Speech in Parliament on 1800RESPECT

8.00pm | March 28, 2017

I rise to speak about the 1800RESPECT service because over the past few months there has been a real concern about this service. This is what happens when something is not quite right, because we have seen media coverage, we have online petitions, we have social media advocacy and the union has been speaking out and has been active. It is, of course, causing senators like me and Senator Moore to ask questions. In short, there is a real level of unease from various members in our community about the future of the 1800RESPECT service. It causes me great concern, and it ought to cause great concern in this chamber.

This is a service that offers unique and vital assistance. Domestic violence and sexual assault numbers show consistent growth despite the fact that most of other violent crime rates are falling. Since 2010, this service has been the only national provider of expert, qualified counselling, information and support for very vulnerable women. These women who, facing sexual assault or domestic and family violence, can get the help they need when they need it—or at least that was the plan.

Unfortunately, we now have a crucial service—a service that offers support to women in crisis—in limbo thanks to the dysfunction and the neglect of the Turnbull government. In August, as part of a restructuring, the government implemented a triage system. Callers are directed first through a call centre at Medibank Health Solutions, and it appears that the counsellors that undertake this triage process do not have the same level of skill and expertise as did the previous provider. The restructure has also meant that the existing service provider, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, has had to tender to continue for the provision of the service. In some regard, that might be considered unremarkable, except that MHS provided RDVSA with just four days to complete an expression of interest. That is an unreasonable time frame to give any provider to make a reasonable application, let alone the one that has been running the service for the past six years.

There are serious questions about this process, and so far they remain unanswered. I have sent a list of 17 questions on notice to the Department of Social Services, and I am yet to receive an answer. These questions go to the process for allocating resources to Medibank Health Solutions and, in turn, to other providers within that network of service provision. These questions go to monitoring the performance of these services. And these questions go to the contractual arrangements which establish the level of service that will be provided to Australian women through this service, which has served us very well.

The minister, so far, has sought to hide behind the fact that there is a subcontractual arrangement in place and that, therefore, for some reason, he cannot be named responsible for this chain of events. This is simply unacceptable. This is a government service provided to address a serious social problem—a problem which all Australians in recent years have recognised as requiring the most urgent attention from government. It is simply unacceptable that the minister is unwilling to take responsibility and explain to the Australian public what is happening with this service and what steps he is taking to ensure this service remains in place at the standard it has been previously for Australian women. He owes it to Australia's most vulnerable women to resolve this situation.