Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Finance and Public Administration References Committee
Delivery of national outcome 4 of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children 2010-2022

LANG, Ms Natalie, Branch Secretary, Australian Services Union NSW & ACT (Services)

WRIGHT, Ms Judith, Deputy Branch Secretary, Australian Services Union NSW & ACT (Services)

Committee met at 09:44

CHAIR ( Senator McAllister ): I declare open this first public hearing of the Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee for its inquiry into delivery of national outcome 4 of National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022. This is a public hearing and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made. We're also streaming live via the web, which can be found at

Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It's unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It's also a contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee. In addition, if the committee has reason to believe that evidence about to be given may reflect adversely on a person, the committee may also direct that the evidence be heard in private session. The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public, but under the Senate's resolutions witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may of course also be made at any other time.

On behalf of the committee I'd like to thank all witnesses appearing today for their cooperation with this inquiry. I now welcome Ms Judith Wright and Ms Natalie Lang from the Australian Services Union. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses giving evidence to Senate committees has been provided to you. I invite you to make a short opening statement. At the conclusion of your remarks I will invite members of the committee to ask questions.

Ms Lang : Thank you for the opportunity to give evidence this morning. The Australian Services Union is the union for non-government community services in every jurisdiction in Australia, including NGO domestic violence and sexual assault support services, such as the highly skilled and professional workers of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia. Central to the work of the community not-for-profit services like RDVSA is that they not only provide high-quality services to vulnerable people in our community but they also advocate for better services, better systems and better funding. They are fiercely independent and driven by the interest of the people they support individually and collectively, above any other interest such as that of profit making. Services like RDVSA have been founded on missions to reduce inequality, reduce gendered violence and make society a safer place for women, children and men. This can sometimes be uncomfortable for governments, but it is an important part of our democracy. No-one should be silenced for standing up for the people they support.

The major proportion of the funding to non-government organisations in the community sector is for wages of the workers who deliver the services. For companies to make a profit, they must either compromise wages and working conditions of the already low-paid, female-dominated workforce or reduce quality of service. It is our view that profit making has no place in the provision of rape and domestic violence support. It is also damaging to the community sector and ultimately to its clients when organisations and their workers are forced to compete for funding and other resources through a competitive tendering process like that which happened earlier this year when the 1800RESPECT trauma counselling subcontract was put out to open tender. Since 2010 Medibank Health Solutions has not been required by the department to face an open retender for its 1800RESPECT contract, yet the nationally and internationally acknowledged world's best practice provider, RDVSA, was required to at a time that happened to coincide with it speaking out publicly and prominently against a cost-saving triage model.

The result of all of this has been that the world-renowned provider of specialist trauma counselling was forced to decline a take-it-or-leave-it contract from MHS as it not only cut the funding to the service by 75 per cent but also imposed unethical clinical and industrial practices. RDVSA paid fair, above-award wages and offered secure jobs to attract and retain the best trauma counsellors. The new subcontract arrangements, I'm informed, have resulted in trauma counsellors being employed on 22 per cent less pay than they were at RDVSA and on universally insecure, precarious, short-term contracts. Indeed, in a widely circulated letter from the Minister for Social Services, Christian Porter, to the chair of RDVSA, the government put clear in writing its view that women working in the NGO sector don't deserve the dignity and security of permanent jobs on the basis that their service is funded by government contracting and budgeting cycles. That is offensive to the thousands of women that work in the community sector and to the hundreds of thousands of people that they support each and every day.

ASU members across the entire community sector have rallied in support of their colleagues at RDVSA, because what has happened to RDVSA is emblematic of the broader agenda of this government to silence advocacy, devalue feminised industries and hand over social policy responsibility to for-profit corporations like Medibank Health Solutions. It is unethical; it is wrong. The only winners are the shareholders of MHS. It is certainly not the women, children and men of Australia who've experienced rape or domestic violence and who are relying on the highest quality of support. For them it should be nothing less than the best, and that is what we should all be aiming for.

CHAIR: Thanks very much. I will start by asking about your understanding of the relationship between DSS, MHS and RDVSA. It is my belief that there is a grant arrangement that exists between DSS and MHS to deliver this particular service and that that is longstanding—in fact, it was first put in place, I think, in 2010. Can you tell me what your understanding is about those arrangements?

