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Effectiveness of state, territory and Commonwealth government policies on regional and remote Indigenous communities

CHAIR —Welcome. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. I now invite you to make a short opening statement. At the conclusion of your remarks, I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Mr Kop —Chair of the Select Committee on Regional and Remote Indigenous Communities, Senator Scullion, and inquiry members, service delivery to Indigenous communities is particularly topical at the moment. Both the Northern Territory and Australian governments are grappling with how to provide effective schooling, housing and health services to remote communities, with the budgetary constraints that apply to all of us. Provision of food security is equally important in the midst of services that remote communities depend on. Without a reliable and affordable supply of healthy food, kids will not get a good education, grow up healthy and strong and contribute to functional regional economies. Without strong community stores, remote towns and communities cannot function as independent, healthy entities.

Outback Stores is trying to provide a critical service as well as build community capacity for the future. This has its challenges, as you would be aware, because we have to implement professional retail practices, cost-effective logistics and governance that position communities for the future while at the same time overcome the cost of decades of neglect of infrastructure, governance and service provision. Compounding this is the rapidly changing policy environment, the fact that we operate out of sight and out of mind of city-based Australians and, like all fundamental change, we occasionally rock the boat and also perhaps have to dodge the rocks that are thrown at us by vested interests.

Outback Stores congratulates the Australian government for its focus on improving the standard of community stores operating in remote communities. We recently contributed a detailed submission to the Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs inquiry into remote community stores, to which I refer this committee for details of the operations of Outback Stores. In terms of your focus on the effectiveness of community stores, I would like to make a few brief points and then I will be happy to take any questions.

Certainly, through the first 12 months of income management in particular, Outback Stores witnessed a refining of the implementation and support offered to stores by FaHCSIA. The historical underinvestment in community stores means that many stores we entered had management agreements that were often in a poor state of repair and at times they had very poor governance. This placed additional burdens and costs on our organisation. There was also a need for improved communication. At times we found our store managers were subjected to community frustration and anger and, particularly in the early stages of the rollout, customers had great difficulty in accessing their personal Centrelink balances; there was sometimes the perception that the store had taken over their money. The NTER income management measure, while controversial, was a positive outcome for raising the profile and operational standards of community stores. Thank you for listening to me, ladies and gentlemen, and I certainly welcome any questions you may have.

CHAIR —Thank you.

Senator CROSSIN —Danyelle and Mr Kop, hello. Certainly I know that there has been a House of Representatives inquiry looking into this issue, so you probably feel that you have been giving federal evidence to the federal parliament for months now. I, personally, have certainly been to quite a number of the stores that you now manage and I have to say that I have seen the change—quite a different change. One of the things that Indigenous people say to me is that they like the stores because they look like normal supermarkets. They can relate to, I suppose, the style of display that you have compared with the display in major supermarkets. In that area, do you have assistance from some of the major chains, or do you have that expertise within yourselves?

Mr Kop —We do have assistance from the major chains through being able to acquire assets, such as fixtures to put normal packaged food on. We negotiate with the chains and ask them if, when they do their major refurbishments, we can take their old fixtures, which we see as still being in very good condition, and put them into the community stores; so we have proper racking facilities to be able to stock the stores. There is no agreement at all with the major chains as to supply and freight, so there is more a benevolent view by the major chains to assist.

Senator CROSSIN —Has Outback Stores been in a position, say, in the last two years to do any research, looking at the cost of freight and what impacts on making fruit and vegetables so expensive once you get off the Stuart Highway, either east or west?

Mr Kop —In terms of the cost of fruit and vegetables, Outback Stores believes that it does not subsidise; we are trying to set up a true economic model. If we are to do that effectively, it means that we have to negotiate absolute freight to the maximum capacity. That is normally done in a clustering approach, grouping stores together. I think this is the key to many remote Indigenous stores: they have never had the ability to negotiate as a group and were always on their own; therefore, freight suppliers and suppliers of other goods could then set terms favourable to themselves. When you aggregate communities, you can use that aggregation to set better freight terms. There has been a very good example for us around the Katherine region, where we have just been able to negotiate freight at less than half of what the current cost is.

Senator CROSSIN —Take us through that. How do you do that? Do you get a bulk shipment that goes to Katherine?

