Wednesday, 21 June 2017
Questions without Notice
Domestic and Family Violence
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Services, Senator Ryan. Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, or RDVSA, is a woman-led internationally renowned specialist service with decades of experience. This crucial frontline service currently delivers the 1800RESPECT hotline for victims of DV and sexual assault, but they are at risk of losing their funding under a tender by Medibank Health Solutions—a highly profitable private company. Can you, right now, rule out any funding cut for RDVSA, and will the government step in if MHS does not award the sub-tender to RDVSA?
MHS, the current provider of 1800RESPECT, has commenced a tender process, as Senator Waters outlined, for the trauma specialist counselling component of the service. MHS is responsible for this subcontracting arrangement under its contract with the department to deliver 1800RESPECT. MHS has included a sector expert with a background in domestic and family violence helpline services and an independent probity officer on the evaluation panel. In late May this year MHS advised the department that it had agreed to an extension of the current contract with Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia until the end of October this year. This will ensure that all callers will continue to have access to trauma specialist counselling while MHS conducts negotiations in good faith to finalise the outcome of the tender.
I do not have a direct answer to the question Senator Waters asked. I am sure she will appreciate that. I am not in a position to rule in or out a matter outside my direct portfolio. I will seek further information and come back to the Senate.
I appreciate the minister taking that on notice. I am very much looking forward to his response. There have been reports of a spike in complaints about 1800RESPECT due to flaws in the new triage model implemented by MHS with the government's approval. Will you now commit to ensuring that there is an independent investigation of these complaints?
I do have some data on performance of the 1800RESPECT line. The most recent figures show that, since the introduction of the first response triage model in mid-August last year, 73 per cent of calls have been answered within 30 seconds. Data from MHS from mid-August to the end of March this year shows that approximately 30 per cent of callers required intensive support provided by trauma specialist counsellors. MHS data on call-out shows that of the remaining callers 38.1 per cent received information, 34 per cent of callers received initial trauma informed counselling and education and 19 per cent received information about provider options. There are some other smaller categories, which time precludes me from going through. The remaining callers were referred to RDVSA or provided with other warm referrals. MHS—
Mr President, I appreciate the minister reading out those figures. I have those. I am interested in whether or not there is going to be an independent investigation into the complaints about the triage model. If he does not have that information to hand, can the minister please take that on notice and provide it as a matter of urgency?
Mr President, on the point of order: the question referred to the performance, and I thought it was directly relevant to the Senate to provide some of the performance data for that service provider.
As I said previously, I am not in a position, it not being my direct responsibility, to rule that matter in or out, Senator Waters. If I am in a position to provide further information to the Senate, I will do so.
MHS have announced that they have projected a doubling of profits from their health call centre services, including 1800RESPECT. Why does the government believe that it is acceptable that private companies can profit from domestic violence and sexual assault services?
Quite frankly, I do not think it is fair or reasonable to try and load a question about the role of profit-making enterprises in the health sector in such a way. I do not think it is appropriate.
I do not see an issue, Senator Waters, with people making a profit from providing a service, because everywhere else in our community and across our economy that has proven to drive improvements in service. There is no problem whatsoever with someone making a profit out of a health service. I do not think it is appropriate or reasonable to load the question. I know the Greens do not like profit making in health. I know they do not like profit making in a whole range of the economy. Indeed, the Greens have done their best to destroy profit making right across the economy. But the government does not have a problem with profit-making enterprises fulfilling the terms of contracts, as long as they do what they commit to in those contracts.