Ms Lang : That's correct. MHS does hold the lead contract with the department for the provision of the 1800RESPECT service. They subcontracted it in the past to Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia for the provision of the specialist sexual assault and family violence trauma counselling aspects of the 1800RESPECT service. Recently, what's occurred is that Medibank put out to tender the counselling aspect of the service.

CHAIR: In the submissions we've received this head contract is variously referred to as a 'head contract' or a 'grant agreement'. It strikes me that there is a distinction between those two things: they may have similarities, but they are actually different. Do you believe it's a grant agreement or a contract that exist between the two? You may not have knowledge of it, but do you know?

Ms Lang : No, I apologise; I don't have knowledge of that. My understanding of the history of how MHS came to be in receipt of the funding is that, at the time when 1800RESPECT was being formed, expressions of interest were called for from organisations who would be capable of providing 1800RESPECT. RDVSA was one of the interested parties, as was MHS, and MHS was able to offer the telephony and infrastructure, but not the counselling; the counselling would be provided by a specialist non-government organisation. That would be consistent with the government being able to uphold their responsibilities to meet the United Nations expectations of how antidomestic violence services are provided, which is by non-government organisations who can advocate on behalf of people who've experienced violence.

CHAIR: At the time that the grant, or contract, was awarded to MHS it was a publicly owned institution. Is that right?

Ms Lang : That's correct. Medibank, at the time, had not been privatised, so any profits from 1800RESPECT would've been returned to the government and could be reinvested back into services to support women, children and men who've experienced sexual assault or family violence. Medibank was privatised, I believe, in 2014—so four years after that arrangement was put in place—and now profits from 1800RESPECT are returned to shareholders of Medibank Health Solutions. In fact, Medibank was in the media this year saying that they intended to double their profits from this area of service delivery.

CHAIR: You mentioned in your opening statement your concern that social policy is being outsourced to this entity. Could you describe to the committee the kinds of decisions that are being made by MHS around the standard, quality and nature of the service provided. Perhaps, in providing that factual explanation, you might also indicate why it is you think that it's inappropriate for MHS to make those decisions as opposed to any other organisation that might be involved.

Ms Lang : 1800RESPECT is the national counselling service for people who've experienced sexual assault or family violence. The decisions around the model of counselling that is used and the decisions that are made around how calls are answered, handled and responded to go very much to the level of service that a person calling the service is receiving and how successful the service will be in assisting those callers on their road to recovery.

The decision to implement a triage model is one that the union and, in fact, many of the workers we represent in women services have been deeply concerned about. The reason that has an impact on social policy is: what we know from workers who have been first responders is that often when women, men and children do call a counselling service such as 1800RESPECT rarely will they call and immediate identify that they are experiencing trauma and are in need of counselling. Actually, the common practice would be to call and to test the service and see if there's trust and faith in the service that's going to be provided, remembering that the people calling the service are often isolated and have experienced terrible trauma, often at the hands of somebody they have trusted. When they have, in the past, been speaking directly and immediately to a specialist counsellor, the specialist sexual assault and family violence trauma counsellor is able to ask the right questions. After a while, it would mean that the caller—98 per cent of the time—has opened up and disclosed that they themselves are experiencing trauma and in need of counselling support.

Implementing a triage model—we know from the figures that have been quoted by the department itself that now it is closer to a quarter of callers who are being referred on for counselling. We cannot see how overnight 73 per cent of callers to 1800RESPECT no longer need counselling and are, in fact, just looking for a fact sheet, a website or a phone number for a later time. The decision to do things like implement a triage model, the decision to staff that first responder at a particular level of qualification, skill and experience, and the decision to work to a particular counselling model are actually public policy decisions, because they immediately impact then on what kind of service 1800RESPECT is. It immediately impacts on whether 1800RESPECT is actually going to achieve the desired outcomes of the national plan.

CHAIR: Is it your understanding, under current arrangements, that those decisions are being taken by MHS? Or are they being taken by DSS? It goes, again, to this contract between these two entities which is, as I understand it, presently not public.

