Speeches

ADJOURNMENT; Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia

September 06, 2017

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (19:44): Tonight I want to speak about the government's effective defunding of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia, a service that has existed for the last 50 years, and one which is internationally recognised for its extraordinary and groundbreaking work as a specialist provider of sexual assault and domestic violence trauma counselling. The ramifications of defunding this service are terrible and can't just be put down to commercial realities. Thousands of women, children and men who are living with violence turn to the RDVSA every year. I don't know how anyone can make a profit operating a service for the victims of rape and family violence. I'm not sure what sort of organisation would want to make a profit in that way.

Yesterday, the member for Newcastle told the House of her concerns about Medibank Health Solutions, MHS, in its role with Garrison Health in a security breach that led to details being provided to China of personal records of Australian Defence Force personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq. Garrison Health is one of these so-called 'telehealth services' at the same call centre that operates the rape and family violence centre counselling service, 1800RESPECT. This security breach was referred to by the chiefs of our Defence Force as extremely serious and of particular concern because of China's extensive involvement in state-sponsored hacking and cyberespionage.

Besides this data breach, there are other problems. Past AMA president, Professor Brian Owler, referred to the Garrison Health security breach as just, 'the latest incident' showing that, 'the problems are not going away'. He called for an urgent audit of the service. Dr Terry Gavaghan, a Canberra specialist dealing with Defence Force personnel, said:

It's been a complete debacle. The whole thing has been a disaster.

Dr Gavaghan referred to the ongoing problems with MHS, including its failure to pay invoices. He also referred to specialists refusing to sign up to MHS contracts because of unilateral fee cuts, new contract provisions and what they see as the potential for interference with the doctor-patient relationship.

In a damning assessment of the firm's operation, creditors were warned that MHS' health services arm had a poor record when it came to paying bills on time. While MHS has admitted there were problems, it seems that nothing has changed. In March this year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission accused Medibank Private, the parent company of MHS, of engaging in a cover-up of unconscionable behaviour which appears to put profits over people. The ACCC is now taking action against Medibank Private in the Federal Court over misleading and deceptive conduct as a result of behaviour it describes as cynical, high-handed and, in effect, putting profits ahead of people.

In the face of these damning reports, how could the Minister for Social Services not put to tender the contract held by MHS to operate 1800RESPECT when the contract expired in July this year? Like everyone in this House, I understand the need to be careful and sensible when it comes to public funds. I also understand the need to ensure that the 1800RESPECT service operates in an efficient and effective manner. However, given what we have witnessed of the extraordinary behaviour of MHS and its parent company, I believe it is untenable that they be allowed to continue to operate 1800RESPECT.

In fact, its contract has been extended for a further two years by this government. Meanwhile, the government is defending the decision by MHS to put to tender—and effectively defund—the services provided by Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia. This is a travesty that must be recognised. Clearly, there should be a public inquiry into the actions of MHS, but, more importantly, the funds necessary for Rape & Domestic Violence Services to serve our community must be restored.

To Karen Willis and the team of dedicated counsellors at Rape & Domestic Violence Services, on behalf of a very grateful community, I appreciate your dedication and your professionalism. You have made a difference for the better in the lives of many families and individuals touched by the trauma of rape and family violence. For your work, dedication and commitment, I thank you.

WE'LL PUT PEOPLE FIRST