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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
Community stores in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
Community stores in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
(House of Representatives-Monday, 20 July 2009)
RYAN, Mr Denis OAM
PALING, Mr Doug
CASSIDY, Mr Chris
FORD, The Hon. Jonathan (Jon)
McGAW, Mr Andy
SPICER, Mr Craig
BOWCOCK, Miss Robyn
CRUMP, Ms Louise
MELLOT, Ms Karen
HINES, Miss Nicole
DAVIES, Mr Patrick
BUSSEY, Mr Clint
YUNGABUN, Mr Harry
NIXON, Ms Maxine
ROUSSET, Miss Solange
BUSSEY, Mr Clint
DAVIES, Mr Patrick
FRYER, Mr Warren
CRUMP, Ms Louise
MELLOT, Ms Karen
RYAN, Mr Denis OAM
BOWCOCK, Miss Robyn
SPICER, Mr Craig
PALING, Mr Doug
CLEMENTS, Mr Chicky
CARTER, Mr Andrew
HOLLIN, Ms Barbara
MARTIN, Mrs Carol MLA
HINES, Miss Nicole
- RYAN, Mr Denis OAM
Content WindowSTANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS - 20/07/2009 - Community stores in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
ACTING CHAIR —This is the last session of the afternoon, everyone. The idea is please to jump in at any time. Kerry, Danna and I will no longer be leading this. I am quite happy to break away from this, but I do need to make sure that in the end we walk away from Broome really understanding what you think are the issues around supply. How do we get particularly the healthy SKUs delivered to the store? What are the supply issues? We have not focused too much on the demand issues. What actually determines whether local people come into the store and actually purchase healthy foods? How are they presented? Are they actually getting to the families that matter? We have not broken communities down into family groups. There are obviously very different purchasing practices and different age demographics. In the middle, the store is the broker, isn’t it? You have supply here. How do you get it along the supply chain? What drives demand for healthy versus unhealthy food? The store has the role to be in the end sustainable and to be able to broker supply and demand. We will be looking at recommendations around those. Because this is such a vertical topic, can we start thinking first about the supply issues? We will work our way through to store management and finish right at the grassroots, on what determines food choices not just at the store but once they get home and what is going to maximise health outcomes.
I just wanted to give it some structure, so we knew where we were going. We are planning about 20 minutes on each topic, so roughly one hour. Please do not leave it until the end to make contributions. A number of groups here do not have much to do with supply and others do, so please lead off, but I do not expect you to speak only in your field of expertise. Please throw in some ideas. I am looking at you, Craig. Would you like to kick off?
Mr Spicer —Definitely for supply, you have to come out of what you are doing here with a result for freight and electricity to give the stores the best chance. That is the common denominator in all stores, whether metropolitan or country. Until we have that, we are on an unequal footing and we are behind the eight ball. In addition to that we should look at infrastructure. If we had those prices reduced and subsidised, everything else would be achievable.
ACTING CHAIR —How do we subsidise those?
Mr Spicer —We get subsidies for heaps of government rates, taxes and stuff like that. You would have to look at location, types of roads, distances from a metropolitan area and basically work it on a percentage or something like that. The power is easy. It has to be 19.2c, equal to anywhere across Western Australia. Freight, yes.
ACTING CHAIR —Per kilowatt-hour?
Mr Spicer —No, per unit. We should be paying the same cost per unit as Coles is paying in Broome.
ACTING CHAIR —So all of these are running on diesel generators?
Mr Spicer —Some are variable. It depends on the Horizon grid. Some of them are off the grid and others are off diesel generators.
ACTING CHAIR —Is there a big difference in price if you are off the grid?
Mr Spicer —Yes, 100 per cent more.
ACTING CHAIR —Can anyone propose something for groups that are off the grid? Should there be particular off-grid compensation for anyone who is not on the grid? Is that a start?
Mr Spicer —It has to be the same unit price as you are getting in town.
Mr Ryan —Andrew, could we take this back a step because if we are going to spend 20 minutes on each of these issues we get into the detail but we are not going to solve it this afternoon. Looking at this, I think there has got to be an anchor point for how we make decisions because a whole series of decisions need to be made out of this committee and, I guess, the process of gathering information. There are three things that come to mind for me. We need to have food security, which relates to the demand thing. We do not know what the demand thing is because we do not have security around food. We do not have guaranteed supply. We do not know what the demand is, we do not know what the food security is and we do not have access to fresh food for a lot of people, whether it is from the store or through freight or whatever it might be. Looking at it, we certainly do not have equity. Here we have some of our most disadvantaged people, who are being even more disadvantaged by this whole process. I think the decision making has got to be security, access and equity and the decisions we make around that. Are we actually creating that in this whole process? Then you need to get into the detail of doing those things.
