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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 794


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (10:41): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs, I rise to make a statement concerning the committee’s inquiry into the incidence and prevention of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD. FASD is the umbrella term for a spectrum of permanent intellectual disorders that are caused when a foetus is exposed to alcohol in the womb. FASDs do not discriminate and are not just an issue for Indigenous communities with high alcohol consumption. FASD is a hidden epidemic happening right now across Australia—it occurs in all our communities, regardless of socioeconomic or ethnic background.

You may have seen some people with FASD who have the telltale facial features. But many more FASD sufferers carry no physical indication of their intellectual impairment, which includes learning difficulties, low IQ, behavioural and socialising problems, organ damage, mental health issues, poor judgment and an inability to understand consequences or the difference between right and wrong, which can cause problems for young people post puberty. Many of these children will end up in the child protection system, separated from family members and moved from foster home to foster home.

The committee heard moving evidence from a foster father of five children, all with FASD, in Cairns on 31 January of this year. All MPs should read the Hansard transcript to get an idea of how some very dedicated people are struggling to care for kids with FASD without any training, support or financial assistance. There are people with FASD in every electorate in Australia, and they and their carers all need support but are unable to access it.

This is because, unlike the United States and Canada, Australia does not formally recognise FASD as a disability. Australia also lacks a nationally agreed diagnostic tool, and medical professionals are not educated adequately on FASD diagnosis and referral. The prevalence of FASD in Australia has not been ascertained yet. More awareness of the effects of alcohol on unborn babies needs to be promoted in all our communities, especially among young women and those at risk of alcohol abuse.

The best hope for children with FASD is early intervention, followed by comprehensive support services to manage their health, education, housing and employment. Yet, without recognition of FASD as a prescribed disability, people with FASD and their carers are unable to access disability pensions and community care services. Australians with FASD desperately need access to services that improve their life outcomes. For these reasons, the committee’s inquiry into FASD is an important one that builds on the work that FASD sentinels—families, health workers, foster carers, teachers, and Indigenous communities—have done to bring to our nation’s attention this debilitating but preventable affliction.

The committee will investigate effective prevention strategies to reduce the incidence of FASD in future generations. We will look at early intervention therapies that work for those recently born with FASD and at suitable management services which assist them to avoid unemployment, ill health, homelessness and/or involvement with the criminal justice system later in life. The anticipated outcome of our inquiry is a commitment by this parliament to develop a national strategy for intervention and the prevention and management of FASD. This strategy should include a nationwide public health campaign, early adoption of an appropriate national diagnostic tool and recognition of FASD as a disability, thus allowing carers to access disability support benefits. We encourage anyone who has professional or personal experience with FASD to make a submission to our inquiry. Information about the inquiry is available at www.aph.gov.au/FASD. We urge people to make contact now. We need your input.

I look forward to contributions to this important inquiry, particularly from the member for Murray, who has been so passionate about this topic.