Northern Territory Council of Social Service

Deborah Di Natale speaks to ABC Alice Springs about the NT Budget, cuts to the Coronavirus Supplement and Dan Murphy’s in Darwin

NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale speaks to Alex Barwick on ABC Alice Springs about the NT Budget, cuts to the Coronavirus Supplement and the prospect of a giant Dan Murphy’s store in Darwin.

It is a busy time, with the Federal Government announcing a $100 a fortnight cut to the Coronavirus Supplement, and the NT Government announcing legislation to weaken their own Liquor Commission and fast track a Dan Murphy’s super store, all happening on the same day as the NT 2020/21 Budget.

NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale spoke to Alex Barwick about what it all means for the community sector and the people it serves.


Alex Barwick – ABC Alice Springs : Well, yes, lots in the Budget yesterday to address COVID, some spending for small businesses, huge amounts of debt, a wage freeze for public servants. But what was in the mix for the non-government sector? Not enough, according to the Territory Council of Social Services and they’re arguing that there really should have been to make sure that the most vulnerable in our community don’t get left behind. NTCOSS’s CEO, Deborah Di Natale’s with you this afternoon. Good afternoon.

Deborah Di Natale – CEO NTCOSS : Good afternoon. How you going Alex?

Alex Barwick: Yeah, well, thanks. Given the massive debt that we’re facing, isn’t it reasonable that the Budget did actually focus on COVID measures and creating jobs for the Territory’s economy?

Deborah Di Natale: NTCOSS would never argue that the Government should not be focusing on eitherCOVID or creating jobs. And we understand that we’ve come out of budget repair. We’ve had COVID hit us unexpectedly. We’ve had a massive GST drop. So we knew that there weren’t going to be any big promises in the budget.

However, there were some key missed opportunities here, and one of the big ones has been the economic stimulus that could have been created in the construction industry by focusing on social housing. We would have had a win win there, the Government would have stimulated the economy and we would have had great outcomes for people who need it the most.

Alex Barwick : Yeah. Could we talk a bit more about that?

Earlier this week, I was speaking with new newly minted CLP Braitling MLA Josh Burgoyne. We were actually talking about issues around young people getting involved in crime Alice Springs and he said that one of the key things he thought the Territory government had failed to invest in properly and actually had flow on effects in terms of youth crime, was social housing. So it sounds as though you’re on the same page there.

Deborah Di Natale : Sounds like we are on the same page. And I don’t think there’s anybody in Government that would not be seeing the results that we’ve got in terms of a lack of funding and a lack of a commitment in terms of infrastructure for social housing. And we know what the outcomes are when you haven’t got adequate housing, you know, poor health outcomes, really low levels of getting kids to school, particularly for those families who are living in overcrowded houses.

And the other thing is that when you live in the Territory, you’re 12 times more likely to be homeless than any other part of Australia. So we really should be focusing on this as a matter of urgency.

Alex Barwick : When you talk about social housing, can you be really specific about what sorts of things you would have liked to have seen in this budget?

Deborah Di Natale : Well, what we would have liked to have seen is a commitment. We’ve got lots of stimulus going on for small business, and a lot of people have been ringing us and saying this is really a budget for small business.

I would actually say, congratulate the Government on a couple of things in terms of the NGO sector because we did manage to maintain our funding and we haven’t had to create any austerity measures, so that has certainly been welcomed.

But the idea of being able to provide a stimulus in the construction industry to create more houses, to me just makes more sense, the most sense.

And we’ve even had our 10 best economists around the country saying that social housing is the best thing that you can do to generate money in the economy.

Alex Barwick : You’ve also talked about how you would have liked to have seen increased funding in areas like early support for families to prevent harm against children. Can you be more specific about what you would have liked to have seen there?

Deborah Di Natale : Look, the the early intervention program, so I have to say the Government has got some really good social policies, so I want to make that clear, what we don’t have is the money and the commitment to ensure that happens.

One of the big things that the Government can do is focus on the early end in terms of kids and prevention. And one of the other things that it could do, considering we’re in NAIDOC Week and we’re all talking about Closing The Gap, is it could make a solid commitment to fund the Aboriginal Justice Agreement, which we know would reduce offending and imprisonment rates of Aboriginal Territorians.

Alex Barwick : So for those who aren’t familiar, what is the Aboriginal Justice Agreement? And you’re saying there’s absolutely no funding allocated to it specifically?

Deborah Di Natale : We haven’t seen any specific funding allocated to it in this Budget. We are absolutely campaigning that we see money allocated and significant sums in the 2021 Budget.

And what the Aboriginal Justice Agreement is, is a document that maps out a way for us to create a justice system that gives us better outcomes.

We all know in the Territory that what we’ve done and the money that we’ve invested has not worked. We’ve had really poor outcomes in terms of the justice system for both young people and adults across the Territory.

And what it does is it looks at ways of being able to engage and support Aboriginal leadership, improve justice responses and services to Aboriginal Territorians, and reduce offending and imprisonment rates. And some of those things are, for example, the alternative to custody model that in fact, you have there in Alice Springs, which has worked really, really well.