Mr Kop —Our stock for the Katherine region comes out of Darwin. We negotiated with two local freight companies specifically in the Katherine region, offering them the freight runs into Barunga, Manyallaluk, Beswick and Bulman, all of which are stores currently managed by Outback Stores. We then negotiated between those two companies a pallet rate to get the best possible freight rate. Because we have proper retail people who understand the costs and who certainly understand the capacity of being able to negotiate, we were able to negotiate some very favourable terms with those suppliers. We usually then deliver into that a delivery mechanism that looks at how often the stores require a load: do they need one on a seven- or perhaps a 10-day basis? We then make sure that the loads are as close as possible to utilise only a single truck going into those communities. So again it is about how you aggregate and negotiate the cost per pallet. Therefore, you get to a true cost of what your freight should be and then have your normal mark-up on your fruit and vegetables.

Senator CROSSIN —In your opinion—I do not know whether Outback Stores have collected any sort of hard evidence about this—are people buying more fruit and vegetables in the stores because they are beginning to realise that it is a healthier option for them, or is it because they are being forced to do that by way of income management and the BasicsCard?

Mr Kop —I would not say that they are being forced by income management. That is certainly not what we are noticing in the stores that we are managing. There are two aspects to it. The first is how you merchandise in a store. That is, if you have fresh fruit and vegetables and a good range on show at the most competitive prices possible, you then give people a choice; it is about providing good choice in the first place. The second area is that we have found that around counters, especially at the point of sale, is not the place to stock such things as confectionary but to put bowls of fruit and vegetables—perhaps boxes of bananas—and, therefore, really use enticing and merchandising techniques for people to be able to get access to good fruit.

The other part we do is to integrate very closely with school nutrition programs, whether that is with breakfast programs or lunch programs, and start providing things such as fruit to those programs quite specifically. So people do have a choice. However, it is also about bringing in that education part with the 5 Program and the 3 and 2, which is a critical part of our being in stores. We certainly have not noticed that, because of income management, people are being forced to buy fruit and vegetables; it is more through merchandising techniques and how we pass on or transfer knowledge.

The other part to your question was specifically around whether we have evidence. We monitor what we call the ‘participation rates’ of fruit and vegetables in the total sales of the store. We measure the amount of fruit and vegetables we sell, in tonnage and in sales, through a particular store and we graph it. We have set a target for ourselves; we want to get to 10 per cent. Currently, we are close to seven per cent; when we came to stores, it was running at about two per cent. So there has been a marked improvement.

Senator CROSSIN —So what are most people in your stores buying?

Mr Kop —Most people tend to purchase more fruit items. There is a high degree of bananas; that is certainly the No. 1 seller. Apples and oranges do sell. Then, in the vegetable lines, very staple type lines tend to be the biggest sellers; potatoes carrots are certainly the biggest sellers.

Senator CROSSIN —Are the other 90 per cent of their purchases a wide range of goods?

Mr Kop —They are a wide range of goods and they go across package grocery lines and dairy lines. As part of the Outback Stores objectives, we also really bring in many more fresh products. We are talking about fresh milk, which may be a lot more difficult. Significant dairy products, such as yoghurts, have lower life codes on them, but it is really ensuring that you are giving a proper choice and range in the store. So it is across those various departments.

Senator CROSSIN —Are your stores managed by a local community committee, or do you just operate now as an enterprise and a business?

Mr Kop —The set-up is that the community owns the store and has a governing committee; Outback Stores operates on a fee-for-service basis for that committee. Although there may be governance issues, certainly Outback Stores does at times have to assist in working through them, in terms of how we deliver money stories to get a clear understanding of where the money is and in being able to deliver such things as other governance requirements such as making sure that annual reports are lodged and things of that nature.

Senator SIEWERT —One of my questions relates to that issue, so I will start there. Does Outback Stores own any stores?

Mr Kop —Yes, it does. Currently we own two stores. There is the Ti Tree store here in the Northern Territory. Outback Stores put up funding of some $550,000-odd, which we then used to set up a store in the Ti Tree region. We did that by leasing an art gallery from its previous owner. We have transformed that into a store and have spoken directly to the Central Desert Shire about formulating an Indigenous committee that we want to hand ownership to; but it was just about how we would actually set up a store. That is one. The other store where we do have a level of ownership of, which is just more by default is Wallace Rockhole. When we brought food security to that community, the community itself did not want to have any ownership of the store; so we came to own it, or more the assets, by default. We are currently working with the community and the shire to see how we hand that over.

Senator SIEWERT —How many other stores are there; and are they are all stores where you have gone in and worked with and for the community to take them over?

