Senate debates

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Domestic and Family Violence

3:32 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Special Minister of State (Senator Ryan) to a question without notice asked by Senator Waters today relating to funding for domestic violence services.

It is somewhat disappointing that the minister was not really able to answer the questions that I put to him. This is not a new issue. I have been corresponding with the Minister for Social Services about this issue for more than 12 months. Indeed, just yesterday the Senate passed a motion calling for direct funding for Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia given the potential funding cut that is hanging over their necks. For a start, it was disappointing that the government did not have that information to hand—but they call it 'question time', not 'answer time', for a reason.

The important issue I asked about was the fact that we have an internationally renowned, women-led specialist rape crisis phone organisation who, at the moment, deliver 1800RESPECT funnelled through a contract by MHS. The actual experts are doing the work but there is a middleman, which the government funds, MHS, which is a for-profit provider. They did not start off as a for-profit provider of course; they were privatised a few years ago. But currently we have a situation where Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, a call centre, is being managed by head contract by a for-profit provider. The union has run a campaign saying no-one should profit from rape, and I am fully behind that campaign. I think it is entirely inappropriate that there is a head contract that is potentially making profit off the back of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia. Unfortunately the minister had no difficulty with that concept—I was quite shocked that he did not have a problem with that concept—and, of course, he used it as an opportunity to attack the Greens. Well, I think he will find that most people think it is entirely inappropriate for there to be profit made from Rape & Domestic Violence Services. I would suggest that the minister is in the minority if he does not have a problem with that.

What we would like to see is the direct funding of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, or RDVSA, who are the experts and who can provide the appropriate support for women who ring that emergency DV and sexual assault helpline. At the moment their subcontract is under review. It is by no means clear whether or not MHS, as the head contractor, will continue that subcontract. The government has effectively outsourced the decision to a private company. The government used to say, 'All right, MHS, you can deliver this service, but you must give the subcontract to RDVSA.' However, it has recently reneged on that condition. The government is basically saying: 'We do not care who you give your contract to. You can decide that. We do not really give a damn.' I think this is an extremely disappointing approach and response by this government, which has championed 1800RESPECT and which is right to so champion it. Do not now hamstring that very service by not dictating who is to provide that valid service.

The experts should be delivering this valuable service, because women need appropriate support when they make a call, often in an emergency situation. If their phone calls are not answered by someone with relevant trauma counselling expertise—and all the RDVSA councillors have relevant expertise and often in excess of 10 years experience doing this—and they do not get that quality response when they make that call and that first call is bungled then they may never call again, and it may in fact be a life or death situation for that caller. That is why we have been saying how important it is to have actual specialists answering these calls and why we are so concerned about the triage model that MHS have implemented, with the consent of the government, whereby less-specialised people are answering calls. They are answering the calls quickly and then deciding whether or not to refer them to specialised counsellors. We do not think that is working.

There have been an awful lot of complaints made about that triage process, which is why we have called for an investigation into it. Unfortunately, the minister did not have the details about whether that would occur, but it is clearly warranted on the facts. There are enough people who are saying this triage process is not working for women, including the women themselves, and we just cannot dice with people's very wellbeing and lives for a matter as important as the rape and domestic violence counselling support phone line. So I urge the government to directly fund the actual experts who can help women when they call this rape and domestic violence support hotline.

Question agreed to.