Ms Lang : I have to say it's alarming how murky it is to be able to answer that question, as a person who has paid very close attention to this particular issue. I have spent more than my fair share of time watching Senate estimates and things like that to try and simply find out what the situation is. In Senate estimates when the department has been asked this question, on one hand they say that they've got an interest in it. But, on the other hand, they say, 'Actually, that's not a matter for the department. That's a matter for Medibank as the lead contractor. They make those decisions.' When the department has been asked previously about issues around the subcontracting and what kind of qualifications, service delivery and the models that would be used—when those questions have been put the response that we have seen has been the department saying, 'That's an issue for Medibank.' So that really alarms us. What alarms us probably equally as much is the fact that it's not even particularly clear who that responsibility lies with. I think it's very fair to say that the community expectation—certainly the union's expectation and the workforce's expectation—is the responsibility lies with the government to determine public policy about how we support women, men and children who suffered terrible sexual and family violence, not leaving a big question mark over that as to whether it's a department or a for-profit insurance company.

CHAIR: Your evidence is that there are issues with accountabilities—who is responsible for the success or failure of these interventions—and issues around transparency because the nature of the responsibilities is unclear. Also, a second issue with transparency is that the obligations placed on any of the parties are also not transparent. So not only are the accountabilities not clear but the expectations are not yet public.

Ms Lang : Absolutely. I guess the big question mark is over who is accountable. That's caused by the fact that it is not transparent. It has not been a transparent process. I don't know how Medibank came to continue to have its contract funded without an opportunity for other organisations to tender against it. But, further, it goes to the issue of—when we talk about responsibility, there's also a responsibility on organisations as to how they engage in the process. Non-government organisations are born of a history, they are born of a mission to advocate on behalf of the people who rely on their services. So, if we take homelessness services, for example—yes, a massive part of what they do is about ensuring that people experiencing homelessness have shelter and have homes. But a massive part of their responsibility is to also question what the drivers are that are leading to people being homeless and to advocate to government for policy and social reform that addresses the driving factors of homelessness. I just use homelessness as an example.

The same goes for sexual assault and family violence services. There is a responsibility on NGOs that they take very seriously to question why we have such appalling rates of family violence and to advocate to government for better systems to support women who've experienced violence but also to change attitudes so that we see less violence.

The responsibility of a for-profit corporation is simply to their shareholders and the interests of the corporation. It will never be to end family violence or disadvantage when that is simply their customer base.

Senator PATERSON: Ms Lang, you said in your opening statement that, as a matter of principle, you're opposed to a for-profit company being involved in the provision of these kinds of services. That's quite an ideological position to take. Isn't the most important thing the outcomes that are delivered?

Ms Lang : The outcomes are absolutely important. Also, addressing the driving factors that lead people to need to rely on these services is equally important. I'm not alone in expressing concern about the role of for-profit providers in these essential services. I know that the United Nations takes a very public view that, in addressing gendered violence, governments should work with non-government organisations and fund non-government organisations to provide those services, because they're an essential player in democracy. They're also an essential player in ensuring that we do raise the issues and we do advocate on behalf of the people who rely on these services to end the driving factors that contribute to inequality, disadvantage, poverty and violence against women.

Senator PATERSON: I understand your view about the advocacy aspects of this, but, in terms of provision of services, if it was possible for a for-profit provider to deliver them in a more effective way, would you change your view?

Ms Lang : I don't believe it is possible for a for-profit provider to deliver them in a more effective way because—

Senator PATERSON: I understand that. But, for the moment, just on the question of principle. I think it is important for us to understand where you're coming from. Even if it could be demonstrated—you're sceptical, but even if it could be demonstrated—that a for-profit provider could deliver these services more effectively, you would still be opposed to them delivering the services?

Ms Lang : I would really like to be on a unity ticket with you, Senator, about what we would consider being more effective outcomes. I think if we could land on that, then certainly. The concern that I've seen to date from the government is what they measure as successful outcomes and what community expectations are.

Senator PATERSON: We'll come to that. I have some questions on that, specifically, but I just want to understand from the outset—let's say that we do agree on what the measures of effectiveness are. If it was possible for a for-profit provider to deliver them more effectively, would you change your view or would you still have the view that it's not appropriate for them to be involved in these services?

Ms Lang : I think we would certainly need to change the Corporations Act. That requires corporations and their directors to make decisions in the best interests of corporations.

Senator PATERSON: So you think it's impossible for a for-profit provider to deliver these services more efficiently or effectively?

Ms Lang : In a central community service, I do.

Senator PATERSON: Let's come down to stats about performance. How do you rate the performance of the RDVSA up until now?

