Deborah Di Natale speaks to ABC Alice Springs about youth crime, and proposed changes to JobSeeker

NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale spoke to Alex Barwick on ABC Alice Springs about the need to keep youth justice measures and responses to crime focussed on what the evidence shows actually delivers for the community.


Alex Barwick : ABC Alice Springs – I wonder if you know anyone on JobKeeper or JobSeeker at the moment? More than likely you do. Maybe you’re on one of those one of those payments yourself. And I wonder how you feeling about kind of, you know, the end game at the end of March?

You’ve heard from various industries like the tourism industry in Central Australia who are really worried about what’s going to happen when JobKeeper winds up at the end of March. And of course, we heard a little bit earlier, Paul talking about real concerns in the music industry as well.

There are also major concerns about what’s going to happen when JobSeeker shrinks. Of course, that’s the payment previously known as Newstart.

The Covid supplement of $150 is set to expire, leaving job seekers at $565 dollars a fortnight for a single non renter with no dependents. Now, last week, the police commissioner, Jamie Chalker, said an increase in crimes in Alice Springs and in Tennant were actually related to what was going on with JobSeeker. He said that he’d seen an increase in gambling and the reduction in JobSeeker had actually seen an increase in break-ins for food. So really different effects.

But today, The Australian newspaper is reporting that the Morrison government’s considering streamlining to a single payment for those on Jobseeker that would roll in other supplements and subsidies for things like pharmaceuticals, telephone allowance, literacy supplement, utilities allowance. So is this a good move potentially for Territorians, for those in the Centre and Barkley on JobSeeker.

Deborah Di Natale is the CEO of NTCOSS. They’ve been advocating for a long time for a permanent rise to the JobSeeker payment.

Deborah, good afternoon.

Deborah Di Natale : NTCOSS – Good afternoon, Alex.

Alex Barwick – Now, before we get to the Federal Government’s plans for JobSeeker, I did want to get your thoughts on what the police commissioner had to say last week to Brashy. Jamie Chalker said he thought that the reduced covid supplement had actually caused more break ins in Alice and in Tennant with people looking for food. But he also said that the increased payments had seen more gambling. Now, here’s some of what he had to say.

Police Commissioner, Jamie Chalker – Now we’ve come off the back end of significant investment into the social welfare structure with the double payments. We’ve seen increasing gambling. Do any cursory assessment of poker machines, gambling dens to see how much money is going in there that should have probably gone into other support, family budgets even. Yeah, these are the challenges that we’re confronting with and we’re seeing an acute outcome here.

Alex Barwick – Deborah, are your members telling you the same thing? Has changes have changes to JobSeeker payments, affected crime or gambling?

Deborah Di Natale – Our members have not told us that. Our members have told us that the increase to JobSeeker has actually meant an increase in people being able to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables. And we’ve heard from the Central Land Council that those, in fact, in terms of people being able to have access to good food, that food sales went up about 65 per cent. We’ve also heard that people were spending that money on purchasing some essential white goods. So there isn’t any evidence to show that JobSeeker rate relates to crime.

But what we do know is that food insecurity is a real issue in the NT. So NTCOSS has been working with FoodBank to help build a food hub in Alice Springs, which will help make food more affordable and available to those in need. And I think that’s a really important development.

Alex Barwick – What’s your understanding? I know we have reported on, you know, that announcement before that FoodBank is coming to Alice. Do you know when they’ll be opening their doors?

Deborah Di Natale – I don’t know when they’ll be opening their doors. I’ve heard that it’s definitely in 2021 and we’re hoping for July or August 2021. But I would need to take that on notice.

Alex Barwick – No, that’s OK. I can give them a call and we can try and find out here at the ABC.

Look, it’s interesting because certainly Jamie Chalker alludes to the fact that – you didn’t hear there – but what he said to Brashy was that he did feel as though there had been an increase in break ins when, when the Covid supplement had dropped somewhat, not obviously, it hasn’t completely disappeared yet, but when it had dropped. So have you heard any evidence for that?

Deborah Di Natale – No, I haven’t heard any evidence that there’s a correlation between the JobSeeker payment increasing and an increase in crime.

Alex Barwick – Okay, I do want to keep talking about jobs here. But just for a moment, because this conversation around youth crime and bail laws persists. Once again, the CLP was out today saying that the Territory government needs to put in place tougher consequences for young offenders. You would have heard the opposition and the police association calling for changes to the bail laws, to make breach of bail an offence again, arguing that it will combat youth crime. Now, the Territory government say they’re looking at other legislative reforms. The police minister on Friday with Brashy look no bail laws are not what we were addressing, we’re looking at other things like ringleader legislation, but, you know, are the police association, are the opposition right? Is there some problem at some level with the bail laws the way they currently are?

