On May 21, Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, requested the Indigenous Affairs Committee to launch an inquiry into food prices and food security in remote Indigenous communities.

The inquiry was pushed by concerns of the overpricing of food and limited access and supply, which in turn contributes to poverty and poor health in communities.

Committee Chair and Liberal MP for Berowra, Julian Leeser, spoke on the importance of the inquiry to ensure equity in food access and price. He is encouraging submissions from those affected.

“There have been significant reports of very high food and grocery prices in remote communities and issues around the secure supply of fresh food,” said the Minister.

“The inquiry will look at the situation in remote Indigenous communities, and the effect of supply chains and local businesses on the cost of food. The inquiry will also look at the role of regulators in dealing with the situation.”

The inquiry’s first public hearing took place on June 11. The committee heard from the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) and the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO).

“As the national Indigenous policy agency, NIAA will play a central role in formulating the Government’s approach to dealing with this issue,” said Minister Leeser.

“The ANAO has conducted detailed audits of Government activities and initiatives in remote food security. Both of these witnesses have valuable insights and expertise to bring to the inquiry.”

NIAA was heard from again at the commission’s second public hearing, along with retailer, Outback Stores.

“Outback Stores are supporting about 40 remote stores and we look forward to discussing the management and governance of these businesses and how this contributes to a secure supply of affordable and healthy food for their communities,” Minister Leeser said.

Outback Stores CEO, Michael Borg, was present at the hearings.

“We are excited to be working closely with the committee in the coming weeks … [by] sharing information that could benefit this review with an aim to see successful outcomes for our industry in future,” he said.

“Our main focus in recent years has been driving prices down on high volume staple products such as fresh fruit and vegetables, flour, fresh milk, bread, powdered milk, UHT milk, eggs, Weetbix, oats, rice, diet soft drink, bottled water and other key items including nappies and baby formula.

“Traditionally, a lot of focus has been placed on freight when discussing pricing and food security in remote community stores and whilst this cost is significant, it’s easy to overlook the inevitable issue of high operating costs.

“Staffing, housing, travel, insurance, power, repairs, maintenance, accounting, governance, supporting services as well as high cost of goods are all significant factors that any reliable and professional operator needs to incur whilst managing in remote environments.”

The commission is welcoming submissions in written, audio and/or video format until June 30.

“I strongly encourage Indigenous people and people in the food and grocery industry to make a submission to the inquiry,” said Minister Leeser.

The inquiry is scheduled to table its final report by October 30.

By Rachael Knowles