Ms Lang : I rate it very highly. I think the biggest problem with it to date is that it has always been underfunded. The need for the 1800RESPECT service has always outstripped the funding that has been provided to have adequate counselling levels. Those people who were able to speak to counsellors and who were offered support were offered an internationally-recognised, world-class level of support. I don't think women, children and men who have experienced violence should have to choose between having their call answered and having their call answered by a specialist who can provide them the most appropriate support immediately.

Senator PATERSON: I think your point about those people who were able to speak to a counsellor is a key point. In 2015-16, the average wait time for RDVSA callers was 10 minutes. Only 33 percent of them were answered. Therefore, 42,000 people were unable to get through. That's not a good set of figures, is it?

Ms Lang : I think it's fantastic that we are having this conversation. I think it's fantastic that the government is deeply concerned that there were abandonment rates and there was a wait time. I don't agree with the government's response to addressing that. I'm informed that at least six times the RDVSA have written to the minister—and I don't mean to name Christian Porter personally for all six letters; his predecessors including—to suggest ways that we could ensure a much higher delivery rate. But that always came with a cost. And that cost is so that we can put on the appropriate sexual assault and family violence trauma counsellors to answer every call immediately.

Senator PATERSON: But, because of those pretty poor wait times—I would say—and very low rates of answering, the government did increase funding for 1800RESPECT in the 2015 budget. An additional $4 million was provided over two years, and, of that $4 million, $3.6 million of it went to the RDVSA. What they used that for was to increase the number of counsellors from 21 full-time equivalent to 31.65. I understand that those performance metrics didn't improve much even after that increased funding.

Ms Lang : I have heard that from the government. I've also seen the information that RDVSA has provided directly to the government. Those figures don't line up. I am concerned about what information the department has received. I'm certainly not laying blame at the department—

Senator PATERSON: What do you think the correct figures are, then?

Ms Lang : As I understand it, every time that there has been an increase in funding, there has been a proportional increase in occasions of service—

Senator PATERSON: To what levels?

Ms Lang : I think you'd probably need to ask RDVSA for those exact figures.

Senator PATERSON: I might do that, but I think you should be careful about your evidence here. You're saying that their performance improved, but you don't have any evidence to substantiate that.

Ms Lang : I rely on the figures that are provided to us by Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia.

Senator PATERSON: What are the figures?

Ms Lang : I don't have them at hand. I'm happy to take it on notice.

Senator PATERSON: Yes, take it on notice. Under the new arrangements that the government has put in place, 80 per cent of calls are answered within 20 seconds and the wait time has been reduced on average to 35 seconds. To me, that sounds like a pretty substantial improvement on the previous service—do you agree?

Ms Lang : I agree that calls being answered is absolutely important. I also believe very strongly, though, that it's important that when calls are answered they are given the appropriate counselling service immediately.

Senator PATERSON: We can have a different discussion about what happens when the calls are answered, but, at least on one metric, calls being answered and being answered in a timely way, we've seen a pretty dramatic improvement in performance, haven't we, from the new system?

Ms Lang : I think the problem that we've got with the new system is that the funding envelope for the entirety of the system has not been increased to the extent that it needs to. I think the problem—

Senator PATERSON: And yet they've still managed to improve their answering times pretty dramatically.

Ms Lang : Well, if you take one measure of success as answering times, and I do, too—

Senator PATERSON: I think it's a pretty important one.

Ms Lang : That is true. If we are genuine about achieving the outcomes of the national plan, then we know it's not simply picking up a phone. Anybody can pick up a phone. It is about ensuring that the appropriate response is on the line.

Senator PATERSON: I think the two-thirds of people who called the previous service and got no answer would think that someone picking up the phone is a pretty important metric.

Ms Lang : I think that women, children and men who've experienced sexual assault and family violence deserve and have a right to expect from their government when they make a call that the call will be answered and it will be answered by the appropriate specialist who can support them in their recovery.

Senator PATERSON: Indeed. What's the ASU's view on employers providing sufficient funds for redundancies in the event that they need to take place?

Ms Lang : I believe they should.

Senator PATERSON: How do you think the RDVSA has performed in this area?

Ms Lang : As I understand it, it's a matter between RDVSA and Medibank Health Solutions, and subject to their contract. I understand from RDVSA that they believe they have a claim on Medibank Health Solutions on that, but I do understand that RDVSA has paid the redundancies to the staff who lost their jobs because of this appalling decision.

Senator PATERSON: So, RDVSA is able to completely cover the necessary redundancy payments to the former employees?

