Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Brisbane autism centre, school enrolment and attendance measure – Doorstop, Brisbane

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JENNY MACKLIN: I’m very pleased to be here today with my Parliamentary Secretary Bill Shorten, who’s done so much in his two years as Parliamentary Secretary, supporting people and families with disability, and also with Graham Perrett, who’s the local member for this area who’s been such a wonderful advocate for this new centre. I’d really like to start by congratulating James Morton and everyone else, who’ve been such a driving force to get this centre established here at Griffith University.

We’re so pleased to be here to celebrate the opening of this centre because we do know just how important early intervention is for children with autism spectrum disorders. We do understand how critical it is to give children with autism the best start in life to make sure that they, like every other child, is well prepared for school.

So to everybody who’s been involved in the development of this centre, and the other five centres around Australia, we say a very very big thank you. The Government made a commitment before the last election to establish these centres. And we’re very pleased to see this one here at Griffith University in Brisbane open today.

QUESTION: Are there any other plans to fund more?

JENNY MACKLIN: Not at this stage. But we do understand how important it will be to both look at the evidence that comes from the establishment of these centres. It hasn’t been done before. These six centres really have grown out of the experience that James Morton and his colleagues have really worked so hard on, independently from Government. They have really indicated to us how important it is for children who do have autism spectrum disorders to have a separate place – a place where they can learn and grow. And so we’ll obviously look very very closely at the experience from these six centres as we plan our way forward.

QUESTION: Any plans to make… just the amount of paperwork, lessen the amount of paperwork, the amount of hoops that these par… mums and dads do have to jump through?

JENNY MACKLIN: Yes. In fact one of the major changes that this government made that we introduced last year and has been progressively happening are changes to what’s called Carer Payment child – that’s the payment that’s made available to those parents who have children with serious disabilities, or serious medical conditions.

We’ve expanded the availability of that payment, made it easier for parents whose children are going in and out of hospital.

So we certainly do recognise how important it is to make the payments available and to make them easier for parents to manage. We know we’ve got more to do in this area. But that’s been one area we have seen some improvement on.

QUESTION: Are people beginning to realise that there is such a thing as autism?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think it’s very widely recognised that we have a very significant number of people in our community with autism spectrum disorders. But what we are coming to better understand is how to give children who are identified early in their lives the best start. As James has just described, it is so important to do everything possible as early as possible to give children a chance to grow and learn and get to school well prepared.

And that’s what we’re wanting to see happen in these centres.

QUESTION: On another topic, the Northern Territory welfare payments being quarantined. How many have been quarantined?

JENNY MACKLIN: I think you’re talking about the school enrolment and attendance measure – which is not welfare quarantining. But that’s a completely separate approach. But you’re talking about school enrolment, aren’t you? Yeah.

QUESTION: How many people would have their welfare quarantined under that scheme?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well if I can just explain it to you so we get it right – around 16,000 people in the Northern Territory have their welfare payments quarantined. What that means is that 50 per cent of their payments are, have to be spent on essentials like food and clothing – and can’t be spent on alcohol.

But I think what you’re referring to is a separate measure: the school enrolment and attendance measure.

This is being put in place in just a few places. Six places in the Northern Territory. And three different areas here in Queensland. And the way that works is that parents have to show Centrelink that their children are enrolled at school. If they live in these areas, and they’re on welfare payments, and they also have to show that their children are attending school on a regular basis.

In the Northern Territory, we’ve had a small number of parents have their welfare payments suspended at the end of last year, and they have also been referred to Centrelink again – or not the same parents. A small number of parents have been referred to Centrelink again this year. And we have around 20 parents here in Brisbane who’ve also been referred to Centrelink.

But there have been no suspensions of payments here in Queensland.

QUESTION: What communities have they been [indistinct]?

JENNY MACKLIN: I can’t – for confidentiality reasons, I can’t identify that.

QUESTION: Can you put an actual figure on it?

JENNY MACKLIN: For the same reason, because we’re dealing with very small numbers, I can’t do that, okay.