Food security has been flagged as a major concern by Central Land Council (CLC), despite measures being implemented across the Northern Territory to address food shortages in the wake of COVID-19.

A statement from CLC on April 2 said if food security is not prioritised, remote community residents may leave biosecurity areas to purchase products in regional areas.

A spokesperson for CLC said high food prices in remote areas can put communities at risk.

“A lack of access to affordable fresh food, as well as the supply of other essential goods like warm clothing and bedding, replacement phones, cleaning equipment and personal hygiene products, means that residents of remote Aboriginal communities under the Biosecurity Act are at an added disadvantage,” the spokesperson said.

“Remote community residents will go hungry and feel the cold in winter or be forced to travel in and out of biosecurity areas to shop in Alice Springs or Tennant Creek, which puts everyone’s health at risk regardless of where they live.”

CLC suggested boosting emergency food relief and establishing an online ordering system for remote services, which would enable them to have access to bulk necessities for services.

“We need immediate freight and/or point of sale subsidies for essential food and other items in remote community stores.”

“We also need a guarantee of supply for these stores so they can reduce their prices and don’t run out of essential supplies.”

Many remote community supplies are dedicated to food security, however CLC is concerned about price inflation and community reliance on these stores.

While ALPA, Outback Stores and Mai Wiru Regional stores have said they will lower their prices during the pandemic, CLC said the issue here is that these prices were already inflated—on average 60 percent higher—before biosecurity areas were established.

“Since then, remote communities are now 100 percent reliant on stores with a spectrum of already inflated prices and limited choice.”


Committed to food supply

Outback Stores, who provide service to 40 remote communities within the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia, are trying to combat the effects of the pandemic on food supply.

The company is maintaining reasonable stock levels across most stores by increasing deliveries, anticipating demand and purchasing two extra stock builds to receive and store food stock.

Outback Stores has also recorded an increase in sales.

“It’s a sign people are listening to the call from community leaders to avoid travel and ‘stay on Country’ to prevent the infectious virus from entering remote communities,” said Outback Stores CEO, Michael Borg.

“We want to assure people in communities that while some items may sell out, there is enough food, supplies and goods for everyone—there is no cause for alarm.”

Outback Stores has experienced supply issues with fresh produce, however, they are attempting to ensure pricing is kept close to major supermarkets.

The Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation (ALPA) are also making moves to secure food in remote communities.

The ALPA Disaster Management Committee (ADMC) and ALPA Merchandise Team are meeting regularly to ensure daily contact with suppliers.

“Our stores are well stocked at this time of year despite the global pandemic due to annual routine wet season stock preparations. This has provided extra food security for our customers,” said ALPA CEO, Alastair King.

“We are very pleased that our remote customers are not ‘panic buying’ which has also allowed us to maintain stock.”

With regards to CLC’s pricing concerns, ALPA Retail General Manager, Michael Dykes, said the company is not in the business of price gouging.

“We … will be avoiding suppliers that are trying to take advantage of this situation by increasing prices,” he said.

Both Outback Stores and ALPA are reducing pricing on 60 key products across stores.

Last week, Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, hosted a roundtable discussion with Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Michael Gunner, and representatives from ALPA, Islanders Board of Industry and Service (IBIS), Outback Stores, Coles, Woolworths and Metcash.

The National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) established a Food Security Working Group in conjunction with the roundtable to closely monitor specific issues facing regional and remote Australia.

By Rachael Knowles