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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS - 02/04/2009 - Community stores in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

CHAIR —Derek, do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Mr Walpo —I am the coordinator for the Wellbeing Centre in Aurukun. I am employed by the RFDS.

CHAIR —What would you like to say?

Mr Walpo —I wanted to raise a question when Mr Katter asked the councils: how can we cut the cost of our freight rates? It is just a thought that governments may want to think about. I am a community person. I am talking about taking not only the Aurukun community into consideration but also the other communities on the west and east coast of Cape York and in between us like Coen and cattle stations and road houses. It is just a thought that governments may want to think about it. If we are going to think about cutting the cost on freight rates, why don’t governments start thinking about sealing an all-weather road from Lakeland to the NPA communities. That way, Kowanyama, Pormpuraaw, Lockhart and in between us will not be missing out on freight and food. Stuff will be delivered on time. That is the question I want to raise with government and for them to go back and think about. We are talking about freight et cetera but it will not happen overnight. Government should take into consideration how they are going to cater for community people who are isolated in these communities?

—Through the chair, I can assure you that the peninsula development roads are a very high priority for me. Hopefully, we should have the bitumen through to Laura this year. From us putting additional moneys in over the last few years you would have seen improvement to the roads into Lockhart River, Pormpuraaw, Aurukun and those sorts of communities. We will continue to work on those roads. We also have to look at how we can improve things in the interim. It will take us a number of years to get here.

Mr Walpo —That is why I raised it before. During the wet we have to get charter flights and barges to bring in our vegies. We are sort of doubling up, so to speak, on freights. If we had just one system in place for the whole of Cape York I reckon it would be grand.

CHAIR —Thank you. Wendy, what would you like to say to the committee?

Ms Graham —I think the store here is very well run and managed by Craig and Debbie. From a nutrition perspective there is pretty much always a good range of fruit, vegetables—frozen, fresh and canned—and other products available at the store. They have been really fantastic to work with. Anything that I ask them to help me with, whether it be running nutrition programs or anything like that, they always agree and will get new products if I ask them. I think the reason they are so good is they came from ALPA in the Northern Territory where they were trained in nutrition and the effect it can have on health. ALPA also had store nutrition policies, and I think those should be put in place in all stores across Cape York.

Mr KATTER —What is a store nutrition policy? What would that do?

Ms Graham —It says things such as: all people who work in the stores will be trained in nutrition, that nutritious foods will be given prominence. In some stores, not in this one, unhealthy products are right at the front of the store and at eye reach, so they are the ones people buy more of.

Mrs VALE —Wendy, through the chair, of course it is a real science, too. People in big department stores actually design where different products are going to be presented. You are quite right.

Ms Graham —Basically, it is a policy to try to make it easier to choose a healthy choice. Once you have walked into the store, it makes it easier for people to pick something healthy rather than pick something unhealthy. As far as the store here in Aurukun goes, I think it is really just luck that they are such great managers. I also work in other communities across the cape and, generally speaking, the store manager has the potential to have a massive impact on the nutrition of the people in the community and therefore on the health of the community. That is ad hoc. Currently, it just depends on whether the manager is a nice person or is interested in nutrition. There is nothing to ensure that the manager does not abuse their power over the health of the community. Having said that, I think the role of the store in nutrition and health of the community is fairly small in comparison  to some other factors. Someone asked before how many people use the takeaway here. A lot of people eat takeaways almost exclusively and a number of factors contribute to that.

Mr KATTER —Here?

Ms Graham —Yes, here in Aurukun and every other community that I go to: Kowanyama, Pormpuraaw, Lockhart and Coen.

CHAIR —What is the takeaway here? What do you get?

Ms Graham —Here in Aurukun it is greasy, deep-fried stuff but they also have healthy options available for people—healthy sandwiches that are made daily, stews and vegetable stews. Craig has said that he is happy to work with me to have more of those options available.

CHAIR —Is the takeaway part of the store?

Ms Graham —The takeaway is part of the store.

CHAIR —Is that typical in the other communities that you work in?

Ms Graham —No, in other communities it is different. I believe you are going to Kowanyama this afternoon where the take-away is run by the Anglican Church and it serves nothing but rubbish and all the profits go out of the community, and most people eat there.

CHAIR —Is it typical of these takeaways that they are eating deep fried and pies?

