NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale speaks to the ABCs Adam Steer and Jo Laverty about just some of what the community and not-for-profit sector will be looking for out of the Budget.

As we head into the NT Budget, the Aboriginal Justice Agreement needs to be properly funded.

NTCOSS CEO Deborah Di Natale spoke to the ABCs Adam Steer and Jo Laverty about just some of what the community and not-for-profit sector will be looking for out of the Budget.


ABC Radio Darwin – Adam Steer : It is Budget time again in the Territory. It was only November last year when the Northern Territory Labor Government released their COVID delayed budget, the Chief Minister, Michael Gunner, announced a record budget deficit of $2.45 billion dollars, with a forecast of $8.4 billion for this financial year. We were warned that it would be a long and bumpy road back to budget recovery. So what’s in store tomorrow? Will the government try to find some savings here and there? Deborah Di Natale’s from the Northern Territory Council of Social Service. Happy Greek Easter to you

NTCOSS CEO – Deborah Di Natale : Thank you.

Adam Steer : Spending cuts generally not in vogue at the moment. Even the conservative Federal Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, said it’s not a time for austerity last week. Are you expecting a pretty uneventful budget being delivered by the government tomorrow?

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

We’re always hopeful that, in fact, the government has listened to our advocacy and ensures that nobody is left behind. In terms of what we’re expecting and hoping to see in the budget – is that we’re hoping that the social services across the sector will be properly funded.

I think what can happen often is people look at our sector and think that we are just getting money from government. We raise the majority of that money ourselves and we also give $615.5 million straight back into the economy.

So when you hear government and the treasurer saying we actually want our local people to be spending at their local IGA, going to their Woolies, going to a restaurant at the waterfront, that money is coming from their employees in the social services sector. And we also employ more people than mining.

Adam Steer : Well, this is your opportunity for a wish list ahead of the budget. So what do you want to see tomorrow? What would you like to see?

Deborah Di Natale : Look, one of the outstanding things we are really hoping to see is a funding model that properly funds the Aboriginal Justice Agreement.

The Aboriginal Justice Agreement has had over three years of extensive consultation in 160 communities across the Northern Territory.

We often hear everybody, all sides of government and the community talking about the fact that we have an issue with crime. We really need to get this right.

This is a road map to get this right.

So my first thing to the NTG 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.

Adam Steer : When you say properly funded, what do you mean by that exactly?

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 : And is that extra staff? What exactly is that $6 million going to pay for that?

$6 million dollars does a whole host of things. Firstly, it’s, it’s good to acknowledge that the Aboriginal Justice Unit only has about three staff. That is insufficient to be able to deliver what we need to deliver across the whole of the Northern Territory, when you’re thinking about even travel costs for remote communities. The other thing that it does is it funds law and justice groups – we’re identifying communities where what we can do is we can get Aboriginal leadership to participate in the justice model.

It also looks at an anti-racism strategy across the whole of the Northern Territory.

All of these things require staff, infrastructure and without being properly funded, this agreement will just be words.

ABC Radio Darwin – Jo Laverty : And what do the taxpayers get out of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement at a cost of $40 million over seven years?

Deborah Di Natale – What the taxpayers get is a long-term saving model.

When you have a look at the rates of incarceration, when you have a look at what we’re doing to our children in detention centres, when you have a look at what Don Dale is costing, this is a long-term measure that will actually a) reduce crime b) provide Aboriginal communities with agency and c) provide a better future for those kids out there.

So what we’re going to see is a safer community and something that costs less long-term

Jo Laverty – With some of the moves by both the Government and the Opposition to try and change bail laws, for example, discussions about whether or not to raise the age of criminal responsibility. And the answer to that is a resounding no. Do you feel like you’re going to see what you want in regards to the Aboriginal Justice Agreement out of this year’s budget?

Deborah Di Natale – I would like to think that there are some people in Cabinet, particularly the Attorney General, who has seen the evidence and will be fighting in Cabinet to ensure that we get an evidence based model that provides the best outcome for Aboriginal people and for the community at large.

Jo Laverty – The rental market is extremely tight at the moment. Even people with lots of money are finding it very difficult to even find a place to rent. Is there enough social and affordable housing in the Territory? And what do you hope to see in the Budget in regards to that?

Deborah Di Natale – That’s a really good question Jo and something I wanted to bring up. Housing in the Northern Territory is extremely expensive.

One of the things I do know is that if you live in the Northern Territory, you’re 12 times more likely to be homeless than if you live in any other state or territory.

What I would like to see is an investment in social housing by the government.

The other thing that this does is, it generates jobs because what you do is your you’ve got a model in terms of construction and you’re also providing a really good outcome for people who need it most. So it really is a win win for government.

I would like to see our Chief Minister follow the guide that the Premier in Victoria took in relation to social housing. The Victorian government understands this. In their last budget, they committed $5.3 billion. That’s $5.3 billion, not million, billion dollars to construct new homes. Think about the employment and the incredible social benefits that derive from that.

Jo Laverty : The Northern Territory Government is already doing a lot in the in the space of affordable housing. So a difference between affordable housing and public housing, of course, and that there is a lot of work behind the scenes going on with affordable housing. Do you think it’s not enough?

Deoborah Di Natale : I think when you’re when you are walking around and the homelessness rates are here, as in the whole of the Territory, are higher than anybody else, it does need to be a priority.

Jo Laverty : You’ve also called for free menstrual hygiene products to be made available in the Northern Territory. The education minister has already announced that for schools back in March. Do you want to see that program expanded beyond schools, perhaps into offices and and other spaces?

Deborah Di Natale : We would like to see that program expanded, but we also want to congratulate the Government on its initiative for starting that in schools, which we think is a really positive outcome. And we thank the Minister for that.

Jo Laverty : I hope they’re talking about menstrual cups as well as talking about tampons and pads and the like, because how much better are they for the environment than disposable stuff? Thank you so much for your time. And we’ll catch up with you again after the budget has been announced to get your review.

Deborah Di Natale : Thank you. Thank you. Bye bye.

Thanks. Deborah Di Natale is the actual CEO, of the Northern Territory Council of Social Service.