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Estimates: Department of Health and Ageing

Estimates & Committees
Lee Rhiannon 19 Oct 2011

Community Affairs Legislation Committee

Estimates hearings, 19 October 2011

Department of Health and Ageing

  • Ms Jane Halton, Secretary
  • Mr Nathan Smyth, First Assistant Secretary, Population Health Division

Full transcript available here

CHAIR: Ms Halton I have questions on pregnancy counselling. Is that in 1.1?

Ms Halton: Could you be more specific?

Senator RHIANNON: Counselling services.

Ms Halton: Is it the services or the hotline? They are in two different places.

Senator RHIANNON: It is more about the services: how they are being run, and the standards.

Mr Smyth: There is a program that is about fertility but it is not about pregnancy counselling as such. Twelve organisations are currently funded.

Senator RHIANNON: I want to ask about the providers. We are just trying to work out whether I do it in this section.

Ms Halton: You will have to tell us which providers, Senator.

Senator RHIANNON: I will ask the first question and give you a case. Is there a requirement that all pregnancy counselling providers will provide counselling on the full range of options available to women?

Ms Halton: That is a very general question. It depends on whether the question relates to people we fund. We can make a comment about—

Senator RHIANNON: Specifically to the ones that you fund and then also to try to assess whether there are standards that all providers come under.

Ms Halton: No.

Senator RHIANNON: People can set themselves up to provide counselling on pregnancy and there are no standards by which they have to abide.

Ms Halton: There are professional bodies that regulate the conduct of professionals. There may be consumer issues in relation to how people present themselves but in terms of the things that we have any dealing with they are regulatory activities, which would go through the registration bodies and then funding agreements with bodies that we fund.

Senator RHIANNON: You are not responsible for any standards that would cover providers who do not receive public money.

Ms Halton: No.

Senator RHIANNON: We are just talking about the ones that you do fund. If I could therefore ask that question.

Mr Smyth: We have a family planning grants program, which is about evidence based family planning. It has a national focus and there are three key areas: public education, health promotion and information sharing; professional development, continuing education of professionals involved in family planning activities; and then there is consultation, networking, representation and collaboration across the sector.

The objective is to support evidence based family planning. This is about having couples or individuals achieve the desired number of children. There were 12 organisations that were funded under that program. I am happy to tell you who they are if you like.

Senator RHIANNON: Maybe you could take that on notice.

Mr Smyth: Sure.

Senator RHIANNON: Are you aware of any pregnancy counselling services that receive public funding but fail to provide information on pregnancy termination?

Mr Smyth: I am not aware of that.

Senator RHIANNON: When you say you are not aware does that mean that it does not happen or that the auditing has not been done so you do not know?

Mr Smyth: Our program is not necessarily about that. It is more about fertility advice rather than termination. People may ring the national pregnancy helpline and be directed through that area but—

Ms Halton: I might make a point about this. The then Senator Natasha Stott Despoja would, nearly every estimates—some of our friends and colleagues on that side of the table will remember this—ask questions in relation to the provision of public moneys to organisations who were active in the fertility space. In fact, I think after a certain period the telephone counselling line came about as a consequence of some of those questions. Essentially, some of the organisations we fund have a particular perspective on these issues. They provide advice, as Mr Smyth has told you, in relation to achieving the number of children that people wish. The service that they offer is about fertility and the pregnancy counselling hotline is the service which will provide you with every option et cetera.

Senator RHIANNON: So apart from the hotline there are, as you would be aware, a number of pregnancy counselling services that provide information on the range of options.

Ms Halton: Correct.

Senator RHIANNON: I understood from the answer to a previous question that some of those receive public funding.

Ms Halton: Some of them.

Senator RHIANNON: My question is about those. It was not about the fertility aspect of it. It is about ascertaining whether the services that receive public money are providing the full range of services. I understand from your response, Mr Smyth, that you were not aware of it.

Mr Smyth: We have an agreement with these organisations—the 12 that we fund—to provide a particular focus and service. If they are organisations that do other activities as well that is outside of our funding agreement with them. I am not fully aware of the activities that they may well undertake.

Senator RHIANNON: I am not interested in their other activities. Considering that you are funding them for pregnancy counselling services—

Ms Halton: We are not, necessarily. That is the important point.

CHAIR: This is quite an extensive area and we do not have time to go through the degree of questioning in the allowable time that we have today.

Ms Halton: What I suggest we do is to give you, on notice, the list of organisations we are funding and what we are funding them for.

Senator RHIANNON: Okay.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, what we can do—it is common practice—when you get that information, if you require a briefing, is to go back through Senator McLucas and arrange that. That is the process.

Senator RHIANNON: Thank you.

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