By convenor | Tue, 22/11/2011 - 09:05

The Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs omitted a submission from A4 to its Inquiry into Commonwealth funding and administration of mental health services. The Committee's final report does not mention autism at all ... it does not acknowledge that it received a submission from A4.

A4 received a letter (click here). An email exchanged ensued: see responses here and here.

On 22/11/2011, A4 wrote again to the members of the Committee as follows:

Senator Rachel Siewert
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Senator Siewert

    Subject: protest and call for an autism Inquiry

Autism Aspergers Advocacy Australia (known as A4) writes to protest your Committee's treatment of the submission A4 made to the Inquiry into Commonwealth funding and administration of mental health services. A4 suggests that, since its concerns were omitted from this Inquiry, an Inquiry into services and support for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is needed now.

A4's protest relates to the following events:

  1. A4 sent its submission to the Committee ahead of the original deadline for submissions
  2. When A4's submission was not published along with other submissions, I rang to check that it had been received and was being processed. Secretariat staff said A4's submission had been received and was being processed. They said A4's submission would appear in due course.
  3. The Committee published its final report. The report does not mention “autism”.
  4. A4 received the attached letter from the Committee on 14/11/2011.

A4 protests about the following:

  1. The response of the Committee's Secretariat to A4's calls about the non-publication of A4's submission during the period of the Inquiry was inaccurate and misleading.
  2. Dr Ian Holland, Secretary for the Committee, wrote (14/11/2011) that “the committee has accepted [A4's document] as correspondence (which is confidential to the committee) and notes the issues you raise”. The Committee did not acknowledge or recognise that A4 prepared and submitted documents to the Inquiry either in the Committee's reports or on its website for the Inquiry. There is no actual indication that the Committee “notes the issues” that A4 raised: autism is not mentioned at all in the reports of this Inquiry.
  3. Dr Holland also wrote

    The committee concluded that the document contained numerous instances of adverse comment about both individuals and organisations. It did not believe that those adverse comments were relevant to its terms of reference and it did not therefore wish to seek responses from the parties involved. In these circumstances, it concluded that the material was best received as correspondence.

    Dr Holland's letter to A4 did not identify the alleged “adverse comments” or which of the “adverse comments” the Committee believes were not “relevant to its terms of reference”.

    1. The purpose of providing Parliamentary Privilege for submissions to Senate Inquiries is to facilitate the inclusion of “adverse comments”.
    2. The Terms of Reference on the Inquiry website (see…) specify … “The Government’s funding and administration of mental health services in Australia, with particular reference to: … (f) the adequacy of mental health funding and services for disadvantaged groups, including: ...(iii) people with disabilities; … (j) any other related matter.” We believe A4's submission fits completely within these terms of reference. A4's submission explains in detail the relevance/position of autism in mental health … if the issue is relevance, A4 deserves a response from the Committee showing why autism does not fit in these quite broad terms of reference.
  4. The Committee singled out A4 submission: it published numerous other submissions containing adverse comments of marginal relevance.
  5. The Inquiry ignored matters relating to autism. The Committee could have discussed its concerns over alleged “adverse comments” and relevance with A4 so matters relating to autism could be included in the final report.
  6. The handling of A4's submission is not open and transparent: all the related actions are protected from scrutiny (such as Freedom of Information provisions).

If your Committee is concerned that A4's submission is not of a sufficient quality, please be aware that A4 (like autism/ASD advocates generally) has minimal resources available for tasks such as preparing a submission for this Inquiry. While Governments fund peak bodies in some parts of the health and disability sector, none of the funding supports systemic advocacy for autism/ASD. The Government refuses to fund any of the relevant autism-related groups to respond to inquiries such as yours or to provide ASD-related policy advice.

The Government's funding refusal for autism/ASD is remarkable given the significance of autism in the community. As A4' rejected submission to the Inquiry said, autism/ASD needs serious attention since ...

  • the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare ranked autism as 2nd highest burden of disease and injury for boys in our community back in 2003;
  • the number of people diagnosed with autism is increasing substantially at 15% per year, that is doubling every 5 years, so autism may well now rank #1.
  • the Australian Bureau of Statistics recently released data that shows especially poor outcomes for a rapidly increasing number of Australian diagnosed with autism (detailed in our rejected submission).

The people who prepared A4's document are disappointed that the Committee suppressed (euphemism: “received as correspondence”) A4's detailed 40+ page submission, a document that involved substantial effort and was meant to inform the Committee and the Senate. These people really do not have time to fritter away preparing submissions for the political process to ignore.

This is not the only example showing Governments disrespect carers of people with a disability. Senator McLucas (Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers) claimed in her recent speech “that the state governments have responsibility for the delivery of most disability services in Australia” (see…). This claim is just wrong: families provide “most disability services in Australia”. Out of necessity, family carers have these responsibilities after decades of governments in Australia aggressively minimising their involvement in disability services and support. The CSTDA/NDA data shows that fewer than 1 in 3 people with autism, most of whom have severe or profound disability, get any services at all from the state for their disability. Few if any who do get a service from the state regard the service they get as anywhere near adequate.

Conduct, such as your Committee suppressing A4's submission, does politicians and bureaucrats no credit. It promotes the cynicism and distrust Australian have for their politicians and political processes. Your Committee missed a valuable opportunity to examine funding and administration of treatment, rehabilitation, early intervention and other services for people with autism/ASD through the Inquiry into Commonwealth funding and administration of mental health services.

The Government did not respond publicly to numerous concerns A4 raised previously (see…) … it seems the Government avoids, as much as possible, meeting the needs of people with severe and profound disability due to their autism/ASD. You may think an NDIS has the Government's attention but the proposed NDIS addresses only a fraction of the challenges A4 has raised in relation to people with autism/ASD and their carers.

Autism Aspergers Advocacy Australia asks that the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs conduct an Inquiry into services and outcomes for people with autism spectrum disorders.

Yours sincerely
Bob Buckley
A4 Convenor

The initial response is to this letter is here and here.