Mr Kop —That is right. Outback Stores works on an engagement model and we are certainly not a force entry into a community. We are currently in 27 stores throughout the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. We currently own only two stores and that, as I said, is purely by circumstance and not by our want. The model will always remain one of engagement and on a fee-for-service basis.

Senator SIEWERT —How many are there in the NT?

Mr Kop —I need to do the calculation. We would have 23 in the NT.

Senator SIEWERT —The second submission that we received from you states that the company was set up at a cost of $48.1 million—and I will come back to another issue there in a minute. It also states that Outback Stores were given $29.1 million to help unprofitable stores. Was that $29.1 million on top of the $48.1 million, or does it form part of the $48.1 million?

Mr Kop —No. That was on top of it. Outback Stores has been granted $77 million.

Senator SIEWERT —Is that over the period of time since you opened the first store? You opened the first store in May 2007, didn’t you?

Mr Kop —We opened our first store on 1 November 2006.

Senator SIEWERT —It says that you started trading in 2006.

Mr Kop —That is right. We did not actually have a management agreement with that store. We had our first management agreement in 2007, so I apologise. Numbulwar Canteen Creek was the first store that we entered into. We did not have a management agreement with them, but we have been there since 2006.

Senator SIEWERT —It says here that you were set up by a group of senior retailers drawn from large supermarket businesses, such as Coles Myer and Woolworths, and with support from the federal government via IBA. Does that mean that the people who set up Outback Stores used to work for those supermarket chains and brought with them their retail experience and were not there representing the supermarket chains?

Mr Kop —That is correct. Our board is made up of some very senior retailers across the country, but they are all retired from those chains and they give their time voluntarily to help the Outback Stores organisation.

Senator SIEWERT —You also highlight in your submission that the agreement includes signing up to a business structure that ensures the fair distribution of profits. You have said that you have a community-group board for the stores.

Mr Kop —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —How do you work out a fair distribution of profits with the community and how do you deliver it back?

Mr Kop —We do have some very strict governance rules within Outback Stores that ensure that there are enough funds to ensure that the store’s assets or things of that nature can get repaired. That will vary by store, so it is about the level of investment that is required. Outback Stores makes a decision, which it translates in a very transparent manner, to say that so much of the funds will need to be kept as reserve funds in case anything goes wrong in the store. The funds that are normally left are distributed by community decision. The only policies that we put on top of that is to say that we will not distribute to individuals and it has to be based on what the community wishes to do. In instances we have had communities ask to invest it back into the store, into some pricing; other communities have asked to purchase a bus; and other communities have asked to spend it specifically on social programs, such as sporting carnivals and things of that nature.

Senator SIEWERT —What percentage do you keep to put back into the store, outside of what the community may choose to invest?

Mr Kop —That would vary significantly per store. How much we would need to keep back just in case would depend on the condition of the assets to. Usually that decision is taken on the level of repairs and maintenance or other issues that might be coming from the store.

Senator SIEWERT —How did you decide which communities to work with and in? Did they approach you, or was a store known to be failing you went and contacted them?

Mr Kop —It comes from various sources. In terms of our new business, some stores come through referral methods; some stores we approach and give a story—we have very specific Indigenous relationship people who go to communities to present the Outback Stores story; or a referral might come, through a government agency or an administrator, where a store has run into significant difficulties.

Senator SIEWERT —For example, could a general business manager contact you and say, ‘The store is going under’?

Mr Kop —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —Have you gone into any communities where you are competing with the existing store?

Mr Kop —The only community that we are in where we are competing with the existing store—and it has some strange circumstances—is probably Yuendumu. There, the government built a make-shift store out of the women’s health centre to secure food security because the licence could not be issued to the social club store. So, yes, we are competing against a community store there.

Senator SIEWERT —Is that the only community where that is happening?

Mr Kop —Yes.

CHAIR —I would like to ask a couple of questions about Ti Tree. I am not sure whether you have considered selling fuel in Ti Tree. Obviously you are aware of the circumstances in Ti Tree. I will not call them a competitor, because I think they are a different sort of a service industry; however, it would be fantastic in Ti Tree and it would solve a lot of challenges from parliament rather than from government if you were to sell Opal fuel. Have you considered doing that?

Mr Kop —Yes, we have considered it and I think the fuel is going into Ti Tree next week. It has taken us a little while because we had to establish a deal with Ausfuel. I am pretty certain that it is next week that they are starting to lay the foundations for putting in fuel—and, yes, of course it will be Opal fuel that will go there.

