Howard, Rudd unveil autism plans

Australian Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcast: 03/10/2007
Reporter: Hayden Cooper

Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd have both promised to increase funding for autism sufferers if elected to government.


TONY JONES: Well, there were some glaring similarities between Kevin Rudd and John Howard today as they both rushed to improve the lives of autistic Australians. The leaders were both on the hustings in Queensland, a crucial state in which the coalition stronghold is under threat.

The funding pledges on health remain the political focus, but there's also been fallout over the Government's changes to the refugee intake. From Canberra, Hayden Cooper reports.

HAYDEN COOPER: The question on everyone's lips?

CHILD (to John Howard): We would like to ask what day is the election going to be on? (Laughter from audience)

HAYDEN COOPER: It looks like a campaign and Mr Howard's been playing to the crowds in Queensland.

MAN: We've still got to pay a lot of tax.

JOHN HOWARD: How much are you earning?

MAN: I'm the same age as you and I have no intention of retiring.

JOHN HOWARD: You've got a bit more hair.

HAYDEN COOPER: Further north, more of the same. Kevin Rudd's been working the seniors club in Gladstone.

WOMAN (to Kevin Rudd): My husband thinks you're the cherry on the cake.

KEVIN RUDD: Oh, good grief.

HAYDEN COOPER: Not only with the two leaders in the same state chasing votes, but they had the same topics on their minds - autism.

JOHN HOWARD: I have known many who have had to grapple with this. I admire their love and their compassion and their stoicism and they need recognition, they also need help.

KEVIN RUDD, OPPOSITION LEADER: Autism is above and beyond party politics, and I think it's very important that Mr Howard's initiative is combined with ours to provide a total national response to the challenge of autism.

HAYDEN COOPER: John Howard's offering almost $200 million for autistic children, including help with early diagnosis and special playgroups. Labor's revealed its own policy - six new child care centres.

KEVIN RUDD: Great minds think alike.

TONY ABBOTT, HEALTH MINISTER: There's is a much thinner version of what we are proposing.

HAYDEN COOPER: The Christou family of Adelaide agrees the Government's approach is more help to them and their five-year-old, Andreas.

ATHOS CHRISTOU, FATHER: We're facing some issues in terms of schooling and resources. And this is a great day to voice our concerns.

HAYDEN COOPER: Along way from Queensland and far removed from the competing policies on health, the Immigration Minister is taking heat over recent changes to the nation's refugee intake, a big cut in the number of African refugees is attracting plenty of criticism.

JOHN BRUMBY, VICTORIAN PREMIER: If the Federal Government was to terminate this program, I for one would be very upset about that, and I think Australians generally would agree that we do have an obligation to play our part in the world.

HAYDEN COOPER: The intake from African countries was slashed earlier this year and it'll be reviewed again next year. But this week Kevin Andrews listed the reason as the failure by African migrants to integrate. He stands by the assessment.

KEVIN ANDREWS, IMMIGRATION MINISTER: Modern Australia, modern urban Australia largely, is vastly different from the conditions that people have come in many of the countries, in particular the Horn of Africa.

HAYDEN COOPER: The Prime Minister too rejected claims of racism as he worked the streets in Queensland. The Australian way of life can take a bit of getting used. Hayden Cooper, Lateline.


see also:


Govt, Oppn announce autism plans

The Federal Government has unveiled a range of measures to help autistic children.

Prime Minister John Howard says the package will include new Medicare-funded services to diagnose autism, extra training and support for families, and professional development for teachers.

This morning, Labor has announced that they will open six specialist autism centres, if elected to government.

The Howard Government has not yet put a price tag on the measures.

Mr Howard says they will focus on early intervention for about 15,000 families affected by autism across Australia.

"I'm no expert, but I'm told by the experts that early intervention - as in so many areas where there are problems and people have a challenged existence - early intervention is always the best way to go," he said.

Mr Howard says the Coalition's policy is very detailed.

"We're going to have 200 new autism specific playgroups to 8,000 children to encourage learning and development," he said.

"We're going to have intensive and structured programs for up to two years for up to 4,000 eligible children with moderate to severe autism."


Labor pledges specialist autism centres

Federal Labor says it will set up specialist child care centres for children with autism if elected to Government.

The Opposition spokeswomen on family services, Jenny Macklin, says one in every 160 children in Australia is diagnosed with the disorder.

She says if elected, Labor would set up a network of centres across Australia to offer support services to help autistic children.

"Children with autism benefit from having separate support services so that they can really get the social interaction and play skills and development assistance that they really need," she said.

Ms Macklin says current child care facilities do not cater for the special needs of autistic kids.


"In the first instance we are talking about six centres in parts of Australia. Six specialised centres for children with autism," she said.

"We hope they are successful and then we will expand them if they are."

see also Labor accused of copying autism policy