Ms Graham —Yes. The reason for that is largely, say, in Kowanyama the level of certification that you have to have to serve food that you touch with your hands is much higher than if you get something in a packet and put it in the bain-marie or oven or whatever. You do not have to have much training to do that. But to actually cook something and put it in a bain-marie you have to have special sinks and benches and training et cetera.

The other thing that happens a lot here, and like all communities on the Cape, is that basically people just do not have the money to buy the food in the store. A lot of people run out of money before payday and have no food to eat whatsoever for a variable number of days each week or fortnight. So the problem with the store is that the food is too expensive, in my opinion.

Mr TURNOUR —How do people survive for those numbers of days, in your experience?

Ms Graham —They get hungry. If you have ever gone without food for a day or two it does not make you feel very good or very happy. When I am hungry I am pretty grumpy.

Mr TURNOUR —Sure. Does that happen regularly at the moment, every week?

Ms Graham —It varies from person to person but a lot of people in communities do not eat food for some days of the week. The other thing that happens is that I see a lot of little kids under the age of two who get hungry and to fill them up they get a sugary drink like Coke and it stops the crying, but of course there is no nutritional value in that kind of a drink.

CHAIR —How are they paying for the Coke?

Ms Graham —It is a cheap meal. The other thing that I want to get on to is that the lack of infrastructure here really impacts on what food is purchased at the store, so a lot of people are living with many people in one house and with minimal cooking infrastructure. If they would go and buy a weekly shop the way we do—I get my pay and I go down to the supermarket and buy food for two weeks, put it in my cupboard and it stays there, so I know that in two weeks time what I have not eaten is still there. But that is not the case when people share. That means a lot of people buy for one meal only and often the takeaway is the easiest option because you go to the take-away with your money, buy the food, eat it and then you are not hungry anymore.

Mrs VALE —That is a very expensive way of eating and trying to survive, to eat takeaway. Can I say, Wendy, congratulations on the basis that Craig actually said that the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables here is very high for a remote community store, so you must be having a great deal of impact.

Ms Graham —I think that is more because of Craig, because since they have been here they have really got in a lot of new lines and turned things over a lot faster.

Mrs VALE —That is really good news.

Ms Graham —He has done a lot with presentation and whatnot as well in terms of his infrastructure.

Mrs VALE —As a nutritionist, do you have a program where you give mothers lessons about eating? Is there anything formal in place? This culture is very traditional and had traditional food a hundred years ago but now they are eating, if you like, Western food. And even teaching young girls today about what you can do with half a kilo of mince. Are there any lessons like that at some of the young mothers can take? I would like to know what access they have.

Ms Graham —There are programs. I come here for two days every two weeks and I do one-on-one consultations with people who are already sick, which takes up at least a day. Basically I am flat out the whole time.

Mrs VALE —Are any parents able to talk? This is an open forum and we need to hear from you.

Hilda —Due to a recent death in the community I cannot mention my name, so I am referred to as Hilda, my middle name. I am the coordinator for the building parental skills program here. I arrived in October 2006 in Aurukun and I have been here for 2½ years. The program supports a lot of the young mothers between the ages of 12 and 18. Forty-eight babies were born in 2006-07. Last year the numbers have come down to 32 babies born. Already this year we have had eight babies and it is end-March. In January we had five babies born.

The program supports these young mothers with parenting and birthing. Also we look at areas like the health and wellbeing of the child. A lot of mothers will breast-feed and then when they get to around seven months they will switch over to formula but they will do both, breast-feed and formula. The hardest thing is trying to introduce them to feeding their babies solid food for that nutrition. Wendy mentioned the overcrowded houses here, and as young parents they have not even got that time to bond as a couple with their child because everybody wants to nurse the baby. In these overcrowded houses they have not got time to prepare their own meals and with the takeaway shop it is more convenient for a lot of the young mothers to just go to that shop and buy something there. The women’s shelter used to be open, so when I first started we used to have cooking sessions at the women’s shelter. It was taking these mothers into the store and picking out food like a pack of frozen vegetables, mince, just to show them how to budget and how they can manage to feed other families in the household. I used to run lot of programs from the women’s shelter. We also had in partnership with Royal Flying Doctors a very successful sandwich program. That had five or six young mothers providing the store with fresh sandwiches, 100 to 120 sandwiches four days a week, and they were sold out within an hour. That was the only sort of food that was being sold and it was made locally. When I arrived in 2006 there was a market garden and due to funds they have closed it down. They used to provide the store with local vegies, more so variety of lettuce and tomatoes. Probably about 12 men used to work there. That was going well and is another good project that was closed.

