Indigenous Committee Report

09 December 2020

 I rise to make my contribution to the food pricing and food security in remote Indigenous communities report, which was tabled in the House. I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which this parliament sits and all other places in this country. I acknowledge elders past, present and emerging as the custodians of the longest-living culture in the world and that this was, is and always will be Aboriginal land. I'd like to start by acknowledging and thanking the committee members for their work during this inquiry, especially the work of the chair, the member for Berowra, and the deputy chair, the member for Lingiari. Mr Leeser and Mr Snowdon have guided and pursued the evidence for the set of recommendations we have before us with professionalism and passion. From my behalf, it has truly been a pleasure to learn so much from both of you. I also acknowledge the bipartisanship and friendship of the other committee members; the member for Newcastle, who is with us today, and the members for Longman and Curtin. I'd also like to especially acknowledge the work of the secretariat during this hearing. Their dedication and support, as always, was exemplary.

The need for this report grew out of the circumstances of panic-buying and pressures on supply chains that were evident through the early months of 2020. I am sure there were extra challenges for the secretariat as they dealt with the disappointment that we could not visit many communities in person. When an extensive trip was planned and then had to be cancelled at the last minute, it was Kilian and his team who dealt directly with the communities to explain why. I thank all of the communities and interested parties for their generous and warm invitations to visit. Hopefully, at some point in the future, when the health advice warrants it, I can visit and see firsthand what the committee heard about in evidence. The emergence of COVID-19 and the global pandemic that followed changed not only travel plans for this committee but also our way of life. It has clearly put into perspective the ways that life is difficult and precarious for many people, especially if there is little or no work or just casual work, and there are the challenges of distance and broken supply chains.

This is the second inquiry into food security by the parliament in 11 years. Like the closing-the-gap targets, little has changed or improved for the Australian Aboriginal people who live in remote communities. I urge the government to implement the recommendations in this report as soon as it is practicable and have parliament make meaningful changes to the lives of those living in remote Australia. The first recommendation made by the committee is for the Treasurer to direct the ACCC to undertake an enhanced market study into food and grocery prices in remote stores. This is a critical recommendation as it addresses the consumer protection laws that have led to egregious price gouging in some remote communities. Everyone deserves access to fresh, nutritious food, they deserve to be able to pay a reasonable price for it, and they deserve to have the means to pay for it. The committee heard evidence that the health and choices of communities improved significantly when the rates of income support like JobSeeker were raised because they could then afford to buy fresh food.

The committee also heard evidence from a number of shops and suppliers that, at the peak of the panic buying in supermarkets in cities across the country, orders they had made were often only 40 per cent delivered and quite often not what they really needed in the community. In these communities that means having to wait for another week or two for the next order, not the next day—and it's important to reiterate this point. Amid panic buying, people in cities would have only had to wait a couple of days or less for toilet paper and staple food supplies, but people in remote communities had to wait, at a minimum, a week for these essential supplies. It is important that there is a reliable and affordable supply of food and necessities to outback remote communities. Being able to feed your family is a basic human right.

For me, the evidence that was the most distressing about the lack of reliable food chains and supplies came from an Aboriginal woman elder in a remote community who told us that she fully expects that her children will be hungry for at least three months a year because of the lack of deliveries during the wet season. That is heartbreaking—and, in 2020, it is unacceptable and intolerable in a country like ours. The government and this parliament are obliged to find the means to help all Australians and to ensure that they have access to clean drinking water and sufficient fresh food supplies, so that everyone, no matter where they live, can have their best life. I commend the report to the parliament.