The Turnbull Government must ensure quality trauma counselling

 

Read the full speech below. 

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (11:48):  I move:

That this House:

(1) acknowledges that:

(a) victims and survivors of sexual and family violence should be able to gain access to the highest standard of professional counselling support;

(b) 1800 RESPECT, a national telephone and on line counselling service for people living with sexual assault and family violence, is an important part of the national response to family and domestic violence;

(c) since the establishment of the 1800 RESPECT service, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia has provided specialist sexual assault and domestic violence trauma counselling for the service; and

(d) Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, which has operated for almost fifty years, has achieved international recognition for its expertise in its field;

(2) notes that:

(a) Medibank Health Solutions (MHS), a for-profit company, receives public funds to administer 1800 RESPECT;

(b) MHS recently announced that the service previously provided by Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia would now be provided by four organisations, three of which have not previously provided trauma counselling for the 1800 RESPECT service;

(c) the consequence of this decision is a 75 per cent reduction in the public funding provided to Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia via MHS for the provision of the 1800 RESPECT service, as that organisation becomes one of four providers, rather than the sole provider; and

(d) in those circumstances, the Board of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia has decided not to accept the proposed MHS contract, which the Board states does not provide sufficient funding to enable Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia to provide the service, and imposes obligations which the Board considers unethical; and

(3) calls upon the Prime Minister to ensure that victims and survivors of family and domestic violence continue to have access to best practice specialist sexual assault and family violence trauma counselling services as previously provided by Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia.

Reducing funding to Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia will cause the loss of expert trauma specialist counselling and will also reduce the number of trauma specialist counsellors available and working in Australia. The Turnbull government is allowing its for-profit contractor to cut funds from Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia and redirect those funds to other organisations. The other organisations are well respected domestic violence organisations, but the cuts will mean that Australian victims and survivors of family and domestic violence will have less access to specialist trauma counselling. Minister Porter must explain how the Turnbull government will ensure that victims and survivors have access to specialist trauma counselling and how the government will either avoid the redundancy of up to 70 staff members or fund their severance payments.

Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia has been the sole provider of specialist trauma counselling for the 1800 RESPECT service since that service's inception. Now the Turnbull government is giving the for-profit firm that manages the contract for the service, Medibank Health Services, the green light to reduce RDVSA's funding by 75 per cent by moving to a panel system. The money will be reallocated to three other organisations. The new organisations joining the panel are well-respected, not-for-profit, state based domestic violence crisis services.

 

 

No-one would question their experience in providing excellent and crucial support to women in crisis, including information and referral services. I've visited some of those services myself, and I've seen firsthand the excellent work they do with victims and survivors of family and domestic violence.

The government could certainly take action if it wanted to start taking on responsibility to fund or partly fund crisis support to complement the support that is already provided by the state jurisdictions or if it wanted to support greater consistency and coverage across state lines for those services. Any new support for crisis services should not, though, involve any reduction in the work already being done by the Commonwealth to give effect to the National Plan to reduce violence against women and their children 2010‐2022. Any new support for crisis services should not involve a reduction in the availability of trauma counselling services. They serve different purposes, and both purposes are important.

1800RESPECT has, since its inception, provided a specialist trauma-counselling service. Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia has operated for much longer than the inception of 1800RESPECT—in fact, for almost 50 years. In 2011 its executive officer, Karen Willis, received an OAM for her work in relation to violence against women. The consequences of the reduction in funding to RDVSA, together with some new contract conditions that have caused it to have serious ethical concerns, have seen RDVSA decide not to accept the new arrangement. Those ethical concerns have been about requirements including an obligation to hand over client files and to allow voice recording of trauma counselling. The Turnbull government has yet to say how such voice recordings would be excluded from obligations under subpoenas across the country. In other words, how will the Turnbull government make sure that victims' telephone conversations with counsellors—no matter where the victim is in Australia; no matter where the service is in Australia—won't be obtained by violent perpetrators in the course of litigation and played aloud in court?

Under the proposed new panel arrangement RDVSA would have had 50 staff redundancies, but walking away from the contract will mean 70 staff redundancies. Those are the figures RDVSA has provided, yet we're told that staff support the decision to walk away, even though it means more redundancies, so strong are their concerns about the proposed new arrangement, their apprehension that 1800RESPECT would become an information and referral service rather than a trauma counselling service, and their worries about the ethical ramifications. This latest change to the service, to reduce access to trauma counsellors and transform the service so it focuses on providers that have traditionally worked in information and referral rather than specialist trauma counselling, comes after the Turnbull government and its for-profit contractor, Medibank Health Solutions, last year started diverting callers away from RDVSA's specialist trauma counsellors to less-qualified people in a first-responder triage process which was heavily criticised at the time.

The Turnbull government needs to say how it will make sure that Australian domestic, family and sexual violence victims and survivors and their supporters have access to specialist trauma counselling. The Turnbull government also needs to say what it will do to avoid the loss of up to 70 experienced frontline domestic and family violence and sexual violence staff from this nation's workforce. It also needs to say how the severance entitlements of these frontline workers will be covered in the event that the Turnbull government is unable to prevent the redundancies. Finally, the government must not fail to honour its commitments to the other panel organisations who have entered into this process in good faith.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mrs Andrews):  Is the motion seconded?

Ms O'Toole:  I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

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