ACTING CHAIR —What are some of your recommendations to improve security, first of all?
Mr Ryan —You have to have security of supply. How are we going to secure a supply of good fresh produce that we can get there. You then need to have the right freight arrangements in place. First, you have to have supply and, second, you have got to lock that into freight. So it links into all three of those things. Then you have to have stores that are able to manage it. They have to charge an appropriate cost and not the inflated costs that I am seeing in some of these basket surveys that we are doing and some of the anecdotal things that are coming out today.
ACTING CHAIR —I note that that basket survey was one survey so do you need to do a follow-up to ensure there are not major errors? Single snapshots are not always reliable. You already highlight food security determined by cost and reliability—you can pay less but have less reliability. You have got to get the balance. But we have got to be solutions focused. The next one was access. Again, what would you change and what can we learn from WABS? Can you make a contribution?
Ms Crump —Do you mean security of supply?
ACTING CHAIR —Yes.
Ms Crump —We can get a supply of good quality fresh fruit and vegetable. to anybody. There is no question there at all. Again, it comes down to the freight costs. There is no problem with supply or continuity.
ACTING CHAIR —So if you pay for it it is going to be secure?
Ms Crump —That is correct.
ACTING CHAIR —Going back to your question, which is: what is the best way to subsidise it? Is it for us to write a large cheque to freight companies?
Mr Spicer —The store—somebody has to work with the government. I do not know, but it is got to be somehow paid to each individual store.
Miss Hines —I think volume based would be the easiest way.
Ms REA —What do you mean by volume based?
Miss Hines —You get an amount of product weighed into the store and you have a subsidy per kilo. It would be volume based on what you purchase into the store.
Ms REA —Regardless of distance and difficulty to get there?
Miss Hines —Yes, regardless.
Ms REA —The reason is asked is that I am conscious of the example that came up about the store in the Fitzroy Valley that has a 20-kilometre dirt road yet its freight costs are far higher.
Mrs VALE —Is that your store, Nicole?
Miss Hines —Yes, that is my store.
Ms REA —There is a subsidy but the fear is that the subsidy will not actually go to the end consumer if we do not have some sort of accountability back. You would look at why there are some massive prices in one place that do not reflect that it is lower over here even though it is harder to get there or there are lower volumes. What is the trade-off? How do we balance that out?
Miss Hines —There would have to be some kind of reporting.
Ms REA —That is always worth it.
ACTING CHAIR —So you have views about this approach that are not quite the same. Thank you. Doug, you said something about having kilo based pricing.
Mr Paling —Yes; it was just applying the same sort of system that we run at the Foodbank, saying that the cost of running the store is known, and it is great if you can get these subsidies on power and freight and so forth. So, you know the cost of running the store and then you work out an estimated volume and apply cents per kilo right across the board for every product. You get the divisor; so you get a fair wage paid to the operator of the store and you achieve a break-even point. That is the absolutely simplistic equation.
The other things we would mention is that it would be interesting to talk to WABS about some of the fresh supply product, because if they have the mechanism to move products to help the community we would probably be able to arrange to increase, say, the volume of apples that WABS can go through. We have pushed, through our food banks in the regions—as I think I mentioned this morning—40,000 kilos of fruit into the system out of Bunbury. And it is stuff straight out of the orchards, so it is high quality product. It has not gone through the chiller and it has not been held back, so it will not deteriorate quickly. So something like apples and possibly carrots we could push through the community stores now, through WABS. Somebody else picks up the freight bill but at least we have made a difference. Do you know what I am saying? It is a simple step but at least we are getting something practical out of the whole thing.
ACTING CHAIR —Does anyone have a view on hard fruit and vegetables—the ones that store more successfully—basically through your arrangements in working with WABS and getting them to communities at much cheaper prices?