Mrs VALE —Why did it close? Because it did not get any funding?

Hilda —I am not too sure. All I know is that it closed down.

Mrs VALE —Did the market garden sell the produce to the stores so it can keep going? It would be interesting to track that through.

Hilda —In 2006 the store was the old store where the petrol browser is now. That little space was the store.

Mrs VALE —I know this is probably not the right climate for soup, but soups are very easy to make and very cheap. They go around a lot of people and they are great nutritional value. Is there any way people would have soup in this particular part of the world? It is learning how to do it, of course.

Hilda —Learning how to do it, and I have not got the resources. The program has been lacking resources. We are going to get a parenting centre built where those things will be operating with cooking sessions, getting young fathers involved in doing a garden and they maintain the yard. The parenting centre will be money from the Premier and Cabinet office. We are going to have a parenting centre where we would be able to start all these programs again.

Mrs VALE —You did say that you were teaching cooking or basic meals at the women’s shelter. That does not happen anymore?

Hilda —We cannot access the women’s shelter because the women’s shelter is closed. I cannot comment on the closure of the women’s shelter but it is closed and has been closed for 12 months now.

Mrs VALE —You cannot comment. Do you know why it closed or you just cannot comment?

Hilda —I cannot say why it closed.

Mrs VALE —But you are hopeful that you will get another centre.

Hilda —I drafted a letter this morning to reopen the women’s shelter, and I am getting signatures from women in the community. Hopefully there will be a good response. Again, when that women’s shelter was open, that is where everything was run. We had playgroups and cooking sessions. We also had workshops based around family and domestic violence and how it affects children.

Mrs VALE —How long has it been closed?

CHAIR —Sorry. We are really running out of time here.

Mrs VALE —Can I just ask how long it has been closed?

CHAIR —We have to be out of here in six minutes.

Mrs VALE —Can you just tell me how long it has been closed?

Hilda —The women’s shelter?

Mrs VALE —Yes.

Hilda —Twelve months. It was closed on 29 May last year.

Mrs VALE —Thank you. Sorry, Chair.

CHAIR —Wendy, do you have other comments you would like to make? It is important.

Ms Graham —My final comment is this. If you really want to address the health of communities, you cannot look at one narrow little thing like nutrition at the store. You have to look at the takeaway and you have to look at the underlying social issues—especially housing infrastructure, which has a major impact—and look holistically. The most important thing is consulting the community about what they want. When you do consult the community, you should take into consideration that people are not used to being listened to and have a long history of not being listened to. You get sick of it, I suppose. On that, thanks for coming up.

CHAIR —That is a pleasure. Thank you for giving us your evidence today.

Mr KATTER —Could I ask a quick question?

CHAIR —You have to be really quick, because we have to be out of here.

Mr KATTER —Do you have any idea, Hilda, of average house occupancy? It is 15 at Doomadgee.

Hilda —It is 15 to 18.

Mr KATTER —It is a bit higher here.

CHAIR —Is that it?

Mr KATTER —Yes.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, guys. We have a couple of other people who have indicated that they would like to say something to the committee. Douglas Ahlers?

Mr Ahlers —I work at the store here.

CHAIR —What would you like to say to us today?

Mr Ahlers —I have a question to raise with Mr Katter. I think that question was raised with you earlier on. What are the chances of bringing cattle back in here? Sometimes we talk about how our meat goes off. A lot of times the issue has been raised of local people wanting to start up their own businesses, like a butcher shop. I would like to see if we can get any help from Mr Katter or maybe from you.

CHAIR —Let me get the local member to answer that. Jim?

Mr TURNOUR —The Queensland department of primary industries, as I understand it, is working with the community to re-establish cattle up here. I have been involved in live exports out of Weipa and a range of different things. It is something that we could look at in our recommendations from the committee. I can follow it up with Tim McGrath, who works for the DPI. I understand he has been up here looking at those issues as well.

Mr Ahlers —It is just that a lot of times people have been sitting down thinking about how they can go about it and who they should talk to. I thought this would be a good time to raise it—

CHAIR —Yes.