CHAIR —All we need now is a government policy to ensure that all government vehicles fill up at your place rather than at the other.

Mr Kop —I agree. Obviously that would be very good.

CHAIR —I am not sure how legal that is, but I will inquire.

Senator ADAMS —I was going to ask about Ti Tree. I think it is great that you have finally got there and are making inroads with Opal. What about Rabbit Flat? Can you go and sort them out?

Mr Kop —We will try.

Senator ADAMS —I saw your business group when we were in Alice Springs and I was very impressed with what you are doing. Are many of your managers pulling out, or are they staying together in a cohesive group now? How are you going in that respect?

Mr Kop —Labour turnover in Outback Stores is certainly a challenge for us and I think it will continue to be. We are putting people into very difficult circumstances in very remote parts of the country. We recruit people on a value basis, in terms of their integrity and their level of social conscience, with a lower level of degree on their business acumen, although we certainly bring that with them in the training that we provide. But fundamentally we want to make sure that we have people with extremely high moral and ethical standards in that they are being put into a remote community and will be dealing with cash. That does bring its tolls. Many people will volunteer and certain people will struggle. We normally find that, after six months, people either love it and are committed or they have come to the conclusion that it is not something that they wish to continue with. We continue to refine the training programs and our recruitment, regarding how we profile people better, to decrease our labour turnover.

Senator ADAMS —Just on the flexibility of product, what process do you have if a community decides they do not like a product or they want extra products coming into the store? What is the process that they use to inform you of what they want?

Mr Kop —The first part is that, when Outback Stores engages with a community, we put in what we call a core range of goods, which will vary by region. We normally get that level of understanding from looking at the key lines being drawn out of suppliers around that particular area. Once we have established that core range, the committee or any other person in that community has the ability to ask for range additions. Those range additions are discussed with the store manager, the store manager puts them through to the Darwin support office and then additional lines can be ranged. So a community gets input on those things. We normally get a lot of requests but not so much around food products; they tends to be more around what we call general merchandise lines. It could be because a sporting carnival is coming up or a ceremony or other specific things are happening, such as stimulus packages are being released, where washing machines or other things are requested.

Senator CROSSIN —I am not sure that I have seen too many of your stores holding white goods, such as washing machines; I see you more as a grocery outlet. In a number of the towns that I have been in, retailers have asked me why the BasicsCard cannot be used to pay off a lay-by.

Mr Kop —Why it cannot be used for that, I think, is a valid point—and, yes, it certainly cannot be. When it comes to white goods and other large items of general merchandise, normally we provide a booklet at the front counter that has in it a wide range of not only bedding but also white goods and everything else. To actually purchase such goods and store them in a store would tie up a significant amount of the store’s cash, and we do not see that as good management on the store’s behalf. That allows the store, through the store manager, to order any particular item that people want, but we just do not tend to stock those items. You are right: what needs to be on display are your food items, 24-seven.

Senator ADAMS —Do you have a complaints process?

Mr Kop —Yes, we do have a grievance process. Very important in the Outback Stores model are two aspects of grievance process. It is not normal for Indigenous people themselves to raise their grievances directly, so we have supervisory models. Every store has a supervisor and six stores have an area manager, and they are in the stores on a very regular basis. That is the first community contact and they have very good relationships with the community. However, we also have relationship managers; if the community feels that they have an issue that they are not comfortable discussing with anybody else, they can go directly to an Indigenous person—this has happened in the past—who then raises those grievances. Those grievances then get dealt with efficiently. What I mean by that is that sometimes we have had to remove store managers; it was not that they were doing anything wrong but that, quite specifically, the relationship was just not working. So there is a very good grievance process that we do adhere to.

Senator ADAMS —What is your policy for Indigenous people being employed in the stores?

Mr Kop —We have a very strong policy around Indigenous employment. The only non-Indigenous person can be the store manager—and the assistant manager, if they come as a couple. Every other employee must be employed from the community. It depends upon store size, but we normally have anywhere from two up to seven employees from the community.

CHAIR —Since the intervention, I have had, as I am sure has Senator Crossin—because we are the local constituents and we are often in the areas in which you operate—a number of complaints, which have gone back to government and been investigated. Over time, I have to say, you should be commended because the vast majority of those complaints have turned out to be baseless. I think, basically, your organisation does an excellent job. Having stayed and lived in some of the communities and eaten out of some of those stores many years ago, I find it is just like stepping onto Mars to go in now and compare what is there with how it used to be; that is to be commended.

