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Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Page: 9270


Mr SHORTEN (Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services) (9:33 AM) —Autism spectrum disorder affects a growing number of Australians, and autistic children have special needs that often require a specialised education. In this regard, I was pleased to announce in June this year, with the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs on behalf of the Rudd government, that all children aged six and under who are diagnosed with autism and are not yet at school will have access to up to $12,000 over two years in early intervention support through a new $190 million package from the Rudd government.

The Helping Children with Autism package will give greater access to a range of early intervention programs, including one-on-one intensive activities, behavioural therapies and tailored group and individual programs. In fact, the Western Autistic School, which services the western suburbs of Melbourne and has a campus in Niddrie in my electorate, is a world leader in educating children with autism. Its principal, Val Gill, and the parents there have recently faced some challenges arising from maintenance work at its Deer Park campus. In that regard, it is welcome news to families in Melbourne’s western suburbs that the Brumby Victorian government will be constructing a brand-new campus for the school at a site in Laverton North, and I would like to thank the Victorian Treasurer, the Hon. John Lenders, for taking the time to visit the Western Autistic School earlier this year for a meeting with me and Val Gill and to see firsthand the challenges that the school faces and the tremendous work done there. Following that meeting, the school received word that a time line had been set up for the construction of a new campus along with an anticipated opening date in 2010. This is welcome news for the parents of children attending the existing facility in Deer Park, which is a temporary location on the site of the former Deer Park Primary School, an ageing facility that regularly requires repairs and maintenance works.

As some members may be aware, I also used my recent trip to Kokoda to attract some much needed assistance to the school. In July, I travelled to Papua New Guinea to trek the Kokoda Trail, a 96-kilometre journey that took me through the dense rainforests and mountains where Australian and Japanese soldiers fought during World War II. I travelled with great companions—Ian Silk; Patrick Silk; Luke Donellan; Earl Setches; Peter Jamieson; Don Heggie; David, Adam and Shane Palmer; Greg Nankeris; Peter Burshee; Placid; and the Major—and great porters. It was a journey that gave me a greater understanding of the historic events that took place at Kokoda and the challenging conditions that confronted our troops.

Before I left I asked people to sponsor my trek, with all funds raised going to the Western Autistic School. I am pleased to report that I completed the trek and that many donations have been received, including from many of my fellow members and senators. In fact, the support for the Western Autistic School has been overwhelming, with a total in excess of $73,000 raised for the school in the sponsorship of this trek. The support for the Western Autistic School is yet another demonstration of the generous nature of Australians and their willingness to give for a worthy cause. I would like to thank those members and senators who supported the school, as well as the many individual and corporate donors who contributed. The donations will make an enormous difference to the school and to the parents of children with autism. Your generosity is very much appreciated by me and the school community.