Mr Paling —On the basis of somebody subsidising the freight and the product is given away to the community; that is one sure way. While you will endear the community food managers to the community, the other thing is that you would make an immediate difference. You would have the children and the people chewing on carrots and apples and what not. If WABS are confident they can get to everywhere we can make that arrangement. We will donate the product to them; in turn it is donated through the system but that relies on somebody picking up the freight bill.
ACTING CHAIR —Can I pick up on it being free at the community? Are there any views on that? In the end I am worried about that impact of it crowding out the normal supply chain—that no-one buys fruit and veg until it arrives free from Foodbank.
Mr Paling —Can I just mention something there? We are talking here about stuff that is not available on a regular basis. That was a case in point. The other thing is that the overdriving thing—I do not know whether it was Harry who was saying this—is that these isolated communities are rife with diabetes. One of the ways to stop it is to increase the fresh produce. It might be very much a baby step but at least we have done something.
ACTING CHAIR —I just want to play devil’s advocate. I know that if I push prices up in a community all that leads to is less product going out to families on the way home. If I push the price of anything up they just buy less of what remains. If I make stuff free they will spend more money on junk food. They have more money available to spend on what is—
Mr Paling —You can be cynical if you like but I have been doing what I have been doing for a very long time. People say, ‘If you feed them they’ll go off and buy a box of beer or whatever.’ I say this to everybody: ‘Children matter.’ It is the children that we have to look to.
ACTING CHAIR —So at least you know that that is getting into the households.
Mr Paling —That is exactly right. The store keepers can be given a simple instruction: give it to the mother who comes in with the children or whatever. Then you are sure of what the consumption is. We are practical people at the Foodbank and we do the things. We would rather see something happen. I do not really think the other thing will be a massive issue because it will be a great gift to the women and the children. It is desperately needed. There is not enough of the stuff going through; so we are not disturbing the market place now.
I was just talking about to Barbara about what the Red Cross is setting up here with Ernie Bridge and this wellness program. I said the same thing to Barbara: if they need some fresh produce we will arrange to do a donation up here.
Ms REA —I am just interested in how WABS are going to make money out of five per cent of a donated supply. You have just killed their supply base. And I thought, ‘That’s going to be an interesting predicament.’
Ms Mellot —I think that is a really good idea, in a sense.
Ms REA —But how do you make some money out of it?
Ms Mellot —The thing that worries me about that side of it—and we are saying just maybe apples and carrots—is that the stores have limited storage space. Most of our stores order fruit and vegetables weekly and the orders go out to the stores weekly. We are talking about them ordering maybe 10 kilos of apples and carrots—small amounts weekly. How would Foodbank work it? You say you would donate it. Would it be in bulk?
Mr Paling —We have programs going with people with disabilities. Foodbank provides job experience for disabled kids. Rotary and others supply plastic bags for us so we could package things.
ACTING CHAIR —No, that was not the question.
Mr Paling —Okay. Philanthropically, we are here for the common good of the community. WABS are running a business, but 20 kilos of apples and 10 kilos of carrots is bugger all. There is bugger all money coming out of that. Philanthropically and philosophically, the health of the people is paramount in this. If it were large quantities, I would agree that they would be messing with the market. But what I am hearing is that the produce is not available in a lot of stores. If people were actually being gifted it, the quantities surely would go up somewhat.
Ms Mellot —How are you going to organise three or four bags of apples and carrots for a weekly order? Our order is passed on to our supplier and fulfilled, and transported to the freight company free of charge.
Mr Paling —Which is Nexus.
Ms Mellot —Yes, Nexus, for a lot of them, though not all.
Mr Paling —Nexus and NATS are just around the corner from Foodbank, so we could just drop that off with our truck and say that is an addition to the WABS order.
Ms Mellot —Okay. The problem I have with that also is whether Nexus are going to give you that free of charge on a con note as well. Every time anything enters the freight company, it is charged at $16 a con note plus $6 insurance on that con note, if they do not have their own insurance.
Mr Paling —I am saying that we pick up a sponsor, whether it is the government or whatever, and nobody misses out.
Ms Mellot —Okay. Thank you.
ACTING CHAIR —Any other final views on whether there are channels, be they philanthropic or otherwise, so that fruit and vegetables are fundamentally free at the store or market price with a subsidy?
Mr Ryan —The other way of looking at it is that you could bring the model into the per kilo handling. If you were weighting your pricing on a per kilo basis across your whole product range, maybe that is the way to work your cost recovery—charging a per kilo base for fresh fruit and vegetables as well which would still be less than commercial rates.
