NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale speaks on ABC Radio Darwin on Federal Budget Day

NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale speaks on ABC Radio Darwin about the Albanese Labor Government’s first Federal Budget, what’s needed to ease the stress of cost of living pressures on Territorians and the national plan to end violence against women and children.


Adam Steer and Jo Laverty ABC: But what else is there on the wish list for the Northern Territory Deborah Di Natale is CEO of the Northern Territory Council of Social Services. Do you feel excited about tonight’s budget that’s being handed down?

Deborah Di Natale: Oh, good morning, Jo. Good morning, Adam, and good morning to your listeners. We are always optimistic and hopeful whenever a budget is coming out and the view of all the social services is to ensure that nobody is left behind. And we know in the Northern Territory that we have more people relying on income support per capita than anywhere else in the country. So I will be excited if I see some measures that are going to make life easier for people who are living either just above the poverty line or below the poverty line in their territory.

AS and JL: Well, good on you for being optimistic, despite budget after budget being disappointed, are you feeling differently now that there’s been a change of government that tonight you might get the news that you’re looking for?

DDN: Look, I feel more optimistic than I have before. And to the credit of the current government, we have had a raise in terms of the jobseeker allowance. It was nowhere near enough. I mean, a dollar 70 a day is not really going to change the lives of people who are doing it tough doesn’t even buy you a loaf of bread. But there has been some really strong advocacy by a number of social services groups across the country, including ACOSS, and they’ve been around the table with people who are advising the Treasurer and I hope that message has been loud and clear and we see some results as a result of that advocacy. So you really don’t know whether or not your message has been heard and if there’s anything an increase into that, rate tonight certainly have not had the heads up about anything.

AS AND JL: What else have you been advocating for ahead of the budget?

DDN: So there are a number of measures that we would like to see for people who are in the Northern Territory. The first one is that you can’t live on $48 a day, so we would like to see that at a minimum of $70 to be and that to be increased. We also want to see a doubling of the rent assistance. So the Commonwealth is responsible for rental assistance. We all know that in the Territory people are doing it tough. Those people who have had to renew their leases, the sum has gone up significantly so and people who are on income support should at least have that amount doubled. And some of the other things that we’ve been advocating for is also a $2,000 year emergency payment for the relief of people in terms of their electricity bills. When you live in the northern Territory.

AS AND JL: We all heard actually Jim Chalmers this morning talking about the fact that they’re inevitable, the how inevitable it is that electricity will go up.

DDN: So what we need to see is that for people who are already living in stress and not able to pay their utilities, that there is a cap and an emergency relief fund that they can access to ensure that they can keep their basic electricity going. Some of those issues that you’ve raised have systemic problems that money will help bandaid the situation. But there are deeper rooted problems, including, just, for example, the rental problem Yes, prices have gone up, but that’s because there’s so few rental properties available on the market.

AS AND JL: So is there a longer term solution to that kind of problem that you would like to see?

DDN: There’s a much longer term solution about ensuring that there are more affordable housing options for people right across the country. We’ve seen Victoria take the lead in terms of the amount of money that has been dedicated to a massive impact for social housing. The reason that we need to have these short term measures in this budget is that by the time we address those systemic issues, we’re looking at least five years.

AS AND JL: But does it risk making the prices go up even more? When you start putting more money into the market, what tends to happen is the prices will continue to go up to reflect that extra money.

DDN: What we’re talking about is ensuring that people who are living below the poverty line are able to live with dignity and it won’t impact on their health. You can’t expect Territorians to live on $48 a day, pay their rent, be able to access fresh fruit and veg, be able to access good health care. These are not measures that are going to create prices going up. These are measures that are going to enable people who need the money to be able to meet their essential payments.

AS AND JL: Deborah Di Natale is the CEO of the Northern Territory Council of Social Services. You are on ABC Radio Darwin, Adam Steer and Jo Laverty with you. So you’re saying that an increase to the dole of $70 a day, doubling rent assistance, then adding a $2,000 year for emergency levies that wouldn’t put any inflationary pressure on the economy.

DDN: Look, it might put some inflationary pressure on the economy, but you need to think about what is the cost of not providing these benefits to so many Territorians who are doing it tough? What we end up with is we end up with an increase in prices of trying to get people to access fresh fruit and veg. For example, we end up with an increase in prices in terms of poor health. Who’s paying for the health care? I assume we’re all paying for that infrastructure to keep that going. So while you might have a small impact, what you’re going to have is larger savings because you’ve got people who aren’t accessing the necessary infrastructure.

