Labor falls for "disgusting" union campaign against 1800RESPECT

“Labor appears to be backing a disgusting campaign by unions against the 1800RESPECT National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service Hotline,” Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, said today.

“The Australian Services Union campaign against 1800RESPECT is amongst the most disgusting and misleading campaigns I have ever seen,” Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, said today.

“To suggest, as Natalie Lang, the Branch Secretary of the Australian Services Union (ASU) has claimed on ABC Radio Sydney that reform to 1800RESPECT to improve the service was akin to allowing a company to profiteer from rape, is outrageous:

“…essentially it is allowing a private insurance company to make a profit from, from rape.”  Natalie Lang, Branch Secretary, ASU, ABC Sydney 27 February 2017

“This is disgusting,” Minister Porter said.

Now, Labor’s Terri Butler has swung in behind the union campaign.”

Facts:

The Government increased funding to 1800RESPECT in 2015-16 to meet increasing demand.  When this did not improve the service and wait times and call abandonment rates remained unacceptably high, reforms were made to improve the service further.

The reforms were based on a review, commissioned by the Government and undertaken by KPMG, which highlighted serious deficiencies in the service, including:

  • Wait times of 10.3 minutes in 2015-16
  • More than two-thirds of all calls to the hotline in 2015-16, 67 per cent, being abandoned by frustrated callers who were getting no answer.  That represents 42,211 people trying to access the hotline who gave up waiting.

“The Government provided $9 million extra funding for 1800RESPECT in 2015-16 and has committed about $10 million this financial year to ensure all women who call get timely, high quality information and support,” the Minister said.

“Since our reforms, average call wait times have reduced to 45 seconds with 80 per cent of calls answered in 20 seconds and 92 per cent of calls are being answered. 

“There has been a huge improvement in the service.”

Medibank Health Solutions (MHS) has been contracted since 2010 to provide the 1800RESPECT service.  MHS contracts Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia (R&DVSA) to deliver trauma specialist counselling through the service.

Claims that R&DVSA was only provided four days to submit an extensive tender to continue the services is absolutely false.  The preliminary stage of assessing interest in providing the nation-wide trauma specialist counselling service for 1800RESPECT was clearly explained in Expression of Interest documentation and will be followed by a Request for Proposal process which will be conducted over an eight week period.

Claims that 98 per cent of callers to the hotline need trauma counselling are just false.  1800RESPECT data shows that acute trauma counselling, where callers are referred to highly experienced counsellors, is required by about 25 per cent of callers.

Claims that callers need to retell their situation twice under the triage system are also false.

First responders are tertiary-qualified and with at least two years counselling experience and highly capable of making a rapid assessment of whether further trauma specialist counselling is required and, if so, provide a three-way handover to the counsellor. 

This is done specifically to prevent the caller having to re-tell their situation.

MHS and R&DVSA worked together to build and quality assure the system that refers clients to trauma specialist counselling.

ASU claims that there have been 200 complaints are also not substantiated by the facts.  As noted in Senate Estimates there had been 33 complaints between October 2016, when the new triage model was put in place to December 2016.  She seems to be implying false information had been given to Estimates.  The 64 complaints figure cited by Ms Butler relates to complaints over a much longer period time; 16 August 2016 to 15 March 2017, noting that the figure should be 62.

“It would be reasonable to expect that there would be some scrutiny by media and Labor of the ASU’s false claims before air time is given to such outrageous falsehoods,” the Minister said.

And now we have state-based crisis lines supporting the improvements to 1800RESPECT, with Chief Executive of the DV Connect crisis line in Queensland, Diane Mangan saying:  “All of us, right across the country, support easier and faster access to a support. Because there is only one thing that worries me and every other crisis line in the country, and that is women’s access to a response as fast as possible.” https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/mar/24/changes-to-and-domestic-violence-hotline-were-sorely-needed-to-meet-demand

And, Carolyn Frohmader, CEO of Women With Disabilities Australia saying she supported seeing how the triage system developed, following research her organisation conducted long with MHS which showed the old model was failing women and girls with disabilities.

“That was no secret,” she said. “It just wasn’t working well. Women with disability experience significant traumas from violence across a range of settings. Our review examined the whole of the service including online resources and the way information was communicated.”

A number of improvements had been made since, she said.