Ms Lang : I understand that that's the case.

Senator RICE: We seem to have a mix of issues regarding quality of service and whether the new arrangements are providing the same quality of service as RDVSA were previously providing, but also issues in terms of interference in governance at the RDVSA. It seems that we had a situation of almost having a contract signed with RDVSA, then there was a change of board and reinstatement of the previous executive officer, and then everything was off. Why did that occur? What was on offer that the government and MHS were about to sign-off on in December 2016—and then things suddenly changed? What were the differences and why did that occur?

Ms Lang : I understand that what they were preparing to sign off on was a contract that would see Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia continuing to provide all of the specialist sexual assault and family violence trauma counselling for 1800RESPECT, and then we know that, very abruptly, that was halted and the service was put out to an open tender. When these decisions are made directly by a government, because governments are accountable to an electorate, if they make a good decision, that works out well for them, and, if they make a poor decision, it doesn't work out quite so well for them. The deep concern that I have is that a private for-profit insurance company making those decisions simply isn't accountable to the Australian public in the same way. That's absolutely what occurred here. It was not a decision by anyone other than Medibank Health Solutions to not continue down the path of a contract that was ready to be signed to have Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia delivering this service. I think that's an absolutely appalling decision, especially because Medibank Health Solutions does not have the same accountability as a government does.

Senator RICE: What can you tell us about the justification that MHS gave for that sudden cessation of negotiations?

Ms Lang : Medibank hasn't given me any justification, and I'm sure that's a question for other witnesses at this hearing, but I can certainly tell you that it is our view that the reason that occurred is that Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia and their executive officer, Ms Willis, are very outspoken advocates for women, children and men who have experienced sexual and family violence, as is their core role, as is the role of non-government organisations, and that included them speaking out against the implementation of a triage model.

Senator RICE: So, essentially, they made a political decision rather than one made on the basis of the quality of a service?

Ms Lang : I firmly believe that when you've got a corporation who is bound to make decisions in the interests of a corporation, that's the kind of decision you get—not one in the interests of people who have experienced terrible violence.

Senator RICE: On page 22 of your submission, you outline quite a lot of problems that you feel are occurring now with the current model. In particular, you reflect on the fact that, whereas previously we had 98 per cent of callers being identified as experiencing trauma, that has now reduced to only 25 per cent. Can you just elaborate on some of the problems that you have outlined there about the quality of the service that's now being provided, particularly focusing on that reduction from 98 per cent to 25 per cent, which as you have said you do not see as a tenable reduction in services.

Ms Lang : Absolutely. When 1800RESPECT was first started, every person who called spoke immediately to a specialist sexual assault and family violence trauma counsellor at Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia. Those counsellors are trained, and they specialised, in being able to identify the needs of the people calling. What we know from the workers who have provided that service is that, often, when a person calls the service, they don't start the call by saying, 'I'm experiencing trauma because I've suffered terrible violence.' Often that violence has been perpetrated by a person they've trusted, so they will want to see if they have trust and faith in the service that is on offer. Often the caller will say something like: 'I'm calling for a friend. I'm looking for some information; can you tell me where to look for' dot, dot, dot. It is only by having specialist counsellors who can ask the right questions and develop that trust that people then disclose that they are the person experiencing trauma and can then receive the counselling they need. We know that to be the case for 98 per cent of callers. So, when calls were answered immediately by the counsellor, 98 per cent were calls that required that counselling response.

With the implementation of the triage model, it is a lower-level-qualified counsellor who is answering the call—they are not a specialist sexual assault and family violence trauma counsellor—and they are under pressure to answer lots of calls because answering lots of calls is very important. So, if a person calls and says, 'I'm looking for some information,' they will be told which website to go to and which fact sheet to read, or given a phone number to call at another time. That's certainly the experience that we've heard anecdotally from our members who work elsewhere in the women's services industry, who say, 'I've had this influx of calls. I come in on a Monday morning, and, all of a sudden, people are just calling our service—people who really needed a counselling response at the time.' We know from the government's own figures that it's now around 25 per cent of callers who are being referred on for counselling. It is inconceivable that overnight there was a drop from 98 per cent of people calling the service and needing a counselling response to just 25 per cent of people needing a counselling response.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Obviously the ASU represents or has members who were employees of RDVSA. Do you also have members who are employees of the three new panellists?

