THE Indigenous Affairs Committee tabled its report on food pricing and food security in remote Indigenous communities on December 7..
The report found that food costs were very high in many remote communities, reinforcing long-held concerns regarding food security for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who are living remotely, however it did not find evidence of systemic price-gouging taking place in remote community stores.
Julian Leeser MP, Chair of the Committee, said, "Food security issues for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are not new. For many people living remotely, food security is a constant concern. The supply of quality and affordable food is often unstable due to poor infrastructure, seasonal changes, the high costs of living and operating stores remotely.
"However, despite these challenges, the Committee also learned that there is a very good story to be told about what happened in remote communities this year during COVID-19. We have an opportunity to harness some of the lessons of the Supermarket Taskforce and the Food Security Working Group that were established this year in response to this pandemic and can build on the networks and goodwill generated through that process.’
The report recommends several measures to build on the cooperative momentum of 2020 including:
- real-time price monitoring and a disclosure mechanism through a point of sale data system across all remote community stores.
- a national scheme of licensing and inspection of remote community stores.
- support for local food production schemes and enterprises.
- maintaining the Food Security Working Group established during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mr Leeser noted that while the committee did not find evidence of price-gouging, the persistent disquiet on the matter meant that allegations should be further considered and settled by a body equipped to do a thorough, forensic examination of what is taking place.
"It is important to acknowledge that this is the third time this matter has been examined in recent years and none of those inquiries has resolved the concerns about food prices and security that have been expressed," he said.
"Consequently, complaints concerning food pricing need to be examined by a body that is equipped to do the thorough, forensic examination that will satisfy the public. That is why the Committee is recommending these matters be investigated by the ACCC undertaking an enhanced market study which they have never done in remote communities."
The report also recommended measures to improve governance and oversight of community stores, to develop a national food security and nutrition strategy, and to encourage more competition between remote store management groups.
The report makes 16 recommendations to government and can be accessed and downloaded from the inquiry website.