AS AND JL: If we go back during the COVID emergency, there was a number of temporary measures that the government at the time put in place, which was like increasing the welfare payments Anecdotally, one might suggest some of that did more harm than good. We can see some of the results of that now. We’ve got a lot of problem drinkers out on the streets that had come to Darwin because they had extra money and they could access alcohol. Are you concerned doing something similar to that will then have those same type of effects?

DDN: I’m a bit concerned about the idea that was has been going around that it caused more harm than good. So we’ve got some really good evidence and the Central Land Council provided us with a really solid evidence base that demonstrated that there was a look. It might have been it was certainly between 70 and 80% increase in the purchase of white goods. So we had people for the first time ever there could purchase fridges and could purchase washing machines. We had an extraordinary increase in the purchase of fresh fruit and veg from those remote communities. So the idea that we’ve heard that a that it created a number of problems, I’m sure there have been some isolated episodes where the money could have been better spent. But the Central Land Council has done a really solid study that demonstrated that most of that money went to improving the lives of people who are experiencing disadvantage.

AS AND JL: However, during that pandemic period we did see a large number of people coming into the regional centres and living rough and some of them are problem drinkers. They’re correlated together.

DDN: As I said, I’m sure that not all of that money went to positive and created positive outcomes And I think drinking is a much larger discussion than just a COVID supplementary payment

AS AND JL: on ABC Radio Darwin with Adam Stier and Joe Laverty. Debrah Di Natale is the CEO of the Northern Territory Council of Social Services. I think it was last week the Federal Government announced a national plan to end violence against women and children. The plan has a really ambitious target to try and eliminate domestic and family violence within one generation. Dr Shay Brown is from the Equality Institute and says the plan needs to be appropriately funded.

SHAY BROWN: So it’s a real disappointment that the national plan does not include a commitment to needs based funding. And what that means is that we’re going to continue at the moment as far as we can all see with a population based funding model, which means jurisdictions get funding from the Commonwealth based on their population. And of course in the Northern Territory with an extremely small population, that means we get very little of the funding. I believe under the National Partnership Agreement I think we’ve got around 1% of the funding but we have the highest rates of domestic, family and sexual violence in Australia and some of the highest rates in the entire world. Yet we receive relatively very little funding and have this astronomical, problem here.

AS AND JL: So she’s not the only person who is saying it’s just an unfair amount of money, that the Territory gets to manage this problem, this terrible problem we have. Are you hopeful that the budget tonight will go some way to appropriately funding this initiative? I have to say, in terms of the plan, it’s very ambitious and we’re always very, very pleased when anyone is talking about what can we do to address these social issues. So it’s now on the National agenda. It should be on the national agenda because every ten days a woman dies as a result of domestic, family and sexual violence. And that needs to change what we would hope to see. And it’s not just domestic family and sexual violence. The Northern Territory across the board often misses out with this national formula that’s created around a population. The population funding model. What we have in terms of a number of social issues is we have, particularly in domestic family and sexual violence, you are three times more likely to experience that in the Northern Territory than if you live in any other jurisdiction in the country. So we would say as a result of that data that we have and what we know is a very significant problem in the Northern Territory, it needs to be a needs based funding model. I know that the Minister Kate Warden has been repeating that for a number of years and this is one of the problems that the territories have, not just us, but I know the act experienced that as well, is that when you have people that don’t understand the unique jurisdiction that we are in the Northern Territory, how expensive it is to fund remote service delivery that is not an easy or cheap way of being able to provide a service to people who are living in remote communities. And the number of people in our population who live in remote will mean that in order to provide a service, we need to have a needs based funding model.

AS AND JL and JIM CHALMERS: And just finally, Treasurer Chalmers has said the Budget will focus on wellbeing. A lot of countries with which we compare ourselves, they have some version of a wellbeing budget or what I call measuring what matters. And basically what it is it says we’ve got all these ways we measure the economy and they are very important and we’re not going to walk away from them. But in addition to that, let’s come up with a hardheaded, consistent way to measure what matters, not just in our economy, but in our society. Let’s do that in a hard headed way so we can measure our progress against our objectives, whether it be health or education or environment. And really, it goes to a belief that I have, which is that you can’t have a robust and resilient economy unless you’ve got robust and resilient people. So we often measure our economic success, the success of the nation through GDP. But this is an emotional and wellbeing chart instead. What do you think of that?

DDN: Well, the social services sector is very pleased to hear that we have been arguing for a wellbeing budget for many, years. So to hear our Federal Treasurer talk about it in these terms is a really positive outcome for us and we hope that framework continues. Good to speak with you. Are you having a party tonight? Budget party at your house. I’ll see what comes out of the budget before I decide whether there’ll be a party or not.

AS AND JL: See you later. Thank you. Deborah Di Natale the CEO of the Northern Territory Council of Social Services,