Labor accused of copying autism policy

The Federal Government has accused Labor of 'me too-ism' by announcing its policy to help autistic children on the same day as the Coalition's.

As the phoney election campaign rolls along, both sides have spent the week courting the health vote.

Today, the Government unveiled a $190 million package to tackle childhood autism.

About $21 million of that will go towards a new Medicare item for the diagnosis of autism and early intervention treatment for children with the disability.

Speaking at a community centre at Eagleby, south of Brisbane, Mr Howard said his plan focused on early diagnosis.

"It touches what we are advised, after a lot of consultation, are the important bases," he said.

"It recognises the critical importance of early intervention. It recognises the critical importance of helping people who interact with children with autism more effectively."

But before the Government policy hit the airwaves, Labor's Jenny Macklin got in first, announcing a network of child care centres for children with the disorder.

"In the first instance we're talking about six centres. We hope that they are successful, then we'll expand it if they are," she said.

Families Minister Mal Brough is angry Labor tried to steal the Government's thunder.

"Mr Rudd will do a little bit more of 'me too' and try and get a tick in the box to say he cares," he said.

"But following is not leadership."

Labor insists the timing was purely coincidental.

Mixed response

Autism Victoria has welcomed both plans.

Spokeswoman Meredith Ward says it is about time services for autism were funded.

"Every type of service conceivable is inadequate - from identification to diagnosis, early intervention, educational services, employment services, support services, accommodation services - every life-long service is currently inadequate," she said.

The Adelaide parents of an autistic son say federal announcements to help autistic children do not go far enough.

Athos Christou says his five-year-old autistic son needs a school tailored for autistic children - rather than the mainstream education system.

"These children will find it very hard, of course they will be lost in the system," he said.

"Even the teachers are reluctant to take them on because they don't have enough support to actually teach them the proper way, and trying to integrate them into the system."


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