Ms Lang : Yes. In the branch that Judith and I come from, we don't have members of our branch, but yes, the ASU nationally does, and the ASU nationally has supported the ASU submission, which is also included in the documents.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: And have you had any feedback from those members about their views of the triage model and how they see it working?

Ms Lang : We have certainly heard from workers in those other organisations of their deep sorrow at the loss of Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia. It was a service that they held in great respect and they do stand in solidarity with those workers, because they agreed that provision of immediate counselling was vital.

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: But they have jobs now? They're doing very important work. So, you haven't had any feedback from them about the efficacy of this new model—whether or not they think it's effective?

Ms Lang : Not from the people who've started picking up the calls. I think it's important to note that it's been only one week that the calls have been switched off. It was midnight last Saturday that the calls switched over. What we do know is that there was a very specialised workforce who had secure jobs, who were paid fairly for the work they did, and they were there ready to continue to provide the service. A contract decision was made to go with three other organisations that did not currently employ the workers to simply be able to pick up the ball and run with it and provide that service, at the expense of a service that was there and able to be provided and at the expense of jobs that were able to provide it. It is scandalous that well-paid, secure jobs for people who were currently providing the service and could provide them are gone, simply to try to employ people interstate at 22 per cent lower wages on universally insecure work. And the workers aren't even there. These were new jobs for these other organisations. Those workers weren't there to pick up and immediately commence the service provision. I don't know how anyone could say that was a decision made about, 'Here are the people who can provide the best-quality service right now.'

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: In your submission you say that there should be an end to competitive tendering for these sorts of services. What's the alternative?

Ms Lang : Competitive tendering is a relatively new beast in the community sector. There is a whole host of different models as to what occurs for the way community legal centres are funded, where it's a direct negotiation with the CLCs in their community, between the department; that's a very appropriate way. There are ways to call for expressions of interest when establishing a new contract for a new area of service delivery. But competitive tendering fails to recognise the specialisation and the expertise of existing organisations that are deeply embedded in their community and deeply embedded in establishing that work. The three organisations that picked up funding to provide the counselling are really good women's services. They are really good in the work that they do. Competitive tendering simply breaks down collaboration. It simply breaks down trust. And when you are talking about services where all of the money is spent on wages for service deliver, the only way to compete—and to compete on cost—is to drive down working conditions, to lead to insecure work, or to cut services. That's a case in point here, where it has been on the basis of working conditions: 22 per cent lower wages, universally insecure work. And when we're talking about specialist counselling services I think continuity and job security and valuing the workers who do this work is vital.

Senator PATERSON: I can think of lots of other ways you could compete and offer a different service to others—different systems, different processes, different technology, different approaches. Surely wages is not the only way for rival organisations to compete?

Ms Lang : I'm sure that's the case in some industries, but in essential human and community services we know, because it was evidenced in the equal pay case, that funding is spent on wages to deliver services. That is what they do. They don't produce widgets; they deliver services to vulnerable members of the community. If you compete on cost, the only way to do it is by cutting the service model, which means even fewer services or lower wages and conditions.

Senator PATERSON: Or doing it more efficiently.

Ms Lang : How do you deliver human services more efficiently, truly? It is human services; it is workers who deliver that service. So, to deliver it more efficiently would mean cutting the amount of service—

Senator PATERSON: Not necessarily.

Ms Lang : or cutting the wages.

Senator PATERSON: No, not necessarily. I mean, lots of service provision businesses, whether in the private sector or the not-for-profit sector, have different models of delivery where they have different internal systems and different processes and they use different technology. They can produce quite different outcomes with the same employees being paid the same.

Ms Lang : I think a person who's experienced rape or family violence doesn't want a smartphone app; they want a person to talk to and to provide them with support and counselling.

Senator PATERSON: That's a very trivial way of putting a very serious issue. I'm not talking about a smartphone app, clearly; I'm talking about how, for example, they handle incoming calls. That's clearly a backhand system. We know, for example, that RDVSA spends a lot of money on the IT system that they use to store records and to take in calls. This is not about apps.

Ms Lang : I am yet to see one example where competitive tendering has been on the basis of a more efficient use of telephony infrastructure as opposed to reducing wages and conditions or services.

CHAIR: Ms Lang and Ms Wright, thanks for providing evidence today. I think you took one or two questions on notice, and the committee will be in touch to follow up on that.