Media Release by The Hon Christian Porter MP

“Disgusting” union campaign against 1800RESPECT

“The Australian Services Union campaign against the Medibank Health Solution’s 1800RESPECT National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service Hotline 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) claimed last week on ABC Radio Sydney that the reform to the Medibank Health Solutions (MHS) 1800RESPECT hotline, which has improved the service on every available measure, was 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

MHS has run this very important hotline since its beginning in 2010 and recent reforms have significantly improved the performance of the hotline dramatically and to describe this situation as profiteering from rape is disgusting.

“Today on Sky, Ms Lang has continued to push this outrageous campaign with commentary that is not supported in any way by the facts,” the Minister said.

The facts are these:

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, 67per 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.”

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.

“It would be reasonable to expect that there would be some scrutiny and fact-checking of the ASU’s false claims before air time is given to outrageous falsehoods which could potentially discourage women from calling this vital service,” the Minister said.