For almost 50 years, RDVSA have provided specialist sexual assault and domestic violence trauma counselling. Its staff are highly qualified. RDVSA uses the Standards of Practice Manual for Services against Sexual Violence, which requires counsellors to have a tertiary qualification in counselling, social work, psychology or equivalent, and at least three years counselling experience. The organisation is well-known for this expertise, and its executive officer, Karen Willis, has received an AOM for her work in relation to violence against women.
Since its inception, 1800RESPECT, which is an important Labor legacy—and RDVSA has been the sole provider of its specialist trauma counselling, assisting women living with domestic violence nationwide. The decision to withdraw from the 1800RESPECT counselling service follows a series of decisions made by the Turnbull government and lengthy negotiations with Medibank Health Solutions. In October 2006 RDVSA’s contract with the Turnbull government expired, and the contract for 1800RESPECT was put out to tender. While the Turnbull government has announced the 1800RESPECT service will continue, RDVSA will see its funding slashed by 75 per cent, with this funding allocated to three other organisations. It would also be required to operate as part of the MHS call centre model. MHS, of course, was not subject to an open-tender process. The quality and experience of these three other organisations is not under dispute. Each plays a critical role in their respective states assisting women living with domestic violence.
The issue here is with the Turnbull government’s decision to slash RDVSA’s funding by 75 per cent, which will see a reduction in the specialist services they offer, and a loss of jobs. The previous speaker, with respect, said they could just go to work for one of the organisations that has been offered a contract. If they were to do that, it would require these women, with families, to move interstate. It is not that simple, and the government knows that full well.
The Turnbull government should be looking at ways it can facilitate the growth of organisations like RDVSA. The fact is that new support for crisis services should not involve a reduction in the availability of much needed trauma counselling services. But for RDVSA this decision to withdraw is not just about the reduction in funding. It’s also about some of the new contract conditions, which have caused serious concerns. These ethical concerns are about requirements that include an obligation to hand over client files, and to allow voice recording, and we are yet to be told how these voice recordings would be excluded from obligations under subpoenas.
If RDVSA had accepted the new panel arrangement, the organisation would have seen 50 staff redundancies. As it is, withdrawing from the contract means 70 staff redundancies. We’ve been told the staff support this decision, because of their many concerns about the proposed new arrangement. This last change to the service, to reduce access to trauma counsellors and transform the service so that it focuses on information and referral, rather than specialist trauma counselling, comes after the Turnbull government and its for-profit contractor, Medibank Health Services, last year started diverting callers away from RDVSA specialist trauma counsellors to lesser-qualified people, in a first responder triage process. The Turnbull government needs to say how it will make sure that Australian victims and survivors of domestic and family violence and sexual violence, and their supporters, have access to specialist trauma counselling.
The Turnbull government also must say what it will do to avoid the loss of 70 experienced frontline domestic and family violence and sexual violence staff. These are committed people—I have met with them. They’re very upset that they won’t be able to continue to do the work. The Turnbull government also must say how the severance entitlement of these frontline workers will be covered.