The remaining issue that seems to continue to raise its head is purchasing policy. This is raised by a number of small suppliers—not people who sell directly but wholesalers—who, in the past, used to wholesale a suite of items of which you would be aware: jerry cans, buckets, handlines, hand reels, clotheslines and buckets. I am talking about all of those things—almost a haberdashery—that we used to find in outback stores: billies, camping equipment and all that sort of stuff. A number of those people have said—perhaps because of a monopolisation, although not in the normal sense, or a centralisation of the regulatory and purchasing processes—that they feel left out. They feel left out not so much because they do not compete; it is just that the preferred purchasing policy seems to be to pick one supplier. I have to advocate for businesses and obviously I think that, the more businesses there are, the better the diversity is. Have you had those sorts of submissions and are you doing anything about that issue; or is that just the business marketplace?

Mr Kop —It is a combination. We try to operate very much regionally. For example, if we are in the Katherine region, we will try, as I indicated earlier, to utilise Katherine based freight suppliers and we will use Katherine meats for the meat supply into those stores. In Alice Springs, we use Alice Springs based businesses. So, wherever we are, we always use regional suppliers. The difficulty is—this comes back to my earlier comment—that Indigenous communities have never had the opportunity to get the buying power that everybody else in Australia takes for granted. Anywhere else in the country you have Coles, Woolworths and independent stores to shop in, which all have buying power capacity. All Outback Stores does is provide that buying power on behalf of the communities. To do that effectively, you need to negotiate with a number of suppliers and, the more suppliers you have, the more fragmented that negotiation becomes. That is certainly part of the marketplace.

We do stay regionalised; we do not use national providers. We very much encourage suppliers, when we talk to them, to think about how they can form that level of partnership and think about what the opportunities are. If you have good sales growth out there, there are lots of different opportunities and you are not restricted. We do not have sole supplier agreements with any supplier and, therefore, we can have any agreement. It is just: can that supplier provide affordable quality food into the community? That is the first thing that we will look for. If Outback Stores believes that either the reputation or the quality of a good could be questionable, it certainly would not allow that good to go into communities. But fundamentally it comes back to Indigenous people deserving a right to price.

CHAIR —I think my fundamental question was more about the other products than food, but thank you for the answer. These communities over time have had, I suppose, ideas and leadership in an area. We have seen some of the most magnificent gardens and produce coming from them, and it is very well organised. Some communities in the Northern Territory still produce eggs and some produce vegetables, although it is not commonplace. Does part of your policy or would your policy in the future would perhaps embrace providing a local market for that product? In addition, do you think there are any food standard issues associated with that? You might want to take that on notice, but no doubt that is the sort of issue you would be thinking of because you would still have obligations under the Food Safety Act and those sorts of things. Have you had a look at those things? I am talking about eggs, fish and fruit, which all can be produced locally. What sorts of thoughts do you have on that?

Mr Kop —Certainly we encourage that, when a community does any form of growing. We are in Jilkminggan community and they have a market garden, and we are selling some of their products out of the store. Outback Stores has a view that longer term we need to look at vertical integration, and that is about building the Indigenous economy. As you aggregate the stores and get volume through, what stops us from thinking about how we set up proper Indigenous freight companies? What stops us from having an Indigenous farm that has needs grown and then has the abattoirs attached to and distributing into those communities? Certainly Outback Stores aim would be that, as it continues to grow, we would like to do that. Fundamentally, it is about: let us, firstly, get the food security part right and then make the stores sustainable but then, secondly, think about how you build economic conditions that start driving wealth back into Indigenous communities; and you can only do that by vertical integration.

Senator MOORE —I want to clarify an issue. We visited Milingimbi a couple of days ago and dealt with the ALPA store there. We asked about how they linked in with Outback Stores. Could you just go on the record as to how the ALPA network fits in with Outback Stores?

Mr Kop —ALPA is represented on the Outback Stores board, although they do not tie into any of our supply or other forms of agreement. However, they were a great help to the board in giving an understanding of Indigenous communities and some of the things that we could potentially think about, so there is a relationship certainly from that perspective. We also have a working relationship and we have a memorandum of understanding between the two businesses. For example, if we can assist Indigenous people by, say, purchasing computer software, we would do that between the two companies to ensure that the communities will get the maximum benefit. But we do operate very much as individual businesses, besides those two aspects.

