Speech by Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Opening Address to the Applied Behavioural Analysis Today Conference

E & OE
Good morning, and thank you very much for inviting me here today.

It is a great pleasure to be here with you. Can I start by acknowledging:

  • Sarah Wilson, Autism Behavioural Intervention Association Board President
  • Susie Pavey, ABIA General Manager
  • Fiona Sharkie, CEO of Amaze
  • Nicole Rogerson, CEO of Autism Awareness
  • Shannon Eeles, Managing Director of the Centre for Inclusive Schooling of Children with Autism

Your conference this weekend is a fantastic event. I know that many of you have travelled to be here.

Let me assure you, this Government is aware of the hard yards you are all putting in to keep making progress in our understanding of autism.

The Australian Government believes every child deserves the chance to succeed.

It recognises the many challenges that families of children diagnosed with disability and ASD face.

The Government is determined to improve support for children with ASD, their families and carers.

We know that providing support as early as possible can make a huge difference to their development and lifelong learning.

It better prepares them for school, helps them take part in everyday activities, and gives them the best chance of reaching their full potential.

That’s why the Australian Government is improving access to early intervention services during the most critical period of their development through the Helping Children with Autism package, which provides up to $12,000 for each eligible family to help with the cost of early intervention for their child.

Since the HCWA package commenced in 2008, almost 39,000 children have been able to access more than $299 million in funding for early intervention services.

These are now provided in more than 2,234 locations across Australia.

The package provides Medicare rebates to develop a treatment and management plan for eligible children, as well as early intervention services for young children with ASD.

The package also funds autism advisors who provide parents and carers with specific information on early intervention services and early intervention funding – support during what can be a challenging period for families.

Autism Advisors are the important link between clinical diagnosis and access to early intervention and support services.

Interventions incorporating Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) have a strong evidence base in research for their effectiveness on children with ASD.

This is why ABA is an eligible early intervention under the HCWA package.

The Australian Government also funds six Autism Specific Early Learning and Care Centres across Australia.

These centres employ an innovative early intervention model and build professional expertise on the effective early treatment for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

But this package doesn’t just provide specialist services; it also helps families connect with others in similar situations, through family support, Early Day Workshops and PlayConnect playgroups.

This is very important, because parents and carers of children with ASD face many difficult and complex challenges and are at risk of feeling isolated and unsupported.

As you will know, HCWA is in scope to transition to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) as it expands nationally.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has a strong focus on early intervention support, and in a way, HCWA, being essentially a voucher scheme, was a precursor to the NDIS.

As you are aware, the NDIS represents a very significant change to the way people with disability are supported.

The NDIS ensures that people with disability are funded to have choice and control over individualised supports tailored to their needs.

The individual plans developed for participants in the scheme will include a combination of informal, mainstream and NDIS funded supports, and participants will choose how their plans are managed.

When fully implemented, the NDIS will provide supports to about 460,000 Australians with significant disabilities.

At present, the scheme is established at multiple trial sites across Australia with close to 11,000 people with significant and permanent disability signing up as participants in the Scheme.

For the first three years, the scheme is being introduced at trial sites in selected locations because it’s a big change, and we want to get it right and make it sustainable.

Each of the trial sites is implementing different participant phasing into the scheme, providing opportunities to learn crucial lessons for roll-out across the country.

In the first stage of rollout in mid 2013, the NDIS began in Tasmania for young people aged 15-24, in South Australia for children aged six and under, and in the Barwon area of Victoria and the Hunter area in New South Wales for people up to age 65.

From mid last year new trials began for people of all ages up to age 65 in the ACT, the Barkly region of Northern Territory and in the Perth Hills area of Western Australia.

The Western Australian Government is also running a trial based on their My Way system.

Roll-out of the full scheme in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory will commence progressively from July 2016 with full nationwide rollout expected by 2019.
As at 31 December 2014:

  • There were close to 13,500 people eligible for the NDIS.
  • Over 11,000 people had approved individualised support plans in place.
  • More than $565 million had been committed to these participants.

Children with ASD are already accessing early intervention services in the NDIS trial sites of South Australia, the Barwon area in Victoria and Hunter area in New South Wales, the Perth Hills region of Western Australia, the Barkly region of the Northern Territory and in the Australian Capital Territory.

And I am pleased to report that behaviour support and ABA are already being offered through a number of registered NDIS service providers.

As at 31 December 2014 there were 3,135 participants with Autism Spectrum Disorder and related disorders with an approved plan.

This represents 28 per cent of all participants across the trial sites.

Across all trial sites, 81 per cent of participants with Autism Spectrum Disorder and related disorders have an approved plan with early intervention supports.

To break that down to a local level, in Victoria there are 835 participants with Autism Spectrum Disorder and related disorders with an approved plan.

And 71 per cent of them have early intervention supports included as part of that plan.

The greatest number of participants with ASD is in the South Australian trial site, where there are 1,066 children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and related disorders.

Of these participants, 98 per cent have plans that include early intervention and early childhood supports.

The NDIA has brought together a group of experts in your field, supported through a stakeholder group, to consider how current evidence can be applied in NDIA decision making.

The NDIA has also worked closely with Early Childhood Intervention Australia to improve understanding of the trans-disciplinary approach and best practice models for early intervention for staff, families and service providers.

There are good examples of NDIA trial site staff working closely with mainstream providers.

For example, trial site staff in SA are working with community organisations, mainstream providers, early childhood and education staff and families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders to support families to understand how to access the Scheme and what the NDIS is more broadly.

This is an exciting time for the disability sector, and I look forward to continuing to have good engagement with you all as make progress on the puzzle that it is ASD.

Thank you once again for the opportunity to officially open your conference today.