YET ANOTHER BEREJIKLIAN BACKFLIP- THIS TIME IT IS KEY DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SERVICES
The NSW Labor Opposition has called for an investigation into the aborted tender process for the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (WDVCAS) as the Berejiklian Government embarks on yet another backflip on one of its signature policies.
This week, Legal Aid advised that the tender process to appoint WDVCAS service providers for the period 1 November 2018 – 30 June 2020 had been discontinued in line with clause 24.1 of Part B – Conditions of Tendering in the tender documents.
The NSW Government has offered organisations which tendered to provide the services $2,500 for their wasted effort, up to a maximum of $5,000 in the case of joint venture arrangements.
The botched process has seen Legal Aid NSW placed in the position of having to negotiate with existing WDVCAS service providers to extend current service agreements to cover the period from 1 November 2018 – 30 June 2020. These service agreement extensions will reflect current WDVCAS boundaries and funding levels.
The three week tender process finished on Sunday 9 September 2018 and the Berejiklian Government had delayed the commencement of the service period by one month from November to December on the Friday before the tenders closed. It is understood that some tenders had already been lodged prior to the announcement of the shorter service period, and that three existing service providers had not put in a tender application. The NSW Government will have to negotiate with these service providers to ensure continuity of service delivery for WDVCAS clients.
The WDVCAS Tender process is yet another example of the chaotic implementation of the NSW Government’s domestic violence programs. In 2014, their disastrous Going Home Staying Home (GHSH) reforms cut $20 million from domestic violence specialist refuges and put it into general homelessness services. Since then there have been reports across the state of a consistent lack of capacity for women and children escaping domestic violence.
The process for GHSH was widely criticised within the sector and the NSW Government had made commitments not to ram through reforms without consultation in the future. The WDVCAS tender process was conducted over an even shorter period than previously, and did not implement recommendations of the recent review into the service.
Under questioning at Budget Estimates, the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault denied any detailed knowledge of the tender process, saying through her Departmental officers that the process was being managed by Legal Aid and not her department which is the funding agency for WDVCAS.
Shadow Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Jenny Aitchison had raised concerns about aspects of the tenders including a reduction in the number of the existing 29 Court Advocacy Services to 26, foreshadowing significant changes to regional boundaries. The WDVCAS currently only covers 117 of over 135 courts around the state where domestic violence cases are heard.
Ms Aitchison has previously drawn the issue of impacts of the NSW Government’s re-engineering of NSW Police which do not now align with the boundaries of the WDVCAS and Safety Action Meetings during consultations on the re-engineering however she was advised that by the Police Minister that there was no anticipated impact.
WDVCAS and the Safety Action Meetings are key components of the NSW Government’s signature safer Pathway Program. It is unclear how the government will address these boundary issues with the tender process no longer going ahead.
There were serious concerns about the funding arrangements for services, with some services claiming they would be underpaid in the first pro-rata year of the contract. When the Safer Pathway program was introduced, services experienced a 100% increase in workload with no additional funding. It took six months before the NSW Government provided a measly 20 percent increase to WDVCAS.
It is unclear how the NSW Government will negotiate any of the changes that had been included in the tender in response to the long awaited evaluation of the service.
Quotes attributable to Shadow Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault and Acting Minister for Women Jenny Aitchison
“The NSW Government has an appalling track record on dealing with domestic violence service providers. Not just with WDVCAS but women’s refuges, women’s health centres and other community based domestic violence specialist services. While they have aborted this process, it’s another example of the complete lack of respect they have for the sector.
“The Berejiklian Government needs to consult properly with the sector on what its long term plans are for WDVCAS. In the short term it needs to work out how it will negotiate to deliver improvements in client services and funding in the existing contracts and what it’s going to do in the three contract areas where the existing service providers had not submitted a tender.
“WDVCAS needs significant investment and revising to complete the roll out of the NSW Government’s Safer Pathway program and to keep up with increasing levels of domestic violence, yet now it seems the services are back to square one.
“The Premier has reducing domestic violence recidivism as one of her key Priorities, however now we have the government spending around $50,000 in compensation to service organisations because her Ministers are too lazy to properly consult.”