Australian State Appoints First Autism Minister

Australian State Appoints First Autism Minister
Autism rates have reached new heights with boys being over four times more likely than girls to be diagnosed.(Dubova/Shutterstock)

South Australia has unveiled the nation’s first autism minister in an effort to raise awareness and improve the service for the growing number of people known to have autism.

Emily Bourke has become Australia’s first representative for the autistic community as she takes the role of assistant autism minister.

South Australian Labor Premier Peter Malinauskas on Sunday said that he “couldn’t go to a town hall or street corner without a parent somewhere raising the frustrations they had because their autistic child not getting support that they require, particularly in the school setting.” 

Malinauskas added that there is a “sheer volume of [autism] cases without much attention” and that’s why the government “thought it deserves a specific person” responsible for addressing the issue.

He told Sky News Agenda that the move to appoint an autism minister is a “largely solid response, at least [at] a political policy level” and that South Australia “aspires to be a national leader in this regard.” 

“There’s a lot of families out there crying out for support.” 

“Our policies, particularly in the education setting, aren’t just about helping young people with autism; it’s about making sure that everybody in the classroom gets the attention they require so they can fulfill their potential.”

Bourke, a Labor member of the South Australian Legislative Council, said in a statement that she will establish an Autism Education Advisory Group consisting of autistic people, family members with lived experience, as well as unions and medical experts.

“I am a mother of three, so I know that every parent and caregiver wants their child to reach their individual potential,” she said in a statement.

Under its election pledge, the South Australian Labor government will also provide $28.8 million to have an “autism inclusion teacher” in every public primary school who is versed in practices for supporting autistic children. The funding will also be directed towards raising the number of staff qualified to assist preschool kids with autism.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) estimates that 1 in 100 Australians have been diagnosed with autism. This is a stark increase compared to 20 years ago when autism was identified in around one in every 2,000 people. 

Autism is also the largest primary disability category for the NDIS, with almost 30 percent of active participants having a primary disability of autism.

Under the NDIS, an autistic NDIS participant receives $32,800 in funding per annum, while autistic children under seven receive on average $16,700 per year for support.  

The move was welcomed by Torrens University Australia, which offers a master program in special education and a course in autism education to prepare students with advanced skills in supporting people with autism.