About 100 union activists and their supporters rallied and chanted outside Macquarie Tower on April 6 to support the ASU in its campaign to ensure Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia (RDVSA) is not privatised and is given the necessary funding for its growing work load.
Natalie Lang, ASU NSW and ACT branch secretary, spoke passionately about how the union will continue to fight for funding for the specialist sexual assault and domestic violence counselling service 1800RESPECT.
She said the number of calls has risen exponentially, but there has been no similar rise in funding to employ specialist counsellors or purchase the infrastructure necessary to ensure that all calls can be answered immediately.
Simone McDonnell, the ASU delegate from RDVSA, took up the federal community services minister Christian Porter’s deriding of the campaign slogan “No Profit from Rape” as “disgusting”.
“What is disgusting”, McDonnell said, “is the department’s bragging that Medibank will receive millions of dollars profit from the suffering of other human beings.”
The RDVSA has provided help for men, women and children dealing with domestic violence and sexual assault since the service was set up in 1974. In 2010, 1800RESPECT was launched to provide specialist sexual assault and domestic violence counselling. There has been a 300% increase in calls to RDVSA since it began.
Last year, the federal Coalition government paid Medibank to open an additional call centre, rather than supply the funds to the RDVSA to accommodate the increase in calls. Medibank Health Services (MHS), which also owns contracts for other help lines, including Beyond Blue, is looking to double its profits from these services.
Speakers at the rally all emphasised that the suffering of women, men and children should not be turned into a commodity from which to profit.
MHS is currently “triaging” already vulnerable callers. This means that those who have made the difficult decision to get help are being made to tell their whole story before they can be put through to a specialist counsellor, to then re-live the gut-wrenching memory again.
The protest was supported by the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association; the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union; United Voice; the Rail Tram and Bus Union; the Public Sector Association; the Community and Public Sector Union; the Maritime Union of Australia and the Finance Sector Union. The ASU brought delegates from regional areas in NSW.
Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, and Samantha Parker, who works at the Penrith Women’s Health Centre and is chairperson of the ASU’s Women Service sub-division, also spoke.
Parker read two supporting statements from UN Women and the International Network to End Violence Against Women and Girls. She said the research and practice conclude that “autonomous women’s rights organisations are a critical element providing essential services to survivors of violence”.
The ASU is demanding the federal government directly fund the RDVSA, including all aspects of 1800RESPECT and end its contract with MHS.
As the rally ended, Lang asked attendees to join hands in a powerful statement of solidarity and determination to continue the fight to save 1800RESPECT.