The 2022 Victorian State Election is on Saturday 26 November. To find out what the important issues are for Autistic Victorians in this election, we recently went out to the autism community with a short online survey, which received over 350 responses.
We would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took the time to complete this important pre-election survey. We have now collated the key questions posed by the Victorian autism community and have reached out to politicians to ask how they plan to address these concerns and issues.
Unfortunately, due to commitments and responsibilities with the flood emergency response across Victoria many of those we reached out to were unable to film their responses as we had originally planned. However, we have gratefully received some written statements and comments addressing issues you raised including disability support in the justice system, employment, education policies and much more. See below for the responses.
We put to the Minister for Disability, Ageing and Carers and Shadow Minister for Disability, Seniors and Carers questions on understanding of the challenges faced by the Autistic community and plans to help community; specific policies that seek to address the challenges facing Autistic people living in the Victorian community; plans to support people with autism and an intellectual disability; influencing the health/mental health system so that getting an autism diagnosis is not such an overwhelming, confusing, elongated and expensive process; ensuring that Autistic voices are heard in government; and, steps to simplify government bureaucracy and paperwork.
Their responses are below:
“Firstly, I would like to congratulate the Autistic community for speaking up on the issues that matter to them and making their voices heard at a time where there is a real opportunity to improve the outcomes for people with autism.”
“The Andrews Labor Government is proud of the nation leading reform in improving opportunities for people with Autism, and will outline the path a re-elected Government will continue to take in partnership as part of our commitment to make Victoria inclusive and accessible for every autistic person.”
“As Minister for Disability, I see how Autistic Victorians experience persistent barriers in social, economic and civic life that others take for granted. The 2017 Parliamentary Inquiry into Services for People with Autism Spectrum Disorder gave an unprecedented insight into the exclusion and marginalisation faced by autistic Victorians, their families and carers.”
“In 2019, the Andrews Labor Government embarked on a mission to change this. The Victorian Autism Plan was launched in response to the enquiry, the first state Autism plan in Australia. The plan drove change in areas where autistic people told us they are missing out, including community inclusion, early diagnosis and supports and pathways through key life transitions. It also incorporates commitments to remove specific additional barriers faced by the autistic community.
“A re-elected Andrews Labor Government is committed to continuing work to update and refresh the Victorian Autism Plan, which will meet the evolving challenges and opportunities autistic Victorians face, and align with the commitments and systemic reforms we announced in Inclusive Victoria: State disability plan 2022-26.
“In addition to 175 actions to improve outcomes for people with disability across all life domains, Inclusive Victoria contains six systemic reforms to drive long term change for all people with disability, including Autistic Victorians. These are co-design with people with disability, Aboriginal self-determination, intersectional approaches, accessible communications and universal design, disability-confident and inclusive workforces, and effective data and outcomes reporting.
“Autistic Victorians also experience challenges in our institutions, which is why we are committed to ensuring the perspective of autistic and other Victorians with a disability are entrenched in the decision-making process, by introducing a nation leading Disability Inclusion Bill.”
“While we have made some great progress, there is much more to be done. An Andrews Labor Government will continue to draw on the expertise of our Autism Plan Advisory Group, which includes representatives of key organisations, including Amaze as well as several autistic-led organisations. It is that community expertise, that vision and that ambition that will help us drive change.”
On Thursday 3 November, Tim Bull visited the Amaze office in Richmond and his responses to questions from the community survey were filmed.
Some quotes are below, and you can watch the interview (please note this has been edited for length) with Tim below.
“One of the areas I think Government can much better explore is supporting those who are waiting to access the services that they need. It’s clear that there is a problem there for many. Why do we have to wait for that formal diagnosis to access a speech or an occupational therapist? We should be able to start these therapies much earlier while awaiting these diagnosis’s”
“Our Carers Support Group Fund which will give each of these community groups $5000 will have very little criteria around it. We want to make it flexible, and more importantly in the larger towns, we can have these groups pull their money together to do something pretty special”
“I think we have some great social enterprises in Victoria, but I think with a bit of work and support we could at least double or even triple the amount that we have.”
“We have four student-free PD days per year, and we don’t spend any of them on addressing, dealing with and understanding students with autism or any other special need. I have already had chats with our Shadow Education Minister about how we can better educate our teachers and teachers aids in dealing with the challenges.”
“It is all too common to hear ‘I know about autism, I had a student with autism two years ago’. We all know that the autism spectrum is huge and every student is very, very different.”
We are yet to receive a response from Dr Ratnam.
Disability education and engagement was a key theme addressed by the Autistic community in this important pre-election survey. Amaze reached out to Education Minister, The Hon. Natalie Hutchins, as well as Shadow Minister for Education, The Hon. David Hodgett, for their responses on how each respective party plans to address further training and support for teachers to understand the diversity of autism and better support Autistic students.
How are you going to change the education system as a whole to be more inclusive and equitable for families with a child with a disability? Will you commit to providing mandatory training on neurodiversity across all education sectors, primary, secondary, government and independent schools in initial teacher training and teacher registration requirements?
“The Andrews Labor Government is proud to be delivering Disability Inclusion reforms across the state. Our Government has invested an unprecedented almost $1.6 billion to make sure students with disability are supported in the classroom through an Aus00tralian-first Disability Inclusion package. The record investment will transform support for students with disability in Victorian government schools — doubling the number of students receiving extra support in the classroom to 55,000. AMAZE has been a great partner in developing communications for this work and we are really thankful for your contribution.
“The Labor Government is committed to ensuring all children have access to high-quality early childhood education. We have invested in a range of initiatives for children who need that extra support, and we know that our most recent announcement to make kinder free from next year will be a game-changer.
