On 11 September 2017, the Senate referred the following matter to the
Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee (committee) for
inquiry and report by 14 November 2017:
The delivery of National Outcome 4 of the National Plan to
Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children 2010-2022, 'Services meet the
needs of women and their children experiencing violence', insofar as that
Outcome is given effect by the 1800 RESPECT Domestic and Sexual Violence
National Counselling Service ("the service"), with particular
adequacy and quality of counselling provided, including:
funding made available for counselling,
counselling model and associated counselling practices,
protection of privacy and confidentiality for those who use the service,
efficiency and appropriateness of the triage model adopted in relation to the
service in 2016, and
infrastructure required for the provision of the service;
procurement arrangements for the service, including contractual and tender
engagement of staff and contractors, including:
qualifications and working conditions,
professional standards and ethical obligations applicable to those providing
the service, and
oversight and quality assurance undertaken in relation to those providing the
arrangements for the service;
practice for domestic and sexual violence counselling; and
other related matters.
The reporting date was subsequently extended to 15
Conduct of the Inquiry
Details of the inquiry were placed on the committee's website at: www.aph.gov.au_fpa.
The committee directly contacted relevant organisations and individuals to
notify them of the inquiry and invite submissions by 6 October 2017. Submissions
received by the committee are listed at Appendix 1.
A public hearing was held in Sydney on 8 November 2017. A list of
witnesses who gave evidence at the hearing is available at Appendix 2. The
Hansard transcript may be accessed through the committee's website.
Australia's framework to address domestic and family violence is set out
in the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children
2010–2022 (the National Plan).
The National Plan was endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments, and
released in February 2011. It comprises four discrete phases, each of three
years duration, for delivery over its twelve year term. There are six National
- Communities are safe and free from
- Relationships are respectful
- Indigenous communities are
- Services meet the needs of women
and their children experiencing violence
- Justice responses are effective
- Perpetrators stop their violence
and are held to account.
1800 RESPECT national telephone
In 2010, in anticipation of the development of the National Plan, the
Commonwealth provided funding for a national helpline, 1800 RESPECT for victims
of domestic and family violence. The 1800 RESPECT service was later
incorporated in the First Stage Plan of the National Plan, 'Building a
Strong Foundation', as the first national domestic and family violence and
sexual assault counselling service, falling within Outcome 4.
As noted above, Outcome 4 of the National Plan requires that 'services
meet the needs of women and their children experiencing violence'. Success of
Outcome 4 is to be measured by:
... an increase in the access to, and responsiveness of,
services for victims of domestic and family violence and sexual assault.
The Department of Social Security (DSS) has responsibility for the
delivery of the 1800 RESPECT service under the National Plan. DSS appointed the
Government Business Enterprise Medibank Health Solutions (MHS) as the service provider
from 8 July 2010 with a multiyear funding agreement until 30 November
DSS and MHS have provided the committee with the funding agreements,
subcontracting agreements, and related documents, that were in place between
the various organisations. The committee has accepted these documents in camera
and does not intend to release those documents however the committee has drawn
some general information from those documents to form part of this report.
The July 2010 agreement required that MHS subcontract the NSW Rape
Crisis Centre to deliver the counselling services for the national online and
1800 RESPECT counselling service.
The second funding agreement between DSS and MHS commenced on 1 January
2014 with an end date of 30 June 2017. The agreement required that MHS
subcontract the Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia (RDVSA) to
deliver the counselling services for the national online and 1800 counselling
MHS was privatised and listed on the Australian Stock Exchange on 25 November
The second subcontract between MHS and RDVSA commenced on 1 January
2014 with an end date of 30 June 2017.
This subcontract was varied effective 1 July 2015 and additional funding
was provided with the requirement to increase the Critical Service Levels over
the next two years.
The subcontract between MHS and RDVSA was extended by 120 days from 30
June 2017 to 31 October 2017.
In its submission DSS stated that it selected MHS to provide the 1800 RESPECT
service based on its substantial telephony and digital infrastructure:
The expertise and resources needed to build and maintain the
operating infrastructure of the scale needed was one of the reasons the service
was outsourced to the private sector and is one of the major strengths MHS
brings to 1800RESPECT, as a leading provider of telephone and online health
Current Grant Agreement between DSS and MHS
The Grant Agreement between DSS and MHS is a funding agreement in the
nature of a contract.
The current Grant Agreement commenced on 1 January 2014 and is due to expire on
31 December 2019.
A variation to the agreement was executed on 21 July 2017, which inter alia,
removed the requirement by DSS for MHS to subcontract to RDVSA for the national
online and 1800 counselling service.
MHS's funding of RDVSA covered all aspects of the delivery of the 1800 RESPECT
service, including supporting the training and professional development of
counsellors, with overarching infrastructure and the delivery of other
components of the 1800 RESPECT service being provided by MHS.
Responding to increasing demands on the 1800 RESPECT service
DSS ascertained that in the 2014–2015 financial year, there was
increasing demand on the 1800 RESPECT counselling service. Of the 52 431
calls received by the service, only 14 899 were answered (28 per cent),
with 37 352 callers unable to access support when they needed it (72 per
cent). Further, an additional 10 747 voicemails were also received by the
In November 2015, DSS engaged KPMG to undertake an independent review
of the 1800 RESPECT service and provide options to improve service
KPMG found the increase in community awareness and government focus on domestic
and family violence had changed the landscape the 1800 RESPECT service was
operating within, with the result that:
The increased public awareness of 1800RESPECT required it to
operate not only as a best practice counselling service, but also as an
effective 'first responder', capable of managing a wider variety of calls and
After identifying that the existing operating model 'was no longer fit
for purpose', KMPG identified three possible options to improve service
- Increasing funding for the existing operating model
– this option would provide additional RDVSA staff to answer more calls and
respond to voicemails more efficiently.