Mr Bussey —Food miles is an issue. Obviously transport costs are going to be through the roof. In terms of food miles, you also need to see there is no local supplier. There is the potential to grow food, especially in the Kimberley and where water is not restricted. Food is coming from 2½ kilometres away.
Ms Crump —It is coming from Kununurra to Perth and back up again, and from market to Perth and back up again. That is a story across the whole of Australia.
Mr Bussey —Off to Fiji and back again.
Mr Carter —We run a profitable store in our community at One Arm Point. Just listening to Doug about getting free vegetables and fruit—apples and carrots were referred to—if they were to come in free, we would have to sell them at a profit to keep our store operational. Our store is run, owned and supported by our community. We get no support from outside areas, from government or anywhere. We have been fortunate enough to stay in that position.
The way we operate our store is through our community council, which overrides everything. Whatever the managers want to put in has to be authorised by the community council with regard to what happens on the ground to the locals. Yes, we do have a big problem with the amount of funds, the CDEP and everything else that is happening out in remote areas. We get our goods in, and we keep our essential items at a very low rate. We make our profits along the margins for non-essential items. I think Robyn can vouch for me in that area. We have probably the biggest store on the peninsula. It was completely paid for by the community with a bit of funding from Lottery West to upgrade our computer systems and everything like that and get everything on line. We do deal with Karen and Louise over here, and we have actually increased our buying power with them. They have been a good asset to the community.
Our biggest issue is the freight, as I am hearing. The minute a truck hits a dirt road, your freight cost goes sky-high. It is exactly the same as a towing company. A towing company, to go on a bitumen road, will charge $2 a kilometre. The minute they hit the dirt road it is anything up to $6 a kilometre. I think that needs to be rationalised if they are delivering freight to remote communities. Last financial year we were averaging $15,000 a month just for freight. So it is over $100,000 a year just for freight. By the same token we have to cover all those costs and also make a profit to cover the wages for our managers and also for the staff. From what I have heard today, freight is the biggest issue. That should be really identified by the federal government, not only in WA but nationally.
A lot of remote communities have the same thing as what is happening in the Northern Territory, with the intervention up there. A lot of communities rely heavily on their stores. If they have to travel further away, they are not bringing the income back into the community and making the community self-sustainable. What are the communities there for? They cannot be there forever and a day relying on the government for that support. They were set up by the government in the first place. It is like everything else. The government puts places into areas without looking at the viability and does not support them in the long term. My biggest issue is the freight.
Ms REA —Why are you profitable? What is the thing that makes your store a profitable store? And what would be the level of fresh fruit and vegies, nutritional food that would be purchased at your store?
Mr Carter —We get a good variety of fresh fruit there on a weekly basis. We have actually increased the volume. We recently changed over to new managers. We went back to our old freight company, which Andy was talking about earlier on, from Djarindjin. We have gone out on a limb on our own because we are a bigger community. Our fresh fruit is now on the shelf every day. Previously, on the Thursday when the truck came in it would be put on the shelves about lunchtime and, come knock-off at four o’clock on Thursday, there would be no fresh fruit.
Because of the amount of teachers, people in the community are eating better. We have a good program in our school. People are getting educated there, through our high school students. The high school has a little market garden. The children, in their home economics classes, actually do cooking programs and sell the food to the children for their smoko. They can actually buy fresh food from the school, which helps the school along, because we do have a lot of cultural programs that operate from the school to enhance the community’s lifestyle. Everything is all about the lifestyle and living in our community. We also rely very heavily on the ocean, so that subsidises our healthy living as well.
Miss Bowcock —I will make a comment on that, because I did an analysis on the One Arm Point store quite a few years ago, as well as looking at a number of other stores throughout the Kimberley and another coastal store. Certainly, with both the coastal stores, the meat that they purchased was a very small percentage of their total costs, mainly because, as you say, a lot of people up there source their meat from the sea. Another thing that probably could explain some of these prices as well is that some communities in the Fitzroy Valley, the desert and other areas have access to ‘killer’ and more bush tucker—you understand when I say ‘killer’—which is a lot cheaper than buying meat through the store. If you do not have access to that then basically that is going to wallop up your prices. Certainly there was a big discrepancy between different stores in the amount of money that was spent on their meat supplies, and meat is a very important item in people’s diet up here. Just to clarify that, if you have a community that can source their meat a lot more cheaply, that gives them more disposable income to be able to spend in the store on other things, and if they are spending a lot of money on meat, which they do, then that makes a lot of difference.
