NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale speaks to the ABC’s Jo Laverty and Adam Steer about the NT Budget

NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale spoke to the ABC’s Jo Laverty and Adam Steer this morning about the NT Budget which failed to deliver significant initiatives or leadership that will make inroads into the Territory’s poverty or disadvantage.


This was the Budget to deliver the long-awaited Aboriginal Justice Agreement, but it has been left unfunded. Instead the Budget focussed on crisis response, when we know the greatest difference for the community can be made through early support and prevention.



ABC Darwin – Adam Steer : When we spoke with the CEO for the Northern Territory Council of Social Services, Deborah Di Natale on Monday, there was one thing at the top of her budget wish list, funding for the Aboriginal Justice Agreement.

Recording – Deborah Di Natale : So my first thing to the AG would be what we need to see properly funded is the Aboriginal Justice Agreement. What this does, it reflects a partnership between Aboriginal people and the Northern Territory government. And it is a genuine partnership that will reduce crime.

Recording – Adam Steer : When you say properly funded. What do you mean by that exactly?

Recording – Deborah Di Natale : Well, I know that it will cost at least $40 million over seven years. We’re talking about a funded model and a staged model. So what we would expect would be $6 million at a minimum to be delivered tomorrow so that we can implement those recommendations in the first four years.


Adam Steer : So did NTCOSS get its wish? This is what the Chief told us just before 8:00.

Recording – Chief Minister Michael Gunner : The work is still being done on the Aboriginal Justice Agreement. So you can’t cost something that hasn’t been completed. I understand that the Attorney General will complete that work soon. And then we will bring it into cabinet and have a look at it. We’re very supportive of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement and it’ll be very well received in the Cabinet Room once that work’s completed. Welcome back to the studio. What’s your reaction to all of that? What does that mean?


Deborah Di Natale : Good morning, Adam. Good morning, Jo. And good morning to your listeners.

It’s really interesting because I’ve been the co-chair of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement for quite some time, and our understanding was that it is was no longer in draft form. It had been signed off by 160 communities who have come out to tell us what’s needed. The steering committee had signed it off and it’s been sitting on the AG’s desk since January of this year.

So we’re talking about the fact that we knew that the budget was coming. Everybody knows budget day, that’s been set in terms of the parliamentary program for years. So the fact that we haven’t seen this accepted by cabinet and it’s been put off, to me in terms of how I’m feeling about it, very sad because this is a government that’s lost its way.

Adam Steer : What was your reaction yesterday when you realized that there was no pathway, there was no ongoing funding here?

Deborah Di Natale : Look, when I opened the budget papers, I thought maybe I haven’t seen something. Maybe this is a misprint. It can’t be that there hasn’t been a single dollar of new money allocated to this particular program. We have found lots of new money for a whole host of other areas, but we haven’t been able to see any money in terms of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement.

To me, the idea of hearing cabinet ministers saying they’re very supportive, it’s great that they’re supportive, but now we need to implement the strong recommendations that are there or we will be having the same conversation in 20 years time.

Adam Steer : What’s the consequence of not funding it?

Deborah Di Natale : I think the consequence of not funding it is that we’re not going to have solutions.

We’re not living by our own standards in terms of Aboriginal remote communities and providing them with agency.

And also in lots of ways, we have misled those, the most vulnerable, disenfranchised people living in those communities, with hope and expectation that these recommendations would be implemented by government. And now we need to go back and say, actually, there isn’t a single dollar that’s been allocated to this.

ABC Darwin – Jo Laverty : There is money for the Aboriginal Justice Agreement, though. How much was allocated in the budget? Was it $15 million dollars? Am I recalling that correctly?

Deborah Di Natale : $1 million was for last year and it’s about $1 million this year. And it’s funded under what is called an initiative. So it’s not funded under what we would call an accepted program.

And the reason that it hasn’t been accepted by cabinet is because they’ve dragged their heels on this. It’s not as though the agreement, there was more consultation to be done. We’re talking three years, 160 communities across the NT and a solid document that was presented to cabinet.

Jo Laverty : I had been told that it was it was in its final stages by someone who’s very in the know. But I didn’t know it was actually sitting on the Attorney-General’s desk since January.

That’s that’s really indicative of the commitment to the Aboriginal Justice Agreement, that they haven’t worked on it and spoken about it and included in the in the budget.

Deborah Di Natale : Yes. And I just want to shout out to the people who are working in the Aboriginal Justice Unit, that they’ve done years of work on this. And I’m disappointed for them.

But most of all, I’m disappointed for people in community who saw a map, in terms of a road map, to be able to move forward. And we haven’t been able to deliver that in this budget. Does this mean, what are we to do in the next 12 months? I mean, the work has actually been done. Now we need the money to implement.

Jo Laverty : How much did you need again? How much did you say that this was going to take to implement?

Deborah Di Natale : Well, interestingly enough, when we were given our first briefing, we were told $40 million over seven years. We would have been able to do some significant work with $4 million. We were hoping for six. And when I when I constantly asked the question, how much money will there be in this agreement, will we be able to get the $6 million? I was constantly told, in fact, there was a categorical statement made, that it’s not whether there will be money, it’s just a question of how much. So to say zero dollars attached to it, is just a moment where there is disappointment and sadness around what could have happened this year.


Jo Laverty : Well, now that we know that it is completed and has been submitted, we will definitely follow up with the Attorney-General to find out why that hasn’t been accepted and why it hasn’t been budgeted for but one would assume that given, again we were talking about the huge debt position that we’re in, that we just couldn’t afford it.

Deborah Di Natale :Well, the thing is that, interestingly enough, we can afford to pay for the model that we currently have. We know that if children are in detention, that costs $2038 a day. So every time a child is kept in detention, we’re talking $2038 dollars a day. If you times that by 60 kids, the numbers are starting to add up.

When you look at the recommendations that we have, it is actually a cost saving model. So if the government were interested in saving money long-term and getting better outcomes for the community, this would have been the thing to fund overall.

Adam Steer : Overall how did you view the budget in terms of in terms of social services?

Deborah Di Natale : It was hard to see social services being reflected there as a priority.

When you think about the social services sector, $3.26 billion dollars we contribute to the economy. So we are a major driver of the economy. So to see us overlooked was to me, just a short sighted government that doesn’t see the importance of the social services sector.

During COVID we really did all the heavy lifting for people who needed it most and our services are growing.

When you look at domestic, family, sexual violence services, we know that you are more likely to experience that if you live in the Territory than if you live anywhere else and to see that there has not been a significant increase there has been, I would say, an oversight at best.

And the other thing is that, when you have a look at it, and I heard the Chief Minister this morning saying that some of that money was because there was a COVID supplement, even if that is the case, funding business as usual is not going to get us to where we need to be. We’ve got 32 crisis centres across the Territory, none of them adequately funded.

Jo Laverty : I think that there are a lot of hopes being pinned on the Federal government being able to deliver in the area of domestic violence services. And the tone at the moment, federally, one might suspect that there will be something there. So we will wait with bated breath on that. Right. Deborah Di Natale, thank you so much.

Deborah Di Natale : Thank you for the opportunity.