Northern Territory Council of Social Service

NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale on Mix 104.9

NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale talks to Katie Woolf on Mix 104.9 in the lead up to the NT Election

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Good morning, Katie. Thanks for having us today.

KATIE WOOLF:                    Yeah, it’s lovely to have you on the show. Now, firstly for those out there listening who maybe don’t know a huge amount about NTCOSS, talk them through   firstly what the Northern Territory Council of Social Service does.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:       So we’re the peak body in the Northern Territory and we represent the not for profit and NGO sector. We’ve got about 125 organisations that we represent. They range from health, social services, and 30 per cent of our membership includes Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations. So we advocate to ensure that the most vulnerable people in the Northern Territory are getting good social outcomes.

KATIE WOOLF:                      And it is so important. And we know- I mean particularly here in the Northern Territory – I guess it’s important all around Australia as well – but you don’t want people getting left behind. We want everybody to be on the best possible fitting- footing, I should say.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Absolutely. Particularly when we know that we’ve got more poverty in the Northern Territory than anywhere else in Australia. We also know that if you live in the Northern Territory, you’re 12 times more likely to be homeless, and you are more likely to be a victim of domestic, family and sexual violence. So we’ve got some huge issues here that need to be resolved. And with good policy reform, we can get there.

KATIE WOOLF:                      And Deborah, obviously in the lead into an election, there’s always wish lists, I guess you would say, from different groups. But NTCOSS you know your wish list or your list of election asks, it takes all of that into account that we’ve just spoken about. The fact that we do obviously have vulnerable Territorians. The fact that you are 12 times more likely to be homeless in the Territory. They’re are really important things to keep in the back of your mind when you talk about those election asks. Now, one of the election asks Is the cost of living, and you would really like the different political parties to take a closer look at this and how you might be able to reduce the cost of living for Territorians here.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Well we know for people who are now on what we call JobSeeker, which used to be called the Newstart allowance, we know that they are doing it really tough. We’ve heard from families firsthand that at the end of the week, they’re asking themselves: do I actually get my child’s medicine or do I get the cereal for next week? So these are people who are already living below the poverty line and they need every bit of support they can. I also want to highlight the issue for Aboriginal communities who are living in remote. And I myself have worked in a number of those communities, and the price for fresh fruit and vegetables is absolutely excessive. So that we know that it can cost up to double the amount if you’re in a remote community than if you went to our local Woolies here in Darwin and purchased fruit and vegetables. And you then wonder: why are there poorer health outcomes there?

KATIE WOOLF:                      I was going to say that’s exactly right. Then you talk about those health outcomes, and we know that being able to access fruit and veg, and well-priced food that’s good for you has a huge part to play.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Absolutely. Absolutely. So that’s why we – I mean one of the concrete asks for us is around a concession scheme to say that people who are on JobSeeker or Youth Start should be eligible for this concession, and that would mean things like the electricity bill, they could get a concession on that. Motor vehicle registration, spectacles – and whilst that might not sound like a lot, all of that stuff adds up when you’re counting every dollar.

KATIE WOOLF:                      Yeah, for sure. Now there’s five in total. There is five election asks. The second one is child protection and youth justice. This is something that I think has impacted more Territorians and more young people in the Territory than what we probably realise.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Absolutely. And what we know is that the current Government has had some very good outcomes here. I think what we hear from mainstream media is that we need to be tough on crime, that children are out of control, when actually the evidence just does not bear that out. So what we know is that almost 74 per cent of young people who undertook Youth Justice Conferences through police diversion did not re-offend. So that means the majority of people who are undertaking these diversion programs are not going on to commit more crime. What we need is an investment in these reforms, long term, so that we can get better outcomes for our kids.

KATIE WOOLF:                      And then we go on to Aboriginal justice. I know that you’d like to see some movement there as well.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Absolutely. That’s been a very, very well thought out, lengthy consultation process across the Territory with every Aboriginal remote community that has spoken to us about what they need to be able to get good reforms. What we want is we want to see empowerment for our Aboriginal leaders to participate in a program, and in any service that impacts their communities.

KATIE WOOLF:                      Now one of the big concerns – and it is something that you touched on a little earlier – is domestic, family and sexual violence. It’s quite prevalent in the Northern Territory and again a lot of people don’t realise, do they?

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         No, they don’t realise. And in fact if you were to look at the numbers you would be startled to see how much domestic, family and sexual violence is prevalent in the Northern Territory. And it’s a complicated issue. So people are saying, why haven’t you found the solution? The Government’s come up with a ten-year plan. What we know is we’re very early days into this plan. And when you’ve got complex problems you need to invest in- you need to invest in the actual plan that’s been produced.