- A first responder triage model – this option
proposed qualified social workers or counsellors to answer calls as soon as
possible and take immediate action as required.
- A trauma specialist triage model – this option
comprised RDVSA providing two differently focused trauma specialist counselling
services, one focused on crisis intervention and referral and the other on more
In August 2016, the 'First Response' triage model was adopted, where
qualified social workers or counsellors are employed by MHS to answer calls as
soon as possible, conduct a needs analysis and take immediate action as
required. Immediate action may include engaging 000 or another emergency
service, a 'warm transfer' to a trauma specialist counsellor, or referral to a
state based or local service provider. A 'warm transfer' is a handover from the
1800 RESPECT call line to a trauma specialist counsellor without the
caller having to retell their story.
RDVSA continued to undertake the trauma specialist counselling aspect of the
1800 RESPECT service on referral.
At the public hearing, Ms Karen Willis, Executive Officer, RDVSA,
explained the difference between the two service models:
From October 2010 through to 16 August 2016, all calls to the
1800 Respect line came to our trauma counsellors. On 16 August 20016, the
triage model was introduced. At that point all calls went to Medibank Health
Solutions, and then they decided which of those calls would be forwarded
through to us, and which would be diverted to other locations, services,
DSS advised that the First Response approach resulted in a 172 per cent
increase in the number of telephone and online contacts answered, and the
average waiting time was reduced from over 10 minutes to 37 seconds.
On the introduction of the First Response triage model in August 2016,
RDVSA answered the calls referred to them by the first response counsellors for
callers that required trauma specialist counselling. RDVSA continued
discussions with MHS to identify necessary steps to increase the number of
MHS submitted that more than 20 per cent of those critical calls were
not answered by RDVSA:
At the time the new arrangement [the First Response model]
was announced, approximately 22 per cent of all calls requiring trauma
specialist counselling were going unanswered by R&DVSA, which is
subcontracted to deliver that component of the service. R&DVSA itself
indicated to the Australian Government that it would be unable to address this
abandonment rate and there would continue to be unacceptably long wait times
for this important service. Medibank could not accept that so many callers in
need of trauma specialist counselling would continue to be unable to access it
at the time of calling.
On 31 January 2017, MHS sought agreement with DSS 'to go to the
market' for the trauma specialist counselling component of the 1800 RESPECT
service. The approach was an initial expression of interest (EOI), followed by a
Request for Proposal (RFP).
Three organisations were invited to take part in the RFP process which ran from
February–August 2017; during this period there were further discussions and
negotiations with the 'preferred respondent'.
The objective of the RFP process was to enable a review of
trauma specialist counselling skills available nationally so that Medibank
could be confident it was providing the best possible trauma counselling and to
understand and plan as to how it might meet future demand. The RFP also
provided an opportunity to enter a new trauma specialist counselling
subcontract that would more accurately reflect the revised subcontracting
arrangements under a First Response model.
In February 2017, MHS initiated a RFP process to establish a panel of
providers to deliver the trauma specialist counselling component of the 1800 RESPECT
MHS approached the market with a RFP on 14 March, 2017 requiring an
intent to respond form by 20 March, 2017, an interim submission by 28 March
2017, and a response closing date of 19 April, 2017.
MHS stated in its submission to the inquiry that the outcome of the RFP
process was that no subcontract was awarded, adding that this outcome was
permitted under the terms of the RFP.
It is not clear from the MHS submission and correspondence if and when this was
communicated to RDVSA and if it was before MHS signed agreements with three
other providers on 9 July 2017.
Following the RFP process MHS negotiated with four service providers:
RDVSA, safe steps Family Violence Response Centre (safe steps), DV Connect and
Women’s Safety Services SA (WSSSA). MHS signed agreements with DVConnect, safe
steps and WSSSA on 9 July 2017 to commence 14 August, 2017 and to provide
counselling services from 24 October, 2017 with a contract end date of 31 December,
MHS wrote to RDVSA on 19 May 2017 advising them that they had been
selected as a preferred respondent and inviting RDVSA to enter preliminary
negotiations and proposing an extension of the service to 31 October 2017, to
facilitate negotiation of the proposed subcontract.
On 10 August 2017, MHS announced a new arrangement of panel of
sector-based, not-for-profit organisations to provide the trauma specialist
counselling component of the 1800 RESPECT service. RDVSA was included on the
panel arrangements with the three other service providers.
The Blue Knot Foundation was engaged to provide training.
On 30 August 2017, RDVSA made a public announcement that it was
withdrawing from the panel appointment process for the 1800 RESPECT service,
with its participation finishing on 28 October 2017:
Only after considerable negotiation with the lead agency,
Medibank Health Solutions (MHS), did the Board of Rape & Domestic Violence
Services Australia come to the conclusion that accepting the sub-contract and
the new MHS service model would be inconsistent with the values, ethics,
quality counselling practices and work place relations that are foundational to
our organisation and culture.
On 19 September 2017 MHS signed variation agreements with the three
remaining subcontractors, safe steps, DVConnect and WSSSA, to increase staff
The report is structured as follows:
Chapter 2 discusses governance and accountability issues between
the various parties involved in the delivery of the 1800 RESPECT service;
Chapter 3 canvasses issues specific to the introduction of the
First Response model of service and concerns in relation to privacy issues;
Chapter 4 sets out the committee view and recommendations.
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