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Motion: Neurodiversity Celebration Week

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:56): I rise on behalf of the Greens with great pleasure to speak in support of this motion, and I thank the Hon. Emily Bourke for bringing it to this council. I also rise to acknowledge the work of my federal colleagues, particularly that of Senator Jordan Steele-John in advocating for the rights of those with disabilities. My colleagues have often been outspoken on the flaws within the system, such as the NDIS, and even giving a dissenting report criticising the federal inquiry into services, support and life outcomes for autistic Australians.

The Greens have repeatedly made informed choices about the language used to describe disabled people. In doing so, we have consistently emphasised the significant contribution made by neurodiverse people to our communities. It is respectful curiosity that I bring to this chamber today and reflect on the language in the workshop that I enjoyed that was hosted by the Hon. Emily Bourke earlier on this sitting day.

We in the Greens acknowledge the deficit language surrounding neurodiversity that says that people have deficits. It is actually a fundamental truth that we are all neurodiverse, just like we are all diverse in ethnicity, race, gender or sexuality. Neurodiversity simply refers to the diversity of human minds and all the unique and different ways that people can exist, that people think, that people act, that people process, and that people feel and function.

Neurodiversity Celebration Week was celebrated quite a while ago now, from 13 to 19 March 2023, and it provided us with an opportunity to celebrate the immense contributions of neurodiverse individuals to our communities, our workplaces and our society as a whole. It is estimated that around 20 per cent of Australians are neurodivergent and yet often being neurodivergent is considered a negative thing surrounded by that negative stigma, and significant barriers still remain across far too many areas of life.

The neurodivergent population is grossly under-represented when it comes to employment in Australia. Amaze, an organisation in Vitoria that provides resources and implements change for people with autism, commissioned a report in 2018 that found that the unemployment rate for autistic people in Australia is 31.6 per cent, three times higher than for people with a physical disability, and six times higher than the average for Australians without a disability. This is shocking.

This is despite much research showing that improved diversity in our workplaces can only positively contribute to an organisation and improve internal culture and acceptance and improve business outcomes. Educational institutions, workplaces and communities should be designed to support neurodiversity. We must ensure there are reasonable accommodations, awareness programs and anti-discrimination policies in place to protect the rights of neurodiverse individuals.

Also, while ADHD significantly impacts the lives of one in 20 Australians, it still remains fundamentally misunderstood. Earlier this year, the Greens undertook a survey asking people with ADHD to share their experiences with getting a diagnosis and with getting care in our healthcare system. There were more than 10,000 responses and still counting. I would like to share with you some of the outcomes of that work and some of its more distressing figures.

More than 63 per cent of respondents who suspect they have ADHD said that cost is the reason they have not been formally diagnosed. More than half worry that medical professionals will not take their ADHD concerns seriously and over 82 per cent of respondents identify as women, non-binary or gender fluid people. This tells us that cost and lack of training are big barriers to ADHD diagnosis and that these barriers impact women and LGBTQIA folks the most.

We know how to address this because 92 per cent of those respondents told us how; that is, add ADHD diagnosis to Medicare. Such insights are why community engagement is so important. In order to ensure equity and drive attitudinal change to disability, governments have the responsibility to provide the necessary funding in all areas, including education, health, housing, mobility, employment, transport, sport, and cultural and social engagement and, indeed, as was noted in the workshop today, in planning with inclusive design.

We should all strive to create a world where neurodiversity is not just accepted but embraced. We must encourage and celebrate the unique strengths that neurodiverse individuals bring to our communities and champion the idea that difference should be celebrated and not stigmatised or demonised. The Greens know that different does not equate to lesser than and I hope that in all our lives we not only empower neurodiverse individuals to reach their full potential but also to enrich our society and benefit from that.

In closing, I do wish to reflect and thank again the Hon. Emily Bourke and her team for the workshop they provided to members of parliament today and the news that there will be an Office for Autism under the Department of the Premier and Cabinet. It is welcome news. It is positive change. It was a really insightful hour of reflection and I absolutely appreciated it, and I appreciated the generosity with which it was provided. I sat there, though, thinking that we were there learning, and I was certainly learning. There were things that reaffirmed what I already knew, but there were things I did not know, and I welcomed being given a safe environment in which to learn.

This motion recognises Neurodiversity Celebration Week and acknowledges that week as a time to increase our knowledge and understanding of neurodiversity and celebrate neurodivergent people, including members of the autistic community. It congratulates the Malinauskas government's commitment to start supporting neurodiversity through the establishment of the nation's first Office for Autism in the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, placing inclusion at the heart and centre of government. It is a very simple motion that is all a statement of fact. Sure, maybe you want to remove the word 'congratulate' and simply 'note', but I do congratulate the Malinauskas government for doing this. It is a national first. It is something I think is well overdue and is incredibly important.

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