Mr Ahlers —while Mr Katter was here as well.

Mr KATTER —Mr Chairman, as a practising cattleman all of my life, I made the observation earlier on that there were 12½ thousand head of cattle here before the TB eradication campaign. There were all whitefellas running it. The easy way was to just shoot all the cattle and get the money for it, which is what they did. Jackson Shortjoe and Eddie Holroyd took up two blocks there. Two-fifths of the service area of Pormpuraaw were taken up under private blocks. They put together 6,000 head. As a government, we could only ever muster 360 head. Mr Chairman, it is an important point I am making here. As a government, when we ran them, all we were ever able to muster—with really capable people, I might add—was 360 head. When the local blokes, Jackson and Eddie, took up those runs for themselves and had a profit motive and an ownership incentive—that is, they owned the blocks privately—they put together 6,000 head. They had 6,000 head, not 360 head. We had no cattle at all and we had 6,000 down there, where the local black blokes were running the whole show themselves with private ownership. I emphasise that they were not going to go out there and flog their backsides off unless there was some profit in there for their families. What I am talking about was on 60 Minutes, by the way.

All I would say, Jim, is this. I would urge you to look at a private ownership approach. If there is anywhere in the world a successful cattle station run by corporations or communities, I would like to know about it. If you give a bloke a right to take a block—

CHAIR —Bob, we are going to have to wind up.

Mr KATTER —and run his own cattle then there is a big future there.

CHAIR —Angie Nathan?

Mrs Nathan —I do FIM, which is family income management, with Cape York partnership. I would like to mention what was said about people not having enough money for food. People do have money to buy food but the thing is that there are a lot of underlying issues to do with that money. You have a lot of things that happen in the community here, especially with gambling and drugs and alcohol. The way to utilise their food spending money for the week or fortnight—whatever it may be—is through the food card, the ALPA card, that the store has. They can put on it as much money as they want to, but that food card can only be used for food and not for cigarettes. It can be used for any product that is sold in the store. I am having a little bit of a problem with Centrelink in getting the people’s money from Centrelink going onto the food card. That issue is being resolved. The problem I have is with those who are on CDEP plus top-up. I cannot get the money to go from their wages onto the food card. That is the main issue.

Unfortunately, in communities you get families that live off one another. The reason why people do want to put their money on the food card is that they know their money will be protected to buy food with it. When they have the cash in their hand, other family members want to get money from them because they want to get food or maybe use it for gambling or whatnot.

Mr TURNOUR —Angie, we will follow up that issue of Centrelink and the movement of money. I wanted to quickly ask you this. There must be a number of people that are on CDEP who do not have top-up. Have you done any budgeting? Is it possible to survive for a fortnight and eat properly under current CDEP?

Mrs Nathan —Yes, it is, if the whole household is willing to pool their money together to cover living costs.

Mr TURNOUR —Could I ask if the secretariat could follow up with you about providing us with some of that budgeting information if possible?

Mrs Nathan —Yes, definitely. I just want to say one more thing. The prices in the shop have improved a lot since it got taken over by the other people. That is especially the baby products and especially with nappies. There is a better range. You can buy in bulk and there is a better product. Before they were just selling black and white. The range of food is a lot better now, so there is an improvement. I know that it will improve more once the trucks are able to come through.

CHAIR —That is really good to hear. Thank you very much for that, Angie. The final person is Herbert Yunkaporta.

Mr Yunkaporta —I work with the RFDS through the Aurukun Well Being Centre as a community support worker. I just came here to share a few things. There are four areas I would like to look at. First of all, before I do, I would like to personally welcome you here. Thank you for having us here. I think it is a pleasure to put our points forward, to hear from each other as we go along and to learn from each other. First and foremost, I would look at it from a humanity point of view. This is people servicing people. It seems to me that isolation in the remote communities means that services are not being met as has been promised. It is something that we always look forward to. We as a wellbeing centre got off the ground slowly and surely, but the people around us have not met our needs so that we can provide services for our community. We do not get the support from the stakeholders within the community. We are all in this together. They need to recognise that we live in the same community and we need to work together as people serving people.

