Assistant Minister Elliot interview on ABC NewsRadio with Tom Oriti


Topics: 1800RESPECT SMS Service, NDIS Review 

THOMAS ORITI, HOST: The national phone and online counselling service for victims of domestic, family and sexual violence is now being expanded to include a new discrete text message option, and this comes as 58 women have died violently in Australia this year alone. That's according to the Counting Dead Women Initiative. 

We've, unfortunately, I should say, because we are covering this story so much, have said this number a lot over time. 1800RESPECT. That 1800RESPECT is the number we've been covering, and it was first launched as a 24/7 confidential counselling and referral service over a decade ago under the first national plan to reduce violence against women and children. 

The reason why I was hesitating there is this new text number, now, that I want to give to you now, before we move on. 0458 737 732, the new text message service. The government says demand for 1800RESPECT has grown over recent years, with calls and online requests exceeding 286,000 in 2020-2021 alone. The Assistant Minister for Social Services, Justine Elliot, joins us live now from Canberra. Good morning. Thank you for your time.

JUSTINE ELLIOT, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR THE PREVENTION OF FAMILY VIOLENCE: Good morning, Tom, and thanks for having me on to talk about this really important issue.

ORITI: Yeah, a text service. What will having a text option mean for victims of domestic violence?

ELLIOT: Well, Tom, having this new service to be able to text 1800RESPECT will really help those victims of family, domestic and sexual violence get the assistance and support they need. Of course, currently they can ring 1800RESPECT or they can have an online chat, and that's 24 hours a day that they can do that. But, now there's also the capacity to text in, and that's really important for a whole range of reasons. 

Firstly, some people may not be comfortable talking on the phone about the situation that they're in. Secondly, there may be privacy issues and safety issues as well. There may be other concerns, too. There was one case of a user who'd lost their voice due to strangulation, and was unable to speak. So, it's important to have many pathways to access the support and services that are available. 

So, we're really pleased to be launching this today and absolutely encourage people to contact 1800RESPECT if they do require that support and assistance. And I know you mentioned those numbers earlier on, but to anyone out there listening, if you do require support, please reach out. And, having this text capacity as well really adds to the ability for people to get support services, counselling and referrals. So, I encourage anyone who needs it to contact them. 

ORITI: Yeah. So, it's quite easy because a bit of a difference with the text and the helpline 1800 737 732. That's 1800RESPECT. The number is 0458 737 732, so similarity with those two numbers there. You've done a fortnight long trial of the system, haven't you? How did that go?

ELLIOT: Well, there was a trial of the system and it was successful. We had to, of course, make sure that we had that trial, that everything was in place in terms of people's ability to access, making sure all the safety measures were there. Of course, when people do phone in, they do get a whole lot of instructions about safety concerns, and around texting as well. And, as you mentioned earlier, we have huge amounts of people contacting 1800RESPECT so far, over 280,000, and obviously having this new service gives another capacity for people to reach out and get the help if they need it.

ORITI: I guess one thing that, and it's great to hear that expansion now, but text or SMS, it's not new technology. It existed years and years ago. Why was it not incorporated in the initial service?

ELLIOT: Well, obviously there has to be a lot of measures around safety and security and has to be adequately tested as well. So, as you say, we've had that phone service there for a period of time, but we have to make sure that we get it right in terms of introducing new services as well, and that's absolutely why we're doing it. And of course, Telstra Health have this contract to provide the service, and it's really been working with them that we've developed these new initiatives.

ORITI: Can I just ask you, while I've got you there, it would be remiss of me not to, to ask you about the NDIS. Now, I know that's Bill Shorten's portfolio, understood. But, I often feel like there's this misconception that everyone in Australia with a disability is on the NDIS, but far from it, about 600,000 are. More than 4 million Australians have a disability who are not on it, which does bring in the Social Services portfolio. 

Now, there's this review into the NDIS that was released earlier, released yesterday. We spoke to Bruce Bonyhady behind that review, and the architect of the original scheme about an hour ago. Do you have a response to those recommendations? And are you confident that even more Australians will be able to access adequate support services, perhaps under your portfolio, if they're not under the NDIS?

ELLIOT: Well, look, firstly, Tom, it was a major review, as you said. It's the most comprehensive one that existed, with almost 4000 submissions from individuals and organisations right across the country. Now, we all know the many problems that did exist, and I know how hard Minister Bill Shorten has been working in terms of looking at ways we can improve it. 

One of the big issues that we find, and I hear this all the time from people, is the challenges of navigating the bureaucracy of the NDIS is so hard. We want to make it focused so that people are at the centre of that. They do not need more trauma when they're trying to organise their package and having access to it. And so we've now had this really comprehensive review with a number of recommendations that we will look at. 

But this is something we feel so strongly about because Labor built the NDIS and we want to make sure that it's functioning for people who really need it. We know many families struggle with accessing services, navigating the bureaucracy. We know there are issues with many of the service providers. So, these are all the issues that the review looked at, and all ones that we'll comprehensively have a look at as well-

ORITI: Sorry to interrupt, but they're the people on the NDIS, but what about the people who are not? The millions who are not? Are you concerned that over time all of the attention has been on the NDIS and the millions not on it have almost fallen by the wayside?

ELLIOT: Tom, our government is committed to providing the support and services that people require, and we certainly do that through a whole range of measures as well. And, of course, we'll also look at what more can be provided in those situations. We understand the challenges that so many people face, and part of making sure that we fix some of those problems is having this review.

ORITI: Okay, and we'll await the government's response to it. Any idea of when we might be expecting that?

ELLIOT: That'll be next year. Tom, we'll thoroughly look at this review in terms of our response, and I know how committed everybody is to making sure we get this right, particularly for people right across the country, in many regional areas, there can be a lot of challenges with accessing the NDIS service providers as well. And this is about listening to those people with a disability and their families across the nation and making the system work for them.

ORITI: Okay, I know you've got to dash. Thank you very much for joining us.

ELLIOT: Thanks so much, Tom.