The following opinion piece by Deborah Di Natale, NTCOSS CEO, appeared in the Sunday Territorian on Sunday 9 February, 2020.


Call for big ideas

So we have an exciting time right now in politics.

We have an untested new leader of the Opposition, a new political party led by a seasoned politician, a handful of independents who each bring their own experiences and ideas and a government recalibrating and ready to pitch for another four years.

If now is not the time for launching bold policy solutions and innovative ideas, when is the time?

I’m not alone in my desire to hear the contenders for our next government outline their solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing the Northern Territory – particularly for those experiencing poverty.

Cost of living pressures are hitting individuals, couples and families hard as seemingly everyone’s finding it tough to make ends meet. From a climate that means we use more energy to poor public transport that means we rely on cars, cost of living pressures are stacked against us. And that’s before considering those whose houses and businesses are worth less than what they bought them for and people renting who have limited protections when something goes wrong.

We have 13,500 Territorians experiencing homelessness. Last year Territorians experienced three times the rate of domestic, family and sexual violence than any other state and territory. Territorians living remote are paying up to 60 per cent more for healthy food than their urban counterparts, driving health problems up and social outcomes down.  There are so many more issues I could list.

None of these issues are new, but they have never been more urgent.

And you might say, yes, we’d love to have the luxury of addressing social issues, but what about the economy? That’s what really matters, especially now.

This year, the economy will take centre stage in the contest of policies and ideas. A strong economy is necessary for all people to thrive and we need to find ways to retain and develop workers and businesses in the NT.

The thing is, we can address both the economy and social issues at the same time.

Too often there is a narrative given to the economy in a way that represents economic problems and our social health as being mutually exclusive.

We have at our disposal innovative solutions that dovetail both social and economic outcomes. For example, one of NTCOSS’ proposals to harness the NT’s competitive solar advantage to roll out a solar power program to social housing residences to deliver cheap, reliable energy while boosting the NT economy.

The charitable sector, our social and community services, is an employment powerhouse, employing more people in the Northern Territory than manufacturing and mining combined.

More than 7,600 people in the sector are out there every day, giving their all supporting and working alongside people so they realise their potential and interact in a meaningful way, both socially and economically. And that’s without including volunteers.

Policies that enable both economic growth and social prosperity are abundant, they just need vision and leadership to execute.

We have an incredible chance for a contest of ideas and of competing proposals that can help the Territory to reach its potential and redefine our thinking about how to boost our economy and our people together.

The Johnston by-election is less than three weeks away – the contest that will begin to define this year.

So phone your local member, or stop them in the street and ask them, what’s their big idea?

Deborah Di Natale

Northern Territory Council of Social Service (NTCOSS) CEO