Also, I have never found the cost of things to be what puts people off buying them, even fruit and veg. If the fruit and veg is good, people will buy it. My concern has always been: how many days in a pay period are they not accessing very much food? Are they living on damper and tea? If fruit and veg is good, people will spend whatever money it costs and buy it. I have seen people spending $20 to $30 a kilo on grapes when grapes come in, because people love grapes. What they give up for that—and they will buy it when they have money—means that it is very likely that on the other days of the week they are living on damper and tea.
ACTING CHAIR —I will ask a question. We have not talked about how family groups are different. Families that budget slightly better are able to buy fruit when it comes in on a non-pay day. Is there an issue that the most dysfunctional families, who only have the money for a few hours on payday, are more disadvantaged with irregular supply?
Miss Bowcock —I think that in any community or population group you are always going to have people who are good money managers and people who are bad money managers. One of the strengths and disadvantages here is that some families work very well together. I can give you a quick example of that if you like. I used to have an Aboriginal guy who worked with me in Wyndham, and he was dealing with a community of about six houses. One particular house could not manage money at all; the other houses were fine. He spent three months working with that one particular house—because the others were complaining about that house humbugging them for food and money—to get them to work out some way of being able to get a regular supply of food from the local supermarket. It does not matter where you come from or who you are; you will find good money managers and very bad money managers. But I think the issue that we have is that people here have such a low amount to start with, and that was something we talked about earlier. People here are on a lot of social security or CDEP. In some places they supplement it with artwork. The only difference between income here and income in the city, where you are talking about this, is basically the remote area allowance. From this survey that you did here, what was the difference between remote area allowance and what people earnt? About $50 for the family? Fifty to sixty dollars is about the difference that they get, whether you live in Adelaide, Melbourne or Wangkatjungka, for example. I think that, no matter how good you are as a money manager, it is very difficult to live on that sort of money.
ACTING CHAIR —Just as we finish off the freight issues, there is still a chance for comments. Does anyone have any view on an almost state-wide approach to making sure that the best possible freight strategies are employed? Are there areas that simply have not become aware of WABS yet? Is there some responsibility to disseminate good practice or is it just up to a store manager to work out where the cheapest freight supply is? It must be very difficult, as an overwhelmed store manager, to work all this out, so how do we go right across the state and try and find a solution? What is the best way of doing it? Do we deploy a public servant to do it? Do we do another survey? How do we make sure that communities that are purchasing in a less-than-smart way have some advantages that are being picked up by the community?
Miss Bowcock —I think that freight is one of those areas where perhaps the government should be looking at it being competition based. In the example that I used earlier about getting freight companies when we were negotiating freight agreements in these various areas, we actually had a Northern Territory company that were prepared to supply freight cheaper to the West Kimberley communities but none of the Broome depots would allow them to pick up fruit and veg in Broome. They were not allowed to use any depots at all in Broome and, in the end, they could not do it.
ACTING CHAIR —Was that because of quarantine?
Miss Bowcock —No, they just would not allow it. They did not want any competition coming from interstate, so I think that something that needs to be seriously looked at is that competition area.
Mrs VALE —That’s against the Constitution, isn’t it?
Mr Bussey —Remote allowances are meant to cover some of this. For local Aboriginal people within our valley—and I think it is pretty much uniform—their remote allowance per annum is $465. For myself, for living there, it is closer to $4,000. So I have a $4,000 incentive to be there and to work in a secure job which pays pretty well with all the other offsets, such as housing and a motor car, compared to $465 for an Aboriginal person. Although it does nip at your wallet a bit, I can afford these things. But other people have got no chance.
ACTING CHAIR —It just does not compensate them for the additional costs?
Mr Bussey —Absolutely not.
ACTING CHAIR —We are almost going to wind up on this. If there is something there gnawing at you regarding freight that has not been touched on, I would like to hear it, because we will be basically saying that we have been through the roundtable with no objections in Broome. Is there nothing else there? Okay, we will keep moving. There will be a chance to come back if anyone feels strongly. We have not touched greatly on store management but we have had some very interesting submissions. We came here with an open mind as to whether communities should be controlled with a hired manager or the best way was the Outback Stores model. We have heard lots today about a similar method, whether it is completely privately run or it is contracted over to a private individual to run. Do you have any views on that spectrum from public to private ownership of stores? These are the areas that my colleague suggested: infrastructure provisions on how a store could work, governments and who is running and controlling it, feedback and control issues, the liability of supply, price and range. Is there anything that you want to fill in for potential recommendations around store management?