The next area I have got is health promotion. People talk about health and closing the gap. I agree with that, but areas I do not agree on are poor health promotion being put out in the Cape area. I cannot speak for the whole Cape but I can speak on behalf of the community of Aurukun. We talk about health promotion and health is our priority, and therefore we need to put forward health promotion so we could meet our needs by working together hand in hand in order to meet the standards of the closing the gap campaign.

Another area is community awareness. Services coming into town need to recognise not so much community protocols but it is about respect. We have a death in this community at the present time and we often give thanks for the families for allowing these people here so we could point out our views. The other awareness is services. What I am saying is that these services that are coming into the community or being promoted by government or non-government organisations then stay in the community, are part of the community. I as a community support worker work in the middle of supporting my local people and helping these services to meet with the local people, so I am based in the middle where I could support my local people in order to meet the services and the services to my people. But if we cannot communicate within the community as a whole and as the stakeholders, bringing services from the outside if you cannot work with me how are we supposed to go about closing the gap?

Last but not least is the financial side of things. About 20 years ago I worked for $53 a week; that is all I had in my wallet. If I wanted to go to the shop with $53, I do not have a chance of having enough food on my table. I am a single parent to a daughter and now thankfully I have a little bit of money that I could move on, but there are still people behind that try to meet their own needs trying to put the food on the table but they do not have the financial stability to feed their children and their families. What I am saying is that if a single parent working for $230 a week goes to the shop, you can spend almost the whole of your salary. You have to survive and you get to live another day and work your way back until your next pay, and you have to go to that life over and over again. I think it is very important for us to look at which way we can work together to break the cycle and start bringing services to the community and the community to the services, meet our needs, work together as one people in closing the gap.

Mrs Sarago —I have been in the community just over 2½ weeks now and have been out and about talking to a lot of the individual traditional owners and the government services et cetera in the community itself. What I am hearing from the people is their desire to take ownership of services here. This is coming from them, that everything is controlled by council. They are interested in putting into place things that used to happen previously. For example, there was a corporation that had existed here in the past and they were able to have fresh bread and fresh meats and all those types of things that were fresh. They are looking at doing that sort of thing rather than being dependent on council and are looking to being able to have less restrictions.

The other thing that they were very interested in because of the problem that has been expressed here with regard to hunger is that they actually thought a mess area would be good. We are looking back to the mission days, yes, and they are well aware of that. If there was a big mess area here, money could be put into a swipe card so that that money is there. Apparently there are quite a few of the people that have slipped in between the CDEP and Centrelink because of not turning up to CDEP so they have been put off it and have not been able to cope with the guidelines et cetera that Centrelink are requiring. So they do not get to receive any money, and that poses a problem in that they are asking family for food and family cannot refuse. That is a vicious circle. More than one person goes hungry then.

CHAIR —We are going to have to finish this off soon.

Mrs Sarago —There are lots of charter flights coming in at the moment. A lot of them are not full. Just to give Marney Wettenhall a little bit more work, she is the government coordinating officer here, and maybe there is a possibility of bringing in other freight type things on those services. Just to use Napranum market garden as an example, they are doing wonderful stuff there. Maybe that could be something that people could have a look at and see how that has been achieved.

Regardless of what was said before about the disposable income here, I find that to be really high when you consider that there is no rent being taken out. When you are on the dole you are not expected to have a lot of money for pleasure and things like that. Usually the dole mainly covers your basics of food and a roof over your head type things. It is a high disposable income but what we need to be doing is actually helping people in budgeting. One of the ladies said there are 15 to 18 in a home and surely we can assist in some other way. I do not know how, but I thought that the mess idea was a really good idea. It is a way that the locals see that they will be able to afford their meals, that is, money being put into an account with a swipe card attached.

CHAIR —Thank you. That brings us to an end of the day’s hearing. I am really sorry that I have had to speed this up. We should be in Kowanyama by now; we were meant to have landed there about 10 minutes ago.

Resolved (on motion by Mr Katter):

That the committee authorise publication, including on the parliamentary electronic database, of the evidence given before it at public hearing today.

CHAIR —I would like to thank Hansard and I would like to thank the secretariat staff for what they have done. I finish off by handing over to your local member to close it off today.

Mr TURNOUR —I want to thank everyone for coming along. We pay our respects to the traditional owners. Our apologies. Thank you to the community for allowing us to come during this difficult time.

Committee adjourned at 12.03 pm