Response to the 1800RESPECT Senate Inquiry Report

21 December 2017

Dear Friends,

The final report on the delivery of National Outcome 4 of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children 2010, ‘Services meet the needs of women and their children experiencing violence,’ insofar as that Outcome is given effect by the 1800RESPECT Domestic and Sexual Violence National Counselling Service is now available here.

In the course of this inquiry the committee received evidence from 61 organisations and individuals. The evidence confirmed the significance of the service, and the high regard in which the service is held in the community.

The report, released on 15th December, indicates considerable agreement with Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia on many of the issues we highlighted as the reasons for our withdrawal from the 1800RESPECT service. The report also supports our position that government, not a private for-profit service, should manage government tenders.

The report makes recommendations based on the concerns raised by Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia on the following issues:

  • Privacy and confidentiality of client file notes
  • The recording of client file notes on the Medibank Health Solutions (MHS) system
  • Voice recording of phone calls
  • Supervision, coaching, and orientation
  • Workplace arrangements, including the MHS work from home model

The key recommendations in the report are as follows:

1.       1800RESPECT first response triage counsellors and trauma counsellors need far better skills and more experience, should undertake appropriate clinical supervision and be protected from vicarious trauma, and that the practice of working from home (by MHS Triage staff) cease – AS PER ONGOING R&DVSA POLICY.

2.       That there are sufficient specialist trauma counsellors to meet the current and future demand for counselling – ALL R&DVSA COUNSELLORS ARE SPECIALIST TRAUMA COUNSELLORS.

3.       That many of the procurement and accountability issues revealed in this inquiry are flawed and should be reviewed by the Australian National Audit Office:

  • The apparent lack of awareness of the legal and accountability requirements of government by executive and senior staff in the DSS and MHS is of great concern to the committee.
  • The Committee expressed deep concerns that program procurements and subcontracting tender processes did not follow government procurement guidelines.
  • The Committee is significantly disturbed by an apparent attempt by MHS and DSS to influence R&DVSA internal governance and withhold a multi-million dollar contract pending staff and board changes.

4.       That DSS develop and implement an evaluation schedule and plan for the 1800RESPECT program contractors and sub-contractors that includes quantitative and qualitative performance measures.

5.       That DSS brief its staff and contractors (i.e. MHS) on their legal and contractual requirements in program management and Senate Standing Orders.

6.       That the government consider whether the value of the contract management services provided by MHS justifies the public funding provided to them for that purpose.

7.       That MHS develop 1800RESPECT specific privacy information that clearly explains how personal information will be recorded and maintained and details what the individual's options are, including opting out of recordings and remaining anonymous.

8.       That the 1800RESPECT website details information around client privacy and confidentiality, and the protocols around how MHS manages information, voice records, and files on handling of subpoenas.

Thank you once again for your support through this difficult time; we feel vindicated by our stance in walking away from this contract however awful this has been for our wonderful staff.

Looking to the future, the Board and management are strongly anticipating a new year of consolidation and building on our organisational strengths, values and ethics to work to expand our specialist trauma counselling services for those who have experienced sexual assault and domestic violence and to change the attitudes and behaviours that allow violence against women and children to occur.

We very much look forward to MHS and DSS implementing the recommendations from this report to strengthen the service to better serve those who need it.

Best wishes,

Karen Willis

Executive Officer

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