Alex Barwick : Which parts have worked well?

Deborah Di Natale : The alternative to custody model in Alice Springs looks at women who have, Aboriginal women across the Territory who have committed offences, and looks at providing the right types of therapeutic responses.

We’ve had women in there who have managed to complete courses, who are looking to go back into the workforce and actually have got a culturally appropriate response, which means that you’re going to get better outcomes for those vulnerable cohorts long term.

Alex Barwick : My name is Alex Barwick here on ABC Alice Springs this afternoon. My guest this afternoon is the CEO of NTCOSS, Deborah Di Natale.

Now of course the Territory’s budget came hot on the heels of the Federal Government’s announcement yesterday that the coronavirus supplement received by people on Jobseeker, Youth Allowance and Parenting payments, will be continued but will be reduced by 100 dollars per fortnight from the 31st of December.

What exactly will that mean for those in the Territory on Jobseeker now and into the future?

Deborah Di Natale : Well the Prime Minister has announced that the coronavirus supplement will be widely, that in terms of not just JobSeeker but we’re talking Youth Allowance, Parenting payments, all of those will be further cut. That’s going to bring us down to $75 per week from the end of year to March 28. What this is going to mean is that for 23,500 Territorians, they’re going to be heading right back towards the poverty line.

We’ve seen great outcomes when people have got adequate income. They’ve been able to live with dignity. We also know that the data has told us that a vast portion of those funds have gone to buy fresh fruit and vegetables with an increase in food sales. We’ve seen an increase in whitegood sales. So what this will mean is that we are going to get much less money in the Territory. We’re talking, you know, $10.2 million dollars a fortnight less money being generated in our economy as a result of this cut.

So it’s going to have economic impact, but it’s also going to have some pretty poor social consequences for those families who are already living in poverty and doing it really tough.

Alex Barwick : And does that then in turn put more pressure on the NGO sector, which by the sounds of it you don’t think have necessarily done particularly well in this Budget?

Deborah Di Natale : It will absolutely put more pressure on us.

You know the more people that haven’t got enough income, means the more services are needed to be able to ensure that those families get the support that they need. And we just know that in the Territory, unless we get some major type of reform, we are going to see more Jobseekers, because for every one job, there are 57 job seekers for those that are living outside the urban areas. So, yeah, we’ve got our work cut out for us, that’s for sure.

Alex Barwick : Just before you go, Deborah, I wanted to ask you about NTCOSS’s criticism of Territory Labor’s decision to introduce legislation today that could see Dan Murphy’s, a large Dan Murphy’s take away alcohol store, get the green light in Darwin, despite the fact that the Liquor Commission advised against giving it a licence last year, despite the fact we seen a number of Indigenous health organisations speaking out against it. What’s the problem with Darwin getting another grog shop?

Deborah Di Natale : Well, I think the process is a huge problem at the outset.

We had the Chief Minister himself who introduced the LIquor Commission. The reason the Liquor Commission was introduced was to provide some independence in decision making in terms of looking at whether or not it’s appropriate to get a license in that space. So we have an independent panel of experts at the Liquor Commission who, in fact, say, actually, no, it’s not appropriate that you get a license because of the social harm that it’s going to cause.

So then to hear on Budget day, a couple of hours before the Budget is announced, that this legislation was going to go through with practically next to no consultation with the sector, it was a huge surprise. And it just undermines proper process and transparency and it sends a message that corporate lobbying power will hold the day over health and community concerns.

Alex Barwick : So that’s what you think has gone on here.

Deborah Di Natale : Well, that is what has gone on here, because we were all incredibly surprised that this had gone on.

We also know that the Government had been incredibly courageous with some of the reforms it has created in terms of alcohol, and we had some really good outcomes. So why it would then create something to to allow the Dan Murphy’s application, to be able to make it easier for them to go ahead, and maybe likely before Christmas, in light of the fact that we’ve got a number of Aboriginal community controlled organisations who are saying this is not good for us, we don’t want this here, has been a complete disappointment.

Alex Barwick : Do you think we are seeing a bit of a pattern of behaviour here from Territory Labor?

I mean, on the first day of Parliament since the August election, of course, Labor removed the cross-party legislation scrutiny committee. The opportunity for independent oversight and scrutiny of legislation coming before the Parliament. Now we’re seeing this, which is essentially going to weaken the effectiveness of the Liquor Commission, which was, again, set up to sort of provide independent oversight. Do you think there is a pattern of behaviour here?

Deborah Di Natale : I certainly hope there isn’t a pattern of behaviour that is going to go on like this for the next four years.

I think both of those examples are a concern for people in the NGO sector and for the community sector and for the community at large. And we will hope that we’re able to lobby and campaign, that we get a clear, transparent processes from our government.

Alex Barwick : Deborah, thanks so much for your time.

That’s the CEO of the Northern Territory Council of Social Services Deborah Di Natale just talking about a number of issues there, this legislation that could well green light a large takeaway outlet in the Top End and overturning essentially, the possibility for overturning that decision made by the Liquor Commission last year. Also talking through what came out of the Territory budget yesterday and the ongoing changes to Jobseeker.