnosed.
The Liberal Nationals’ seven-point plan covers education, advocacy and general family support and having been through the journey with my own son, I think this addresses several key areas:
A Liberal Nationals Government will provide $2.4 million to the peak autism body, AMAZE, to provide a 24-hour Autism Helpline for parents and carers of children with autism.
Many families with autism don’t know where to turn for advice immediately after receiving a diagnosis for their child and when times are difficult; for many families this can occur late at night.
This helpline will provide targeted, relevant advice and crisis support at all hours, to help families maintain their sanity during difficult times.
Support group fund:
We will establish a $500,000 Autism Support Group Fund to provide resourcing and start-up grants for local community support groups for children and families with autism.
This will resource grassroots, community-led support groups who help families beginning to navigate the autism journey.
We will review the current eligibility criteria for Program for Students with Disabilities funding, and push the student funding reappraisal dates back from the end of year 6 to the end of year 7.
We will review the criteria used to assess students including scope for more flexibility around criteria for qualification, and eligibility to attend specialist or mainstream schools, with flexibility on the IQ criteria.
The commitment to push the student funding reappraisal dates back from the end of Year 6 to the end of Year 7 is one that was pushed with me by East Gippsland principals.
These Year 6 appraisals often result in a reduction in funding in the year students transition to secondary school with its new environment, new faces and often lots more students. This will allow them to take the same level of support from primary school into their first year of secondary school.
We will create a specialist Autism Education Outreach Taskforce within the Department of Education to directly work with government mainstream schools to help them support students with autism or other special needs with best practice education and support, including how best to spend the Program for Students with Disabilities funding.
The second element of this is undertaking an Inclusive Education Workforce Capability Strategy to ensure that teachers and teaching staff can better access the necessary professional learning, including evidence-based pedagogy and curriculum, to fully support the participation and achievement of students with disabilities, particularly those with autism.
We have committed $4 million over four years to re-establish the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre’s Early Diagnostic Clinic for children aged 0-3 who may have an autism spectrum disorder, and to support OTARC’s ongoing research at La Trobe University.
The clinic can diagnose children with autism years before they can be assessed by public diagnosis clinics, which means they can access critical early intervention therapies much sooner.
We will ensure families with autism have advocacy at the highest level by creating the Premier’s Autism Advisory Council, to bring together a cross-section of autism stakeholders to discuss issues and offer solutions to problems facing individuals with autism and families with autism.
This will provide an ongoing forum for autism-related issues, and an important feedback mechanism for issues relating to the rollout of the National Disability Insurance Scheme in Victoria.
On top of this package and looking locally in East Gippsland, the missing part in the jigsaw is an overnight respite facility. This is something we will continue to work on with a level of optimism.
I believe this policy will make a big difference to a lot of families touched not just by autism, but disability generally, and is one that I was delighted to be able to put together with my Shadow Assistant Minister Bernie Finn and have adopted by the Shadow Cabinet as policy.
Wednesday, September 26, 2018