KATIE WOOLF:                      Yeah.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         And change takes time.

KATIE WOOLF:                      Deborah, have you seen an increase in domestic violence or has it been reported, even anecdotally, to guys through COVID-19 and through the lockdowns and that type of thing? Have there been additional worries in this space?

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         That’s an excellent question. We’re actually doing some research now. We’ve heard mixed reports. Some people are saying we’re incredibly concerned about COVID-19. We haven’t gone to lockdown yet. But if that were to happen here, for some women home is the least safe place that you can be. So the question for the service providers was how will they access the refuge? How will they call the police if they’re in lockdown?

KATIE WOOLF:                      That’s so bloody sad isn’t it? It’s such a difficult situation for some women to be in.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Absolutely.

KATIE WOOLF:                      And then I know that the fifth thing that you are certainly wanting the Government to take a closer look at is climate justice. What exactly would you like to see in this space?

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         So we’ve got two key asks. We’re asking for government to implement legislation to ensure that by 2030 we’re at 50 per cent renewables and that we know is very easy to achieve, and we want zero emissions by 2050. We are living in a fantastic place in the Territory. We’ve got space. We’ve got wind. We’ve got sun. We’ve actually got a competitive advantage here and we should take every opportunity to avail ourselves of that.

KATIE WOOLF:                      Now I’m fairly sure Labor and the CLP have both committed to this but I will double check on that. I did have Terry Mills in earlier this morning, I’ll make sure that we ask him that one as well. You know, it is something, particularly when you talk about climate change, it’s something that a lot of people are concerned with.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         For sure and I would say they have committed to it. But no party to date has committed to introducing legislation to ensure it happens.

KATIE WOOLF:                      Okay. So they’ve said in their policy they’d like it to happen but actually making that happen is a different matter.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Exactly.

KATIE WOOLF:                      We’re always keeping an eye on them look with that kind of thing, Deborah.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Thanks.

KATIE WOOLF:                      Now let’s talk about the National Day of Action on raising the rate of JobSeeker, I know that that is actually today. So it is that National Day of Action really calling for the rate of JobSeeker to be lifted for good.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Absolutely. And across the country every COSS is running the campaign to say that we do not want people to be living in poverty any longer. We all know that $40 a day isn’t enough. And we hear the rhetoric often about the best way to get out of a JobSeeker situation is to get a job. Well when you’ve got, for every 16 people who are looking for employment there’s only one job, we know that that doesn’t work. We also know that we’re living in a country where we want people to live with dignity and to be able to have enough to pay for their essential items. And in the Territory we’ve got 16,000 people who are living below the poverty line and what we’ve seen from our services across the Territory is that people actually don’t need financial counsellors anymore because they’ve got enough money to be able to pay for their bills, and to be able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables.

KATIE WOOLF:                      Yeah, I was going to ask you whether you’ve found that there’s been much of a difference in this space. Following on you know, obviously through COVID-19 and I know that a lot of people have struggled in terms of work. And if they haven’t lost their jobs you know, they’re maybe only keeping their job due to JobKeeper. But obviously in term we have seen an increase in the rate of JobSeeker which was a good thing and has been a good thing for a lot of people. How do you reckon we’re going to go when that JobKeeper- when it does end? And we don’t know exactly when that’s going to happen at this point but do you think that that’s going to make a difference?

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         It will make a huge difference. It’ll push people further into poverty and in many cases social isolation. We also know that we’ve got an economy at the moment – particularly in the Territory – that is struggling.

KATIE WOOLF:                      Yeah.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         And all of that extra money that people have is going straight into your local business next door and your local grocer so that they can continue to pay their bills so it makes absolute sense that if you want to boost the economy, you make sure that you keep the JobSeeker payment.

KATIE WOOLF:                      Yeah, and I think it’s a really tough one. I know that a lot of us can be quite harsh. I’m someone who is probably pretty tough and thinks you know, go out and get a job. But we’re now in an environment where it’s really bloody tough to get a job.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         Absolutely. Yeah. And we know across the country that there aren’t enough jobs for people who need employment.

KATIE WOOLF:                      Yeah. Well Deborah it’s been lovely to speak with you this morning and to give us that perspective. I really appreciate you coming in and I’m sure we’ll catch up with you again before the election.

DEBORAH DI NATALE:         And Katie we really appreciate the opportunity, thank you.

KATIE WOOLF:                      Thank you. Deborah Di Natale there who is the CEO of NTCOSS, which is the Northern Territory Council of Social Service.