Northern Territory Council of Social Service

Deborah Di Natale talks to ABC Alice Springs Drive

Deborah Di Natale, NTCOSS CEO, talks to ABC Alice Springs Drive show host Paul Serratore about the Australian Council of Social Services announced the National Day of Action and other issues

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Good afternoon, Paul.

PAUL SERRATORE:                So why do you think raising the rates of these government payments permanently would help people in Central Australia?

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Well we’ve got more poverty in the Northern Territory than anywhere else in Australia and I think it’s well known that you cannot live on $40 a day. That has been established time and time again – that it in fact is leading people into more poverty. One of the things that we’ve learnt with COVID and the increase in the JobSeeker allowance – which was previously obviously Newstart and Youth Allowance – is that people don’t need to access financial counsellors anymore. This, to me, is probably one of the best things for people to understand is that people who are living in poverty don’t have a problem with budgeting – they haven’t got enough income to pay for their basic bills. So when we’re talking about rent, raising families, trying to pay for your utilities, you cannot do that on $40 a day. So one of the other things that I just want to point out is that if we were to do this we would actually be able to assist our economy because we know that money is going straight into your local business. People are buying essentials from their local places in Alice Springs, so you’ll actually see the economy flourish if you continue with this payment.

PAUL SERRATORE:                I was going to say, yeah, what it sort of means- sort of the economic data that has come out of this increase in JobSeeker – has there sort of been some hard economic data to say that, yes, if those on these payments are given more money, that it is spent in the economy?

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Yeah, we’re getting those numbers as we speak. So we’re looking at post COVID-19 – I mean, not that we’re out of it yet by any stretch – but we’re certainly starting to gather that. But what we know, from the services we represent, anecdotally is that they are buying all of their goods locally. And often you find people who are on JobSeeker are not exactly travelling and purchasing their items elsewhere. So what we do know is that in terms of the data so far, anecdotally, that it would absolutely assist the economy in Alice Springs, and I think we need to do everything that we can to boost the economy right now.

PAUL SERRATORE:                Now I think from discussions we’ve seen that life was going to go- well, those payments were going to sort of go back to normal come September – which I suppose is still a few months away. But what are your fears that if things- that if this isn’t stayed as a permanent payment or, sorry, or set as a rate permanently – what are some of the negative impacts you think will happen post September?

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         We’re just going to push vulnerable communities further into poverty. What we know in terms of the Northern Territory is that for every job that is available, there are 15 people looking. And that number might be even higher up post COVID when some of the businesses realise that they haven’t been able to keep their doors open. So we don’t want to see that, we don’t want to see families struggling. We’ve actually heard from families who have said for the first time in years they’ve been able to buy their children’s medicine and also buy the school uniforms – and that is the kind of Australia we want to live in.

PAUL SERRATORE:                The statement also went on to say: the Government’s Community Development Program has stifled job creation and financially penalised people forced to work for less than a fair wage. What do you mean by that?

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Oh that’s- are you talking about the Community Development Program?

PAUL SERRATORE:                Yes, the CDP.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         The CDP. Well what we are talking about when we’re talking about this CDP is we don’t think that’s a fair system full stop – pre COVID, post COVID. We think that what that does is it traps people in health and poverty because they’ve got inadequate payments. So we’re actually saying that this is probably a chance for us to review the whole social security system and make sure that we’ve got an equal footing for everybody who’s experiencing vulnerability.

PAUL SERRATORE:                I suppose given that we’ve sort of seen a lot of discussion come out of the Federal Government and you know, I think one of the Prime Minister’s favourite mantras, well also shared by a lot of government ministers, I should say, is the best form of welfare is a job. We’ve heard that a lot of- a lot coming out from there. Is there any hope of a permanent increase at all given that, I suppose, the mantra has been otherwise?

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Look Paul, if you knew, I’d be happy to hear that information from the Federal Government. All I can say is that every COSS around the country is doing the best they can to campaign to the Federal Government and provide them with evidence that this payment is needed.

It’s particularly needed in the Northern Territory in terms of our economy and the amount of people. We’ve got 16,000 Territorians living below the poverty line. So if anybody needs it, the Territory does and I’m very tired of hearing the mantra from the Conservative Party [sic] that the best way out of welfare is into a job because we now know that for every person looking for a job, there’s 15 people in the Territory looking for every one job that’s available. So you’re never going to be able to say that the best way out of welfare is into a job because there aren’t enough jobs.

PAUL SERRATORE:                And I suppose on a different topic altogether, Deborah Di Natale, I know earlier this week, the Northern Territory Council of Social Services put out what it’s called its 2020 Northern Territory election scorecard, sort of rating each of the parties over things such as Aboriginal justice, child protection, cost living and the like. We’re about to talk to the Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro after five o’clock. What- what are some of the things that NTCOSS want to see from various parties come this upcoming Territory election?

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         So our scorecard for the listeners who are interested, it’s actually on our website. So we would encourage people to go there to have a look at it. Some of the things we’re looking at is in relation to Aboriginal justice is that we want to fully fund and deliver the Aboriginal Justice Agreement. This is an agreement that has been consulted. We’ve had the- all Aboriginal communities particularly those in Alice Springs and Town Camps who have been consulted and what it does, the fundamental principle is that it looks at empowerment and ensuring that our Aboriginal leaders are front and centre of all the services that are provided. We also know that our rates, in terms of Aboriginal incarceration, are appalling and this provides a model to get us back to an equal footing. So that’s absolutely something that we are hoping that we can achieve.

We also want to introduce an anti-racism strategy. In terms of why are we asking for an anti-racism strategy, we’ve got really good evidence that Aboriginal people in the NT are experiencing racism, discrimination and disrespect on a daily basis. And the Australian Human Rights Commission acknowledges that they’re more vulnerable to discrimination and all we’re saying is – let’s come in line with every other state and territory in Australia that has introduced racial vilification laws. All that is is you cannot incite hatred; it’s pretty simple. And I just say why is the Northern Territory the only place in Australia that hasn’t implemented this and we’d be looking at the WA model for that.

PAUL SERRATORE:                Just quickly, just because we are about to go to news and the like.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Sure.

PAUL SERRATORE:                I see that also in there is sort of child protection and youth justice. We know the country Liberals have got a policy that they will hand youth justice back to corrections should they win the election rather than being under the remit of Territory Families. Does NTCOSS have any concerns about that?

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         We have got huge concerns about that and plain and simply that would be a mistake. When we have a look at the evidence of what works, we know that almost 75 per cent of young people who undertook youth justice conferences through police diversion did not re-offend. So just to repeat to your listeners that most people who commit crimes, young people, do not go back to commit more crimes. We have got numbers of people who are getting really good outcomes. We want to care for our children.

And the biggest mistake we could make is to put youth justice back in corrections because it’ll bring us back and we will not be able to see the benefits of the reforms. And we’ve got really good hard data now to support the fact that these reforms work.

PAUL SERRATORE:                Deborah Di Natale, appreciate your time this afternoon.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         I really appreciate you having us, Paul.

PAUL SERRATORE:                That’s Deborah Di Natale, CEO of the Northern Territory Council of Social Services speaking there, well at the end there just in relation to some of the wants that they want to see out of the Territory- various Territory political parties come the Territory election. But starting that conversation around the fact that they would like to see the permanent increase in- well what was a Youth Allowance and Newstart, but called in these COVID times, JobSeeker. That $1500 a fortnight, they say they want it to remain.