“A re-elected Andrews Labor Government will deliver a $207 million package to transform specialist schools — and the lives of their students, carers and families.
“It’s a package that builds on what we’re already doing — upgrades to every single specialist school in the state, and more support for students in the classroom. But there’s more to do. Parents have told us that one of their biggest challenges is finding after-school and holiday care. That’s why we’ll extend outside hours care to every single specialist school in the state — with the next 25 rolling out from 2024.
“Kids with disability and their families often juggle multiple specialist appointments and checkups, racing from one side of town to the other. That’s why we’ll bring those services to them by creating spaces on-site at every specialist school for allied health appointments.
“And while the NDIS has been delivering for people with disability, a lot of the time parents feel like the system is designed to be hard to navigate. We’ll help them out by introducing NDIS Navigators in all 89 of our specialist schools. They’ll be employed by the Victorian Government, but will work for families to help them navigate the system.
Labor’s package also includes:
“And we’ll deliver more pats, more often — with $5 million funding to train more therapy animals.
“Our Disability Inclusion reforms, $207 million package, as well as our Free Kinder initiative are systemic changes that will have long-term impacts to accessibility and equity for children and families with a disability.
“Additionally, we know that children with disability may also require mental health and wellbeing supports. We believe that every child and young person deserves to be supported to reach their full potential. That’s why the Labor Government has invested over $600 million to support the mental health and wellbeing of students, more than any other Australian jurisdiction in history. We are also getting on and delivering on every single recommendation from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System. This investment includes qualified mental health practitioners for all government secondary and specialist schools, the new $200 million School Mental Health Fund, and the new $200 million Mental Health in Primary Schools program.
“We’re also helping kids catch up on their learning by extending the Tutor Learning Initiative, making sure Victorian students continue to get the individual support they need to thrive and succeed throughout their schooling. The initiative has been in place since 2021, with a total investment of $738 million over three school years, the single biggest boost to individualised learning support in the state’s history.
“These systemic and state-wide changes are really important in making the education system as a whole more inclusive and equitable. In the meantime, we are also implementing additional initiatives and reforms including the High Intensity Out of School Hours Care program, implementing the Autism Education Strategy, rolling out the Diverse Learners Hub, funding scholarships for teachers in the Masters of Inclusive Education and funding over 385 projects through the Inclusive Schools Fund.
“Labor has — and will continue to support our autism community.”
How are you going to change the education system to be more inclusive and equitable for families with a child with a disability?
“In terms of the curriculum, we feel that the introduction of our Better Readers Policy, as well as the curriculum simplification, will certainly help families with a child with a disability. The current curriculum, because of the sheer volume of curriculum material that must be covered, simply does not allow time for teachers to review learning goals or outcomes. Our goal, to make the curriculum teachable in a single year, will also enable teachers to review and focus on learning areas of need, to ensure students are not left behind.”
Will you commit to providing mandatory training on neurodiversity across all education sectors, primary, secondary, government and independent schools in initial teacher training and teacher registration requirements?
“Of course, we want our teachers able to support neurodiverse students. Unfortunately, as a State Government, we are simply unable to mandate any parts of ITE. However, we can encourage, support and partner with universities who do provide training on neurodiversity. Additionally, we can look at developing PD modules in conjunction with groups such as Amaze to better support teachers who are already teaching. It is our goal to improve the educational outcome of all students, so naturally that includes students who are neurodiverse”
Accessing support services and advice in plain text were raised in the survey as significant challenges for the Disability community. This can be particularly challenging for the Autistic and neurodiverse community when navigating the justice system. We reached out to The Hon. Anthony Carbines, Minister for Police, as well as Dr Matthew Bach, Shadow Minister for Child Protection and Youth Justice, Youth Affairs to find out how the Justice system can better support the Autistic community and break down these barriers.
“It’s critical that every Victorian has access to the support, health services and treatment they need when they come in contact with the justice system.
“There are several Victoria Police programs and initiatives in place to serve members of the public who live with a disability, including people living with autism.
“Our community is at its strongest and safest when we work together, respect each other, and are supported by a well-resourced, modern police force that meets the needs of our diverse communities.”
We are yet to receive a response from Dr Matthew Bach on this topic.
Disability employment was an important issue raised in our community pre-election survey. For responses on how their party plans to address employment barriers for the Autistic community, we reached out to The Hon. Jaala Pulford MP, Minister for Employment and Mr David Southwick, Shadow Minister for Jobs and Employment.
Offered her sincere thanks for the opportunity to discuss upcoming plans and policies before the State Election but was unable to take part due to commitments with the flood response.
We are yet to receive a response from Mr David Southwick on this topic.
Mental health and wellbeing in the Autistic community was a significant issue raised in our pre-election survey. We reached out to The Hon. Gabrielle Williams MP, Minister for Mental Health as well as Ms Emma Kealy, Shadow Minister Mental Health to ask about their party’s plans to improve access to mental health services.
The Hon. Gabrielle Williams is currently on maternity leave, therefore was unavailable to discuss any upcoming plans and policies before the State Election.
We are yet to receive a response from Ms Emma Kealy on this topic.
The health of the Autistic community is an ongoing issue that needs to be better addressed. We reached out to The Hon. Mary-Anne Thomas, Minister for Health, as well as Ms Georgie Crozier, Shadow Health Minister to ask about their plans to improve access and entry points to health services for Autistic people and increased training and education for hospital and frontline medical staff.
Minister Thomas was unable to respond due to other commitments.
Ms Georgie Crozier has advised that she will respond to this shortly.