Thursday, 24 November 2011
Questions on Notice
Defence (Question No. 712 amended)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice, on 23 June 2011:
In regard to the DLA Piper Review of Allegations of Sexual and Other Abuse (and related matters) in Defence:
(1) How many people lodged a complaint before 17 June 2011.
(2) What immediate feedback/reply was provided to each of these complainants.
(3) Did the feedback/reply include an immediate verbal response to these complainants, many of whom could be described as being highly traumatised in having the courage to bring to the attention of authorities their ordeals; if not, why not.
(4) To date, how many people have lodged a complaint since the 17 June 2011 deadline.
(5) How many staff have been assigned to look through these complaints both at DLA Piper and within the department.
(6) Who in the department is overseeing this review, and what is their role.
(7) What is the expected cost of this review.
The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:
Several of the following questions required detailed information regarding the operation of the external legal review being conducted by DLA Piper. Responses to those questions are based on information provided by DLA Piper.
(1) By 17 June 2011, the DLA Piper Review had received communications, either directly or referred by the Minister for Defence's Office, from approximately 1,100 people. Not all of the communications received by the Review contain 'complaints'. For example, some of the communications include general statements about the actions which the Minister is taking in relation to sexual and other abuse in Defence. DLA Piper has advised that some of the complaints received are not within the scope of the Review because they do not relate to sexual or other abuse in Defence.
(2) DLA Piper has provided the following advice in relation to this question:
The immediate feedback/reply which was sent to a person who contacted the Review depended on whether the person sent an email to one of the email mailboxes set up for the Review or called the Review's 1800 number.
The Review mailboxes received incoming messages 24 hours a day 7 days a week. From 10 May 2011 until Wednesday 15 June 2011 people who sent an email to a Review mailbox received an immediate automated response which said:
You have reached the email address for the Review of Allegations of Sexual and other Abuse in Defence.
If this is your first contact with Review please read the attached Information Sheet which:
Once you have read the information sheet please fill in the attached forms and return them to us
You can call the Review on 1 800 424 991 2.00 pm – 9.00 pm Monday to Friday.
Attached to the email were the information sheet and the two forms referred to in the email with instructions on how to return the completed forms to the Review.
On Wednesday 15 June 2011 the automated response was changed to say:
You have reached the email address for the Review of Allegations of Sexual and other Abuse in Defence.
If this is your first contact with Review further details as to how to provide information to the Review will be forwarded to you shortly.
That message remained as the automatic email message until the close of the period for making allegations to the Review at 9.00 pm on the evening of Friday 17 June 2011.
The 1 800 number was staffed with lawyers from 2.00 pm to 9.00 pm Eastern Standard Time Monday to Friday from Tuesday 10 May 2011 to Friday 17 June 2011.
The lawyers staffing the 1 800 number were instructed on the background to the Review and on the sensitivities involved in taking statements from people who have been abused. These lawyers were provided with a script for taking calls on the 1 800 number. The lawyers who took calls on the 1 800 number adapted their feedback/reply to the caller according to the circumstances of the call.
The 1 800 number was set up so that if a call came in outside of the hours of 2.00 pm to 9.00pm Monday to Friday, or if all the rostered lawyers were engaged taking calls, then the caller was diverted to a detailed message which invited the caller to nominate an address and time and number for call back and - if they wished to speak to someone of their own sex - to say so in the message.
The Review Team discovered that the recorded message malfunctioned on some occasions and did not allow the caller to leave a message. This malfunction was repaired promptly on each occasion that this was discovered.
The recorded message facility had been tested satisfactorily Tuesday 10 May 2011 the day on which the DEFGRAM was issued inviting Defence personnel to contact the Review.
At 9.15 pm on Friday 13 May 2011 one of the Review team discovered that the voicemail looped the recorded message and did not allow the caller to leave a message. The DLA Piper IT team investigated over the weekend and identified a software problem. The problem was resolved on the evening of Sunday 15 May 2011. The telephone log indicates that there were no attempted calls to the 1800 number between the evening of Friday 13 - Sunday 15 May.
In these early days of the operation of the 1 800 number very few calls were coming to the 1 800 number.
No-one who spoke to one of the Review's phone roster staff in this early period of operation of the 1 800 made any mention of difficulties with the recorded message.
Around 2.40pm on Monday 30 May it was discovered that a phone which had been used for a 1 800 roster on the evening of Friday 27 May had not been taken off 1800 operation and was ringing without a rostered lawyer to take a call. This was remedied within the hour. From then until 17 June 2011, a staff member called the 1 800 each business day and left a test message. No problems were detected with the working of the recorded message facility.