Senator MOORE —The other issue when we were there was to do with the BasicsCard, and that is something that this committee gets very interested in. Something had gone wrong with the telephone line, as happens in remote localities. While that phone was not working, people, could not use BasicsCard. That situation continued throughout the whole day. The stores told us that they would let us know when it had been fixed, but they had no idea of when that would happen. In effect, that stopped business, to a large extent. Even though we know it represents only 50 per cent of transactions and some people had other cash they could use, telling people that they just could not purchase while that connection was down was quite stressful for those working there. Has any thought been given through the networks about working with the departments and whoever else would be involved about coming up with an option for that situation? If a systems failure happens in Darwin, even if you are not able to use any card because the EFTPOS is down, there always seems to be an alternative; but, when you are so far away, there is only the one option. Has there been any discussion about what happens when that kind of thing occurs?

Mr Kop —No, there has not been. I think it would be fair to say that it would be no different with Outback Stores. We are probably at the receiving end of the BasicsCard system, so it is about how you manage that system in the best way possible. We have certainly set up satellite network systems for using telephone and internet connection and getting those types of things effectively into communities and have very good point of sales systems in place for the communities. When an EFTPOS system goes down, regardless of whether it is at the store or the other end, you run into that fundamental problem which I think all people suffer. We have not had a significant outage or certainly it has been very rare for us to have an outage on the EFTPOS system. Our biggest struggle has been more along the lines that people cannot obtain their balances. Although we have tried to provide telephone lines for that, it is very cumbersome. In addition, it is certainly a very shameful process for Indigenous people to find out that they do not have enough money for the good that they are purchasing. We are probably finding that to be a far bigger problem than having an EFTPOS outage.

Senator MOORE —I saw in your submission and also in the ALPA processes that there is a law about no book-up.

Mr Kop —Yes.

Senator MOORE —There are no ifs, buts or maybes; just no book-up?

Mr Kop —There are absolutely no ifs or buts. That is a standard and we discussed that quite openly with community. Outback Stores has some very stringent rules. They are not always what we call the nicest rules, but we believe that they are absolutely imperative for starting off with good governance.

Senator MOORE —What kinds of rules are they? You particularly mention book-up in your submission. When you say ‘other rules’, what kinds of things are they?

Mr Kop —Book-up is one of them. Also we do not pay off old debts. If the community is in a position where it needs to go to special administration or financial administration, it should be doing that. We work with the community. We found, for example, that Bulman community had to go into administration; it is now out of administration and is actually making a profit. Beswick is currently in administration; it is paying off its historical creditors. It is about doing proper business all the way through that. So that is another pretty tough rule because it is about people and communities having to make a really hard decision. I know that is not an easy decision, but we can work through with communities and we are very keen to do so. There other rules around trading hours: we will be open for a minimum number of trading hours, unless there is a ceremony that forces us to close. They are what we call the non-negotiables to ensure that the community has a good starting point.

Senator MOORE —So it is a business.

Mr Kop —It is a business.

Senator MOORE —Do you have food outlets, such as cafes, at all your stores?

Mr Kop —We call them ‘takeaways’. No, not in all of our outlets. They are probably the most difficult areas for us to manage because around them you need very, very strong food safety policies. We do have them in a number of our outlets where they have been established already, but they are certainly a very difficult environment.

Senator CROSSIN —Have you now taken over the Barunga and Beswick stores?

Mr Kop —Yes.

Senator SIEWERT —We were talking before about returning profits to the community. How many stores are now returning a profit to the community?

Mr Kop —I would have to take that on notice in order to go back and look at the numbers because we do have stores that come in and other stores that sometimes fall off our network.

Senator SIEWERT —When you say they ‘fall off’, do you mean that the community takes back control?

Mr Kop —We have certainly had stores where engagement has not worked and either they have asked us to leave the community or we have decided to leave the community.

Senator SIEWERT —If you could take that on notice, it would be appreciated. Also—you do not to have tell me which ones they are—how many stores have gone off? It would be useful if you could tell me that also.

CHAIR —Also perhaps some of the general circumstances, without naming stores.

Mr Kop —Yes.

CHAIR —We are just looking for some general information on transfer.

Mr Kop —Yes.

CHAIR —Thank you very much for coming along today. As you have seen, there is quite a lot of interest in the matter. I know that you are probably ‘committeed out’, but there may be further questions from the committee. This is a select standing committee and we will stand over the entire length of the parliament; so this does not just start and finish. Questions on notice maybe provided to you through the secretariat. Thank you very much.

Proceedings suspended from 2.36 pm to 2.59 pm