Mr Spicer —Again, there is no one perfect solution for all the problems. I think, for some stores, the Outback model is the only solution. For example, the Kundat Djaru store has only a $700,000 to $800,000 turnover, and you need to have a $1.2 to $1.4 million turnover to actually break even or make the store viable. So if Outback is available and they have got all that $48 million worth of government money to support that then, yes, that is an alternative model. But I do not think communities need any more welfare based projects. They need commercial investors and they need to make it attractive for people to get in, do a job and provide a service. There are a couple of models floating around, whether it is Remote CMS, where we have got 20 to 25 managers on the books and we manage the store solely; WABS, who get their commissions from purchasing and organising supplies; or the individual managers. The only problem with individual managers is that you can get a great couple for a couple of years but then they burn out or leave and you are in the situation of having to get someone to replace them. You will find that, like CEOs, they go up and down. You need more of a constant supply. But communities are independent and they need to make their own decisions as to which model they want, so I do not think driving any necessary model should be the priority of this.
ACTING CHAIR —So if you take that hub to spoke approach, basically the governance spreads down the spoke according to the capacity of the community or its size. As they fall into either dysfunctional or become too small then that capacity moves back up to central control. Basically if a community is down here and their control is up here then they are going to be worried about too much central control and if it is all pushed out too far here then they are going to run into difficulties keeping their staff to run it. So that is the spectrum. Are there any comments on whether that explains how we should be thinking about this?
Mr Paling —I was just thinking that after Andrew finished speaking I turned around and shook his hand because he has obviously got the community well into gear. He has lassoed the whole thing in terms of everything that has been talked about here today. That brings to mind part of my experience, which was partly through a franchise system. You have an outstanding model here with Andrew and it could well be that you can build a profile of what the ideal manager is through Andrew basically right at the shopfront. He has achieved a huge amount in the community, with the children and their garden and all the rest of it. I think it is the case that if you put the framework around that then surely you could start to replicate that. If you do it with the genuineness of people like Andrew and others then you start to get great role models going in the communities. You would have a model then.
We often hear with people in the community—and Robyn has basically almost killed herself over many years running here, there and everywhere—about what happens with the line of succession. If somebody falls over then the question is: what happens next? You might have a great principal here working on the school breakfast program, but if he goes somewhere else then all of a sudden that may fall over. I see it as offering better security to have that sort of model defined—and you could use somebody like Andrew as a model for the whole thing. Maybe even the government could pay Andrew, if he had the time, to actually visit other communities that might be misfiring.
ACTING CHAIR —That is right—almost as a sort of overview of best practice. We might bring Craig in here, because you get people who pick the phone up and say, ‘It has all gone to hell and high water—come and save us.’ So you are dealing with cases where there is not an ‘Andrew’ in the community.
Mr Spicer —We deal with cases where ‘Andrew’ has moved on.
ACTING CHAIR —That is right. So my question is: what do we do about that? When Andrew moves on and it has to fall back to you here or your management services, how do we get a system that guarantees continuity of service? What happens when Andrew disappears?
Mr Spicer —When Andrew disappears we get the call to say, ‘Come in and fix us.’ We go out to the community and try to develop a bit of governance and get some decisions made. We then get the store up and running and the doors open. We then assess it and work out whether it is viable. If it has the potential to turn over that $1.2 million threshold then we will keep running with it.
ACTING CHAIR —How can they call you in quickly before they find themselves owing $1 million or somebody has burnt the shop down or something?
Mr Spicer —They have to wait until they are on their knees before they make the call. That is just the way it is.
ACTING CHAIR —Are there any comments on this? How do we get early recognition of distress?
Mr Spicer —Maybe that could be done through the ICCs. I do not know.
Ms REA —I would like to ask two questions in that vein just to get people’s comments. Firstly, in terms of the models that Andrew has put up there, is there any example of a community store that succeeded that was not owned by the community—I am not talking about management; I am talking about ownership. Secondly, what do you do, Craig, with those that are under the $1.2 million turnover threshold? What happens to them?
