Minister Christian Porter during the “Discharge of certain orders of the day” to remove 2014 Budget measures at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 10 May 2017. Photo: Andrew Meares
NSW could be left without its state-wide sexual assault counselling service unless an emergency funding boost is granted to the organisation behind the NSW Rape Crisis Centre.
A support line for people affected by the royal commission into child sexual abuse and training for NRL players on respectful relationships could also face the chop, because umbrella organisation Rape and Domestic Violence Services recently lost a major government contract and needs to find the funds for redundancy payments to staff.
The organisation has been sub-contracted to run the trauma counselling component of the 1800RESPECT helpline since 2010, but this arrangement runs out at the end of the month. RDVSA executive officer Karen Willis said the end of the contract means it will need to make about 70 staff members redundant. Ms Willis added her organisation faces a bill of up to $1 million to pay out staff, funds it simply doesn’t have.
“We’re an NGO. When we get money we spend it on services.”
The orgnanisation is planning to fundraise but is also asking the federal government for help, adding that if it does not receive any emergency funds, it could be forced to close its doors, taking all of its services with it. This not only includes the NSW Rape Crisis 24/7 telephone counselling phone line, but an online real-time chat service for victims of sexual assault, as well as its royal commission and NRL work.
“There’s a very good possibility that we will need to liquidate,” Ms Willis said.
Ms Willis said she was hopeful the Turnbull government would “see sense” and help.
The NSW Rape Crisis Centre is funded by the state government. Pru Goward, NSW Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said she has written to the federal government to “request negotiations continue in hope of reaching a positive resolution”.
“The NSW Rape Crisis Centre is a vital service and its loss would be detrimental for women, men and children who have experienced sexual violence in NSW and are supported by the centre,” Ms Goward said.
Social Services Minister Christian Porter said RDVSA had always had a contract with a known end date and no guarantee of funding through 1800RESPECT lead contractor, Medibank Health Solutions.
“It is the responsibility of any organisation to employ its workforce responsibly and appropriately with this in mind,” he said.
Mr Porter said the government was “disappointed” by the RDVSA board’s decision not to accept a reduced contract.
RDVSA has been involved with 1800RESPECT for seven years. Traditionally, MHS, which also has beyondblue and Quitline as its clients, has provided the phonelines and other infrastructure for 1800RESPECT since it began in 2010. RDVSA has been contracted to provided the specialist trauma counselling component.
1800RESPECT has been the subject of intense debate over the past year, following the introduction of a new operating model. In August 2016, a triage system was established to reduce waiting times. This means MHS counsellors now do an initial assessment and refer callers to a specialist counsellor when necessary.
MHS says average wait times have dropped from more than 10 minutes to 37 seconds and the proportion of calls answered have jumped from 33 per cent to more than 90 per cent as a result.
But RDVSA has been among those in the community sector who have spoken out against the new model, arguing callers need to speak to a trauma specialist from the outset.
RDVSA’s contact runs out at the end of October. Ahead of this, MHS offered to split the new trauma counselling subcontract with three other providers.
RDVSA rejected this reduced contract, in part because it was not comfortable with a requirement to hand its confidential client files over to MHS. Ms Willis said even if RDVSA had accepted the offer, it would still have had to lay off about 50 staff.
Mr Porter said that in terms of full-time positions, the RDVSA was funded to employ more than 31 staff for 1800RESPECT, which would have fallen to 12 under the new contract.
He said MHS had offered to find other jobs for RDVSA staff.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732. In an emergency contact 000.