Northern Territory Council of Social Service

NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale speaks to ABC Alice Springs about cuts to the Coronavirus Supplement

The Federal Government is planning to cut the Coronavirus Supplement on September 25, reducing incomes of people on JobSeeker by $300 per fortnight. Unless the Government steps in, the Supplement will be removed entirely at the end of December, sending the incomes of people on JobSeeker down to the appallingly low old Newstart rate of just $40 per day.


A recent Deloitte report found that if the Government cuts the Coronavirus Supplement on September 25 and then fully removes the Supplement at the end of December, this would reduce the Territory economy by $348 million and see a loss of an average 2,549 Full-Time Equivalents jobs.


NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale spoke with ABC Alice Springs Breakfast Presenter Stewart Brash:

Stewart Brash (ABC Alice Springs) –  Are you receiving welfare at the moment and because of that and because of the COVID 19 supplement, are you getting an expanded amount of money in your bank balance?


Now of course the Newstart payments was changed to JobSeeker and at the end of this month we’re told it’s about to wind back down. It could see a reduction of people’s incomes of around 300 dollars a fortnight.  NT Council of Social Service is concerned about this.  Deb Di Natale is the CEO locally.   Deb good morning to you.


Deborah Di Natale (CEO NTCOSS) –  Good morning Stewart.


Stewart Brash – How much impact will this have on people’s back pockets.


Deborah Di Natale – Oh it’s going to have a significant impact on people’s back pockets. I mean you talk about the 300 dollars a fortnight but our Deloitte report is talking about the impact across the Northern Territory.


And we know that 33,835 people in the Northern Territory are receiving the supplement. So it’s really keeping the entire economy ticking over. And if we cut this supplement it’s going to see the NT lose $348 million over the next two years. And we all know by living here that we can’t afford to have anything other than stimulus in our economy at the moment.


Stewart Brash – Is it purely on the basis that government needs to be thinking about budget repair. I mean do they not have a point that at some point we do need to taper down this amount?


Deborah Di Natale – Yeah I think there’s a lot of talk about how can the Federal Government afford this. This is an increased rate. We should be talking about budget repair. But the severity and possible duration of the current recession is precisely why the Morrison government needs to maintain this fiscal stimulus. The Federal Government’s growing debt doesn’t come from spending on stimulus measures like the corona virus supplement. It comes from a weak economy and the resulting lack of spending and lack of taxes.


Stewart Brash – Do you have a sense from the Deloitte work how many jobs it might affect?  Because at the moment there are a lot of people obviously there are no there are no jobs to be done, they just can’t get work in tourism and hospitality, even though we have some tourism, it’s in the doldrums.  Do we know how many jobs this is protecting by continuing. If you were to continue to supplement at the same rate as it’s been.


Deborah Di Natale – Well we know that the Deloitte report in its modelling has told us that across the Territory we’re talking more than two and a half thousand jobs. And when you look at our population that is a significant amount for the Northern Territory. And we can’t afford to lose those jobs.


Stewart Brash – Do we have a sense of where those jobs would be protected.  Are they in hospitality? Are they in tourism?


Deborah Di Natale – Oh look it would be across a whole range of things; hospitality; tourism.  We need every measure we can to ensure that we can sustain those. I mean I know that myself, we were very lucky to be recipients of the voucher for tourism and we went on one of those tours across Kakadu and the owner and operator said to us that they were very close to shutting down. So it’s actually quite sad to hear people who have been living in the Territory and running a business are really at the point of needing every bit of stimulus they can to keep their doors open.


Stewart Brash – So how much will it cut, if the plan goes ahead for September, I think 24, 25, how much will the taper be for recipients?


Deborah Di Natale – Well the recipients they’re looking at less than half come September.


And when we think about where that money’s going and where the 33,835 people living in the Territory are spending their money, what we know is that there’s been a 75 per cent increase, since the supplement came in, in terms of store sales of food. So people are now able to buy healthy fresh fruit and vegetables. So in terms of the actual money amount, the Deloitte report has only has only come up with the broad brush which is of 348 million, but you could drill that down and say that’s gonna be a significant amount month by month.


Stewart Brash – People receiving benefits out bush,  people with English as a second language,  how well do you think the government has done at messaging that these changes are coming?  Because people will see in their accounts a big reduction come next month, do you think the messaging is even getting out there to people with English as a second language?


Deborah Di Natale – That’s a really good point Stewart. I have never seen anything in terms of people who are speaking a second language out bush be delivered in a way that is appropriate.  So I would say that having seen a number of these measures, in terms of any social security payment across recipients who are living in remote Aboriginal communities, done well.  It’s really a problem in terms of not being able to communicate across those languages and to be able to get out bush and do things personally.


Stewart Brash – Very briefly before we hit the news, people have more access to cash at the moment we’re hearing about grog running, the increase in Centrelink payments have been  allowing people to go and buy up and bring grog into communities. That must be a concern.   Do you have any solution to how that might be dealt with under the Centrelink system?


Deborah Di Natale – Look in terms of the the grog running, I think it makes a really good headline and a quick grab as well, but the data just doesn’t bear that out. So what we need to do is we need to get some evidence about who is spending the money in terms of the grog running.  What we know in terms of these particular supplements is the money is being spent on food and white goods. So I really do reject the notion that the supplement is promoting any type of grog running, but I’m really happy to look at the data.


Stewart Brash – Deb Di Natale. Thank you it’s 9:00.