Deborah Di Natale – There isn’t any problem at all with the bail laws. And I can absolutely understand victims of crime wanting some action. But what we do know is that locking kids up doesn’t work. Imprisonment increases the likelihood of reoffending and further disengagement from the community, from family and from education. And I heard last week that the police commissioner made it clear that Central Australia is dealing with a very specific property crime situation.

So if it were, in fact, about the bail laws, we would be seeing a Territory wide trend. So the data just doesn’t bear.. What we do know is that, in fact, the government has introduced a whole host of reforms that are getting to the cause of offending. And one of the other things that I think is often missed by the opposition and a number of other opponents to the current bail laws is that what we actually need is an increase in investment in what does work.

So close to 74 per cent of young people did not reoffend after attending a youth justice conference. That’s a great tool to make it clear to the offender the cost of what has happened and the impact that their crime has had, and it enables the victims to be heard. So I really don’t know why this the bail stuff keeps coming up again and again, because the evidence just just does not support that a change in that would be the solution.

Alex Barwick – So I guess I mean, you’ve said there you think Territory Labor’s, you know, getting to the cause of the effect that they’ve got some good policies in place. And yet those that are victims of crime would say, well, look, come on, something’s not working. And as you said, the stats are there. The police commissioner said, look, there’s a huge increase in property crime in both Alice and Tennant. Are you arguing, though, that there’s just not enough investment? And what should the Territory government, you know, where are they missing investment in terms of actually trying to reduce property crime and young people getting involved in crime?

Deborah Di Natale – Well, there are a number of things that we need to do. And we know that the real gains are made by early engagement. A couple of really good things is that child protection and youth justice have been brought together by this government because without delivering the first, we’re never going to achieve the second. What we know is when we have evidence of programs that work, we should absolutely be increasing investment in those areas. We should not be looking to change particular legislation where there’s no evidence to support that you’re going to get to the causes of crime.

Alex Barwick – OK, one other thing that Jamie Chalker talked about with Brashy was just the role of domestic violence in all of this. He said that was key. Have you been talking to your members about the role of domestic violence in young people getting involved in crime?

Deborah Di Natale – Look, I think domestic violence is is the driver for a lot of behaviour, and it’s absolutely something that we need to address.

We know that if you live in the Northern Territory, you are more likely to experience domestic violence than if you lived anywhere else in Australia. That’s certainly something that we need to prioritise in terms of the correlation of kids in child protection. There is absolutely a vast number of those who have experienced domestic violence in their home.

So we know that it does lead to outcomes that are not right for kids. So we do need to look at some solutions there.

Alex Barwick – Do you have any sense of how many young people are in the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre right now?

Deborah Di Natale – I don’t have a sense of those numbers, no.

Alex Barwick – OK, well, that’s something, again, for us to follow up. Just quickly, coming back to jobs, JobSeeker, again there are reports in The Australian that the Morrison government’s looking at streamlining JobSeeker into a single payment, rolling in a range of other supplements and subsidies that I already mentioned. I mean, we don’t have much more detail on that. But do you think that could be a good idea for thousands of Territorians on JobSeeker if it sees an increase in the payment?

Deborah Di Natale – Look, if it is an increase in the payment, we think the streamlining is a good idea. But what we don’t want is a smoke and mirrors increase to JobSeeker where supplements are moved around but the end result ends up being the same.

The government needs to deliver a genuine increase to the rate and it needs to be adequate and it needs to be permanent.

Alex Barwick – Okay, so you don’t really mind how that happens. It just needs to happen. Or I guess we’ll wait and see where he goes in terms of talking to the government and advocating for that increase.

Deborah Di Natale – So there is a delegation that is going to Canberra to lobby directly to the Prime Minister to ensure that we get an increase.

We know that, that is going to impact in terms of the Northern Territory and our economy significantly. So we see it not just as a fantastic social benefit to get people out of poverty, but a fantastic benefit in terms of getting our economy to increase and to grow.

Alex Barwick – OK, you don’t have long, though. I mean, this all ends at the end of March. Surely advocacy has already been happening, have you got any sense of whether that’s been successful.

Deborah Di Natale – We don’t have a sense of whether it’s been successful. But as an advocacy body, we always live in hope that at some stage we’ll get enough members in Cabinet to realize that this is a really good thing for the economy and for people living in poverty.

We’ll leave it there. Deborah, thanks for your time. Thank you. Deborah Di Natale there. The CEO of NTCOSS. It is half past five.