NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale speaks to ABC Darwin’s Jo Laverty about the 2020/21 NT Budget.

NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale spoke to ABC Darwin’s Jo Laverty about the 2020/21 NT Budget.

This Budget was delivered in difficult economic times, but the NT can not be the comeback capital without the community sector.

The not-for-profit and community sector is essential to the Territory’s economic and community resilience. We contribute $3.26 billion to the NT economy and employ more than 10,000 people, and while we welcome the maintenance of funding to the Sector, the urgency of the reforms in Aboriginal Justice, in Domestic Violence, or in Social Housing are not less because times are tough.

The Chief Minister cannot forget the not-for-profit sector if he wants the Territory to make a strong recovery.


Read the full transcript below.



Jo Laverty ABC Darwin : There were some other very interesting things to say about the budget in my conversation earlier with Michael Gunner. If you missed it, by the way, it is on Facebook, on ABC Darwin Facebook. We did it live, so you’re able to go back and watch the whole thing, if you like. One of the quotes, and I think for me it was one of the most powerful things that he said, was about a very big challenging financial issue and how to fix it.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner : There’s just no room for error. We have to close the gap like it’s not just good policy, it’s not just the right thing to do for people who are living in some pretty awful conditions and are vulnerable, it cost us a fortune. We have to find a way to genuinely close the gap.

Jo Laverty : So there you go. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s costing us a fortune.

So what is in the budget that helps address poverty and closing the gap? Deborah de Natale, who is the CEO of Northern Territory Council of Social Services, has been going over the books as well. First of all, Ms Di Natale, what did you make of the Chief Minister’s comment there?

Deborah Di Natale CEO NTCOSS : Very, very pleased to hear the Chief Minister talking about closing the gap. And the Chief Minister is absolutely right. It is costing the Territory a fortune. We have been talking about this for generations and now it’s time for action. So when you say, what is my response, I say the Chief Minister is 100 per cent right on that.

Jo Laverty : We’ve been talking about it for generations, as you say. It’s a long time to talk about it and yet we’re still in a position where it’s costing hundreds of millions of dollars every single year. Just how optimistic are you that it’s going to be addressed adequately in the coming years?

Deborah Di Natale : Well, it’s a difficult situation for the government because we’ve come out of budget repair, we’ve had COVID, we’ve had a GST drop, so we certainly understand that there are not a lot of funds.

But we want to also say that this government has been making some real inroads in terms of social policy areas. And one of those areas that really matches the closing the gap is the Aboriginal Justice Agreement. We haven’t seen a commitment in terms of money to implementing that yet, but we are hopeful that with those comments that the Chief has made, that there will be some funding towards this particular agreement which would see us engaging and supporting Aboriginal leadership.

It would see us reduce the reoffending and imprisonment rates of Aboriginal Territorians and improving justice responses. And when we do all of those things, we will see long term savings in the budget.

Jo Laverty : What are we up to with the Aboriginal Justice Agreement? It’s been a while. The last time I checked, it was still in consultation, period.

Deborah Di Natale : Yes, well in, that will be out in December.

It’s gone through 151 different remote communities. So the consultation process has been incredibly thorough. And we’ve come up with a whole number of guiding principles and a whole number of recommendations. And they’re staged so that the government can, say, can fund stage one and then stage two. So I would expect a lot of talk around how we’re going to fund this come December 2020 for the budget that comes out in 2021.

Jo Laverty : Yeah, I didn’t see anything in the Budget for Aboriginal Justice Agreement at this time. So I guess we’ll have to look at that when it comes out. Was there anything else in this budget that piqued your interest?

Deborah Di Natale : Look, there are a number of things that that we were, piqued our interest of course.

I do want to say that we were glad to see, in what is a very difficult budget, that our funding was maintained. And the Chief was right when he said that cuts to frontline services – and those services that our NGOs and our members offer the community are essential, are needed – that funding needed to be maintained. You don’t grow the economy by cutting frontline services, so that was pleasing to see.

What I do think was a disappointment was the fact that it was a real missed opportunity in terms of creating some economic stimulus and funding social housing.

Jo Laverty : Yeah, well, one of the reports here from the Department of Territory Families, Housing and Community say that in remote public housing, tenants who live in appropriately sized housing, that there’s only 46 per cent of tenants actually live in a house that’s appropriately sized. It says massive overcrowding is still a real problem. And if you have a look at the Department of Education, school attendance for Aboriginal children is still not at the same levels as it is for non Aboriginal children. In preschools, Aboriginal attendance is at 56 per cent for non Aboriginals, it’s 87. Primary, middle and senior Aboriginal attendance is 63 per cent, and non Aboriginal is 88 per cent.

Here’s here’s a figure, though, that you would probably like, Deborah Di Natale, is that those who actually get to do the Northern Territory Certificate of Education and Training, which is where you finish year 12, the certificate that you get when you finish Year 12, it’s on par, so non Aboriginal and Aboriginal people both graduate with that certificate, those who make it that far, at a rate of 98 per cent.

Deborah Di Natale : Yeah, that is good news, but what is not good news is that in terms of educational outcomes, what we know is that the biggest indicator of young kids not getting to school is actually overcrowded housing. So that is why the housing issue needs to be addressed. And that will have a direct impact in terms of educational outcomes for Aboriginal kids in remote communities.

Jo Laverty : And it goes on, that overcrowding would affect some of these figures as well from Territory Families, Housing and Communities, that in 2019 /20 there were 25,500 child protection notifications received. That’s an appalling figure.

Deborah Di Natale : Absolutely appalling considering our population. I agree.

Jo Laverty : Well, I’m sure that you’ll be going over those budget details with a fine tooth comb just a little bit more in the coming days. Thank you very much for your time this morning.

Deborah Di Natale : Thank you, Jo. I appreciate it. Happy NAIDOC week.

Jo Laverty : Oh, and you too. Bye bye. Deborah Di Natale there, who is the CEO of Northern Territory Council of Social Services.