House debates

Thursday, 2 October 2014


Abacus Learning Centre

4:55 pm

Photo of Greg HuntGreg Hunt (Flinders, Liberal Party, Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

I will thankfully take this opportunity to talk about the work of the Abacus Learning Centre in Hastings, Victoria. Abacus is a wonderful organisation. It takes care of those young children who have autism and autism spectrum related challenges. My engagement has come from dealing with many parents in the electorate, in particular Michael and Lauren Moore, who are right at the heart of this organisation, taking care of their beautiful young son—actually not so young now; he is now a teenager—and so many other parents.

I want to talk a little bit about Abacus and then a little bit about the steps forward from here. Abacus Learning Centre was Australia's first facility offering centre based ABA therapy programs. It is in Hastings. It is literally a few hundred metres from my office. It provides excellence in early intervention programs and school services specifically to help children with autism spectrum disorder. In practice, when you go to Abacus you see the most committed possible group of teachers, therapists and specialists working with young children on building learning capacity and building memory. It is a mixture of physical and mental activities. They might be teaching those children to repeat activities. It could be using different colours. It could be jumping hoops. It could be jumping on and off steps or then working on repetition of words with reward.

The testimony to the impact of Abacus was given to me at what has been possibly the most powerful electorate function I have attended in my time in parliament. On that evening three testimonials were given by different mothers, each one of whom told the story of the journey of their child—their young son or daughter—who was suffering with severe learning disabilities. In many cases the parents said: 'We are struggling to cope. We are deeply distressed. There is simply nothing that we can personally do.' Abacus provided a way forward for them, and on each occasion each of these three parents told the story about the change in the capacity of their children to learn, to thrive and to be part of the community.

The world is full of amazing stories of people with autism who have thrived, but equally there are those who struggle, and Abacus helps make that difference. Each of the parents said that not only did they feel their child was given the opportunity to progress, to develop and to be part of the world but that as a family or individual parent—because some of them were sole parents—their world was different. There was a sense of despair, but now there was a sense of hope and light.

Going forward, Abacus has its challenges. It has to move buildings. It was very generously lent by the base hospital in Mornington a building for three years. It is well past five and probably approaching seven years that it has been in that building. The time has come where it will have to vacate the premises because the building will be resumed for hospital purposes. Now we need to find them a new home. I am working with the Shire of Mornington Peninsula. I would like to work with the state, which has been very constructive. But this is a fundamental thing. Moreover, I think we need to ensure that Abacus is fully integrated and accredited as part of the state schooling system. I will do all that I can. I will be speaking with the federal and state ministers and putting in writing to them that not only do we need a new home; we need to fund on a full, sustainable basis because, for the moment, it is the parents and the fundraisers who have been providing the funds. I was fortunate to be able to assist in some small way with the funds we raised from my last 500-kilometre walk around my electorate, but that pales in comparison with what the parents have had to raise.

So, going forward, I want to say thank you to the parents, to commend the teachers led by Lauren Moore and so many others and to say that we will not stop. This is the pledge I have given to Reverend John Leaver, who has been one of its patrons but who is suffering at the moment until Abacus has a new home and a sustainable future.

Photo of Bruce ScottBruce Scott (Maranoa, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! It being 5 pm, the debate is interrupted.

House adjourned at 17 : 00