Page 3956 - Week 10 - Thursday, 28 August 2008

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Ms Gallagher, as to what is being done about autism services. The short answer is: in real terms, nothing.

The first Australian report on the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders was released in March 2007. The core finding of the report is that there is one child with an autism spectrum disorder in every 160 children in the six to 12-year-old age group. As such, autism spectrum disorders are now more prevalent than cerebral palsy, diabetes, deafness, blindness and leukaemia combined. When the minister was asked on notice by the opposition about the progress of the government in implementing the recommendations from the autism national best practice guidelines formulated by the commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing she replied:

Current practice of Therapy ACT is aligned with the key elements of these guidelines.

What a fob off! One of the key elements of the commonwealth’s guidelines which inform the federal government’s $190 million autism initiative is that autistic children need 20 hours of intensive intervention a week. It is clear that the current practice of Therapy ACT is severely misaligned with this statement of best practice. There is no match at all. So badly off are autistic children in this jurisdiction that they get even less than average children get in preschool hours.

This government’s autism intervention unit gives two four-hour group sessions per week, involving no clinicians. For the rest, an autistic child gets, at best, six sessions in total. Each one is delivered at six-week intervals. That is hardly anything like best practice, minister. You have to call it worst practice as it is so close to nothing.

Indeed, Therapy ACT seem to be operating on the now outdated assumption that there is nothing much you can do about autism and families should have to cope as best they can on their own. We know where they get that catchcry from because we hear the Minister for Health all the time throw her hands up in the air, saying, “There is nothing we can do. It is not my fault. It is the commonwealth’s problem.” The lack of autism services really is a disgrace. This jurisdiction is the only one, apart from Tasmania, not to even fund the autism association. This is the capital city of Australia. I have just given members the statistics on how bad the prevalence of autism is and how bad Asperger’s syndrome disorder is.

We move on to another area where there is a major failing by this government. Despite the rhetoric, what is happening here in the ACT does not match the delivery of GP services. The Stanhope government has failed the people of the ACT when it comes to GPs. We have the greatest shortage of GPs in the country, around 60, but this government chooses to sit on its hands and say—guess what—“We cannot do anything.”

They sat by and watched the general practice in Wanniassa transfer to Phillip, upsetting up to 60,000 patients. That particularly impeded people who were elderly and people with a disability. I have people still ringing my office, telling me how traumatic it now is and their already heightened health problem is now at peak level. So we have exacerbated people’s health conditions by just sitting back and allowing the corporatisation of medical services here in the ACT.

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