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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 273

Autism Spectrum Disorder: Traineeships

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:35): My question is to the Minister for Human Services, Senator Payne. Can the minister inform the Senate how the government is helping people with autism spectrum disorder to find skilled employment?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Human Services) (14:36): I thank Senator Reynolds very much for her question. I am very proud that the Department of Human Services is participating in this groundbreaking initiative. We are providing traineeships for people with autism spectrum disorder working in our ICT hub in Adelaide. We are partnering with Hewlett Packard Australia and with a Danish organisation called Specialisterne or Specialist People Foundation to provide those 11 traineeships in our department's ICT testing teams.

Senator Cameron: Why did you cut traineeship support programs?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron!

Senator PAYNE: That is a program which will provide trainees with incredibly valuable work skills in an environment that enables them to perform their roles effectively.

Senator Abetz: Mr President, I rise on a point of order.

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock.

Senator Abetz: I think that families that have children with autism might be interested in this answer and not the rank politics emanating from Senator Cameron.

The PRESIDENT: There is no point of order.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Both sides, order! Senator Cameron, Senator Macdonald and Senator Ronaldson! Order, Senator Macdonald!

Senator Cameron interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, you are so persistent with your interjections. Can you at least lay off for a little while?

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

The PRESIDENT: You too, Senator Macdonald.

Senator PAYNE: For Australia to be involved in a groundbreaking program like this, to see those extraordinary young men—and their families—who have an amazing capacity for precise attention to detail, who are able to systematically process information, who have long concentration spans that make them ideal for and make them love work in information technology is actually quite rewarding. It is quite heartening to see that a collaboration like that, working on something like critical IT testing, can actually come together with Autism SA, with Hewlett Packard and with these young men and their families.

They have settled in incredibly well. I think that they expected to be welcomed by the Australian parliament when I made these observations this afternoon, not trashed by those opposite in the way Senator Cameron and Senator Collins did. They have settled in really well. They did their induction and training with Hewlett Packard and then they came to work with us. They are incredibly bright; they are incredibly talented. They have very impressive academic records, but, unfortunately, they found it hard to get jobs in the routine workplace. This partnership has been able to assist them and their families.

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:39): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate of—

Senator Cameron interjecting

Senator Payne interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Minister and Senator Cameron, let's just settle.

Senator REYNOLDS: Can the minister inform the Senate of feedback from the trainees themselves and their families about this initiative?

Senator Jacinta Collins: She might be able to tell us about the number of women.

Senator Payne: What do you know about autism, Jacinta?

The PRESIDENT: Order! Ignore the interjections, Minister; you have the call. Cease interjecting, on my left.

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Human Services) (14:40): The trainees and their families—their mothers, fathers and siblings who were there last week—had incredibly positive initial feedback. One small business owner and his wife reported that their son, who had gone to work in the Department of Human Services, was now not in the truck with the father, which was fantastic for the son. He was able to come home and talk about the socialising that he had done at work and talk about going to work on the train with his colleagues. Of course, it meant that his mother was back in the truck now, so she was not necessarily 'thrilled' by that arrangement, but in family terms it was overwhelmingly positive. To see the trainees talk amongst themselves, to see them engage in this discussion and to see the enormous potential that this has for other young Australians with autism spectrum disorder—no matter where they are on the spectrum, in very many cases—to work in this environment that supports and understands them is an incredibly important step. I am very proud that the Department of Human Services has been able to play a role in this.

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:41): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister advise the Senate what else the government is doing to support diversity in the workplace?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Human Services) (14:41): I do thank Senator Reynolds for that question. As a number of those opposite will know, and may actually consider to be meritorious, the Department of Human Services is really a leader when it comes to promoting diversity in the workplace, particularly across the Australian Public Service. Speaking in relation to disability, for example, over 4½ per cent of our employees self-identify as having one or more disabilities. Over four per cent self-identify as Indigenous; over 45 per cent—and I am not sure whether or not this number includes me—are mature age workers 45 years old or over; and 25 per cent self-identify as being from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. We reflect the community that we serve.