On the eve of the Federal Budget 2020 Deborah Di Natale spoke to ABC Darwin’s Rick Hind about what NTCOSS wanted to see from the Federal Government.
While the focus of the Budget would clearly be on job generation and training, Ms Di Natale said economic stimulus can also deliver lasting benefits to people in need.
TRANSCRIPT : ABC DARWIN MONDAY 5th OCTOBER 2020
Rick Hind – ABC Darwin. Have you lost your job due to COVID 19, or are you a business that’s been able to keep people on through JobKeeper. Well the Federal Budget has been printed. Tomorrow night we’ll see what’s in it. In May it can be a dry old night, one for the politics and economics tragics but not this year. A lot of businesses have warned that they’ll be sunk if JobKeeper disappears completely. And JobSeeker has been keeping many people’s head above water if they have lost their jobs.
Deborah Di Natale is the head of the Northern Territory Council of Social Service. You might better know it as NTCOSS. Good morning Deborah.
Deborah Di Natale – NTCOSS. Good morning Rick. Thanks for having us.
Rick Hind – We spoke to you about a week before JobKeeper 2.0 came in which was really the first wind back of payments to business to keep staff on and then since then Four Corners have had people talking about zombie businesses being kept artificially alive. Are there any signs that that’s happening in the Top End?
Deborah Di Natale – I certainly haven’t seen any signs of that, but what is a real concern to everybody in the Territory is that with the JobKeeper payments that is having an impact on 19,521 Territorians and we’ve had some economic modelling that tells us that we are going to lose $8.5 Million every fortnight across the Territory, once the JobKeeper payment ends and that is going to have a detrimental impact to business in the Territory. I mean you and I know living here that we need every bit of economic stimulus we can get.
Rick Hind – And that JobKeeper is being spent?
Deborah Di Natale – That JobKeeper is being spent, correct.
Rick Hind – What benefits have you seen in the NT from people just having more money to spend?
Deborah Di Natale – Well I’ve seen benefits in terms of the JobSeeker. That for the first time people are able to live above the poverty line. That means we’ve got people living with dignity where they can have a phone, they can run their cars, they don’t have to choose at the end of the week whether they need to buy medicine or school shoes for their kids. They’ve got enough to pay for the basics and NTCOSS along with every other COSS across the country has been arguing that we need to raise the rate for good.
The other thing that is often forgotten is the impact this has on our economy. It provides a huge stimulus. We know that that JobSeeker payment is generating money in the NT economy because people who are on low incomes spend their money because they have no other choice.
Rick Hind – So they’re not saving anything. Like they’re they’re getting more money to spend and they’re spending it essentially.
Deborah Di Natale – Well actually the Central Land Council has done some numbers on that and there has been a 75 per cent increase in food sales in remote communities. So that tells us that people are buying more fresh fruit and vegetables.
There has also been a significant increase in white goods. So people are purchasing fridges, washing machines, things that long term will enable them to be able to live with dignity and actually be able to buy food and keep it fresh in their homes because for the first time in decades they’ll have a fridge.
Rick Hind – So there are obvious benefits, health benefits, for the people on a JobSeeker, economic benefits that you can see and as you say many groups including yours have been arguing for a long time for an increase in Newstart or unemployment benefits, whatever it’s called, is the Federal government looking like it’s actually going to listen to that.
Deborah Di Natale – It’s always very hard to tell what the Federal government is looking to. Obviously I’ve been keeping up with the reports and it appears that what they are looking to do is to make life easier for people who are on high incomes and you look at the tax threshold and there’s been talk about lowering that tax threshold.
The single biggest thing that the Federal government could do to support a strong economy across the country is continue with JobKeeper and continue with JobSeeker.
We also know that JobSeeker is generating $10.1 million dollars in our Northern Territory economy every fortnight. We know that we can’t afford to lose that. So our single biggest ask for the Federal government is to ensure that they continue with these payments.
Rick Hind – If you can’t get a long term increase now when issues of debt and deficit are on the backburner, Josh Frydenberg is not talking about a surplus anymore, he’s talking about spending to get out of a recession. What chances do you have of ever having a permanent increase to JobSeeker?
Deborah Di Natale – Well we’re an advocacy body so we live in hope that people will look at the data and look at the evidence and make good policy decisions. What we know is that now is an incredible opportunity for us to get a raise in the rate for good and we are really hoping that it does happen. We need economic stimulus, and this is an opportunity that the Federal government has to make not just the right decisions for people who are vulnerable but the smart decision for the economy.
Rick Hind – Now you’re listening to ABC Radio Darwin, Rick Hind with you. I’m talking to Deborah Di Natale who’s the head of NTCOSS. We’ve heard discussions from councils in the Top End that one unintended consequence of a temporary increase in JobSeeker has been an increase in spending on alcohol and there has been some discussion about whether the money is being used on things like secondary supply. Here’s what the Chief Minister Michael Gunner had to say on that topic this morning.
Michael Gunner – All the evidence, across the country, shows that we never had less people in poverty. That’s been extremely positive impact. I’ve had significant feedback from communities about the shopping habits changing within community stores in terms of what people are buying, the better quality food and fruit. Which is just you know it’s hard to measure the change that would’ve had on a family, having the ability to put onto the table more food of better quality. So I’d say that these have been overall positive changes, though there may be some links to negative.
Rick Hind – So Michael Gunner is certainly seeing some of the evidence that you have in terms of the the positive side effects but is there any way to avoid the negative side effects that the people who might have a dependence on alcohol using the money they’re getting from welfare to spend more money on alcohol.
Deborah Di Natale – Well we haven’t had any evidence of that. I’ve heard lots of questions in relation to the grog running, that’s always been an issue, but it has not in any way been directly linked to the coronavirus supplement in terms of JobSeeker or JobKeeper. In terms of what we need to do with people who have got alcohol or drug addictions is we need to be putting the money in to rehabilitation and finding out what the causes of that addiction are rather than cutting supplements and enabling a number of people in the Territory to live below the poverty line.
Rick Hind – So Budget night’s tomorrow, it sounds like you’re very keen on hearing at least the continuation of JobSeeker is there anything else in the budget that you’d like to see?
Deborah Di Natale – Well it’s interesting because 49 economists, leading economists, across the country were asked about what they wanted to see in the Federal Budget and the primary response from all 49 of those was to see an increase in social housing. So we would be arguing three main things we obviously want to see the continuation of the coronavirus supplement. We want to see an increase in social housing which will in fact mean that we’re supporting the construction industry as well. And we want to see an increase to the remote area allowance to enable people who are living in remote communities to have the same access to food, vegetables, public transport that everybody else in the city does.
Rick Hind – Social housing. Have you heard any indication that there might be an increase in that because there has been a lot of discussion from economists about that, that that is a great investment. It’s something the Opposition has raised. How, how much hope do you have that there will be a significant expenditure on social housing in the Budget tomorrow night?
Deborah Di Natale – As I said Rick I always live in hope so I am very hopeful that we will get an increase to what we currently have allocated. And we also know when you live in the Northern Territory you are 12 times more likely to be homeless than if you live in any other part of Australia. So we absolutely must do something about it.
Rick Hind – And JobSeeker you’re looking for a permanent increase or just an extension of the current arrangements.
Deborah Di Natale – We have always lobbied that $40 a day is not enough for anybody to live on and we will be seeking a permanent increase to the JobSeeker payment.
Rick Hind – Deborah Di Natale, thanks for joining us this morning.