Until the last week of the operation of the 1 800 call roster, almost all of calls to the 1 800 number during the 2.00pm to 9.00 pm Monday to Friday hours were taken as they came in.
Each caller who left a voicemail message with a return telephone number was called back at least once. Generally, a call back was made within two business days of a message having been left.
However, on Monday 13 June 2011, which was the start of the last week of operation of the 1 800 number, there was a program about abuse in Defence on ABC television's Four Corners program. That program included reference to the 17 June close of the period for people to provide allegations to the Review.
The next day, and for the remainder of that week, there was a surge in the number of calls to the 1 800 number. In response to this surge in calls, the Review rostered extra staff to take calls on the 1 800 number during the 2.00 pm to 9.00 pm periods and to return calls to people who had left messages. Review team lawyers returned calls to all persons who had left a message during the week 13-17 June by the end of that week. The last return calls by Review team lawyers were made around 10.00 pm on the evening of Friday the 17th after the 1 800 number roster had ceased at 9.00 pm.
As at 10pm on 17 June 2011, the Review was unable to make contact with only three people. Of those, one person did not leave a return telephone number, another did not have a voicemail service on which to leave a message and the other person did not leave a message.
The Review Team does not leave messages because of the subject matter of the calls.
The Review has now made contact (whether by telephone, email or post) with everyone who contacted the 1800 number before and since 17 June 2011.
(3) The immediate reply/feedback to people who called the 1 800 number during the hours of 2.00 pm to 9.00 pm Monday to Friday for most of the weeks of operation of the number included a verbal response with a lawyer taking calls or a verbal response by call-back to callers who left a message.
The immediate feedback/reply response to people who sent emails to a Review mailbox was the automatic email with the attachments as explained in the answer to Question 2.
The reasons why the Review did not arrange for people sending an email to a Review mailbox to get an immediate verbal reply included that: it was not practical to have staff available to read and assess all of the emails coming in to the Review mailboxes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and to provide an immediate and informed verbal reply as soon as the emails came in; the emails coming into the mailboxes were reviewed each business day to identify any that appeared to need urgent action such as notification to the Australian Defence Force Investigative Service (ADFIS); at the same time as the Review was receiving calls and receiving emails, the Review was also considering what level of follow up and information-gathering would be appropriate and achievable in time for report by the end of July (which was the delivery date contemplated at the start of the Review).
The Review did take into account that some of the people contacting the Review would be traumatised.
However, the Review considered and formed the view that it was neither feasible nor appropriate to make telephone calls – immediate or otherwise - to all people who sent an email to the Review regardless of the circumstances. The Review decided that it should only make calls where it was appropriate to do so. In deciding whether it was appropriate to do so the Review took into account a number of considerations including: whether the person who sent the email is the (alleged) victim or is closely connected with the victim or is someone who claims to be a witness to abuse or to have heard second or third hand reports of abuse; whether the person has already provided enough information for the Review to be able to report on the allegation; whether the matter raised in the email is out of scope for the Review; how serious is the abuse alleged in the email; whether there is any indication that the person who sent the email is or may be distressed; whether detailed information about an allegation could be gathered most accurately, effectively and most conveniently for the informant by sending them a statement form with guidance on how to complete the form.
The concern that some of the people would be traumatised was also taken into account in the guidance given to lawyers involved in taking and returning calls to the 1 800 number. The background material provided to lawyers involved in calls and the script used in these calls were developed in consultation with Dr Susan Harris Rimmer who is an expert in communicating with victims of sexual assault. This script was also submitted to the Office of the Defence Force Ombudsman for comment.
The script for making return calls included contact numbers for counselling services organised by Defence. If a caller appeared to be distressed, the Review team lawyers provided those numbers to the caller.
The Review was concerned that if it took information from people before they had considered and decided whether they wanted to put restrictions on disclosure of their information, then it might not be possible to maintain confidentiality for their information.
The automatic email response and the documents attached to the automatic response were designed to provide a basis for people contacting the Review to make informed decisions about these matters. The process and the information sheet and the attached forms were developed in consultation with Dr Susan Harris-Rimmer. The attachments were submitted to the Office of the Defence Force Ombudsman for comment.
(4) As at 1 October, approximately 138 late new complainants have contacted DLA Piper since 9.00 pm on Friday 17 June 2011.
(5) DLA Piper has assigned 21 senior lawyers and approximately 46 junior lawyers and paralegals to the Review. The firm has also engaged one full time barrister to advise the Review and another barrister on a part-time basis to advise the Review. No Department personnel are involved in the Review's analysis of complaints.
(6) Dr David Lloyd, Defence General Counsel has day to day responsibility as Defence's primary point of contact for the Review.
(7) As at 1 October 2011, the DLA Piper Review is anticipated to cost in excess of $6 million.