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NTCOSS critical of lack of funding for restorative and domestic violence services in NT budget

Dechlan Brennan -

A coalition of Northern Territory social services has criticised the funding delivered in the Northern Territory budget, arguing it causes major disquiet for the community sector whilst seeming to only offer more police and prisons to help tackle community safety. 

The NT government announced 'Budget 2024' on Tuesday, focusing on delivering on a 'common sense plan to lower crime and get more Territorians into work'.

Chief Minister and Treasurer, Eva Lawler, said her government was "delivering record amounts to support police and fully fund our schools".

This includes $1.2 billion in funding for public order and safety, and $723 million in "social protection to build safer and more resilient communities," Ms Lawler said.

However, the NT Council of Social Services (NTCOSS) was critical on Tuesday, saying there was no additional community sector funding being directed to solutions with proven track records of improving community safety. 

These include drug and alcohol programs, mental health services, community youth programs and workforce education. 

NTCOSS said there was no recognition that the biggest safety issues in the NT continues to be domestic and family violence, with chief executive Sally Sievers arguing the budget “provides a false sense of security to Territorians, that community safety will be achieved only by more police and prisons".

“The whole community, and crucially the community sector in all its diversity, provides services that do the prevention and early intervention work that can ensure young people do not become involved in the criminal justice system,” she said. 

Anglicare NT chief executive, Craig Kelly said evidence showed locking up children didn’t work and only led to recidivism and more crime. 

Last year, the NT raised the age of criminal responsibility to 12-years-of-age, but has seen spates of violence which lead to a three week youth curfew in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) in March. 

“We should invest in what works, such as the SHAK Youth Hub that Anglicare NT operates with CAAPS Aboriginal Corporation,” Mr Kelly said. 

Legal organisations, including the Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) have criticised the direction of spending in the NT, which they argue has focussed heavily on police and prisons, and not on diversionary policies. 

NTCOSS said other successful programmes that had significantly reduced crime by restorative means in the NT included Groote Eylandt’s Law and Justice Group, the Springs Life Skills program in Alice Springs for women, and the Jesuit Social Services’ restorative justice conferences.

“We welcome the increase in funding of $30 million over two years in the 2024 Budget to implement the NT domestic, family and sexual violence reduction framework,” NTCOSS said in a statement, “but it is nowhere near the $180 million minimum the NTG [Northern Territory Government’s] own mapping report said was required".

“NTCOSS is greatly concerned that despite the budget acknowledging that the social and community sector along with the public service was the second biggest contributor to the economy, no additional funding was provided to support community sector sustainability, nor were there any initiatives to support attraction and retention.”

Head of Operations for NT Shelter, Annie Taylor, said access to safe and affordable housing and domestic, family, and sexual violence (DFSV) was “linked.”

“It is an indictment on our housing system that women and children are forced to return to violent situations to avoid homelessness,” she said. 

“NT Shelter and our partners in Tennant Creek would have liked to see an urgent feasibility study exploring options for transitional housing for women and children escaping DFV in Tennant Creek.”

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