Mr Spicer —No store is, off the top of my head, run or owned—
Ms REA —In Western Australia?
Mr Spicer —in Western Australia because they are all on Aboriginal land tenure and you cannot freehold them.
Ms REA —So it is all community owned—because that is not necessarily the case everywhere.
Mr Spicer —In terms of owner leased, off the top of my head, no—they are all either a private company or a trust from the corporation as the major shareholder. That is for the ones I deal with. And the second question was—
Ms REA —What happens to ones that are under the turnover threshold of $1.2 million. What do you do?
Mr Spicer —The only one that we have said no to in the three or four years that I have been involved is the Kundat Djaru Aboriginal Corporation, or KDAC. We realised that it was not economically viable to run that store on a commercial basis—
ACTING CHAIR —What is the population required for a turnover of $1.2 million? Is it about 200 people?
Mr Spicer —Yes, something like that. It is hard because it depends on what the income is. Again, that goes back to what I was saying about how much money there is, the circulation of money and how it is obtained. So there are lots of qualitative factors involved. But KDAC is the only one I have personally said no to because it was not worth our while—it was impossible.
ACTING CHAIR —Can I just throw a comment in. What this model is saying is that, if the community has more capacity than the store provision model has, they are going to want to do more. They will be frustrated that profits are being repatriated to you because they want to do it themselves. They have a guy like Andrew but he is not being given a go. If it is the reverse and the community has less capacity, you guys are called in and you are the only way to guarantee continuity of supply. There is complete dysfunction, but you have a store running. So it is about matching the capacity to the situation on the ground. How do we set up a system that, like I said, recognises where there are changes and makes sure that, when capacity changes, the community council collapses or whatever, we can guarantee that the store continues?
Mr Spicer —I do not know. Today is about recognising issues; working them out is probably going to take a bit longer. The ICC is one who really gets the ball rolling in some places—other than the goodwill, equity and experienced people that we have had over the years.
ACTING CHAIR —I can see WABS have something. Would you throw something in, because you see communities changing all the time?
Miss Hines —I was just saying to Karen that, as a manager, that is what these guys do—while everything is running fine, they are there on the phone and everything like that but they stay at arm’s length, but, as soon as something goes wrong, they jump in and fix the problem before it becomes too big. The community runs the store—it is the community store—but they are always there. There is always that port of call.
ACTING CHAIR —So, WABS, are you in a position to have two or three hotshot store managers dropped in or do I have to come back to Craig and pay top dollar? You can see the dilemma—they would much rather have someone local doing it.
Ms Mellot —We would go back to Jilgu, as we said in the submission, where we were managing the store and it was running correctly. When we went in there they were faltering. They did not owe a lot of money but they were getting behind. Jilgu phoned us and we agreed to take somebody on to run that store. So we put the manager in, he reduced the debt that was outstanding and we kept all of the current accounts paid. But it was not the fact that the store went downhill quickly; it was the fact that a new CEO came in and took over and he did not like how the manager was running the store but he did not know how to do it himself—which was not a good thing. He was ordered to leave the community and within two or three weeks there was nothing in the store. Then they tried to employ a previous employee but that employee found it too hard, so the store closed. I think Craig and Peter are in the midst of taking that one over—aren’t you, Craig?
Mr Spicer —Yes.
Mrs VALE —Can I just make an observation. What is actually happening here and what you are trying to accommodate, the fluctuations, is something that happens in big business all the time as well, with management changing and CEOs under contract for three years. Some CEOs are great and some are not so great. Those that are not so great cause damage and move on. You are looking at something that is highly refined and does not have very much margin for error, and that then has this critical and crucial impact on the health of a community. I do not know that you are ever going to get rid of that, so I am thinking that maybe there needs to be some kind of guardian angel body of some description to oversight these stores on the basis that the provision of food is an essential service. It might have to be a government department that takes ultimate responsibility for it and makes sure that it is delivered by the proper and appropriate facilities and amenities available in the community. I do not know how you are ever going to get rid of that, just from listening to what we are all saying, because, as we know, it happens in big business across the world—there are fluctuations and companies that do not do so well. The trouble is that, when your community store fails, it fails your whole community. When big business fails, okay, so the yield on the share price is not so great, and that is basically all that happens.
ACTING CHAIR —The small get hurt too.
Mrs VALE —Yes, the small get hurt. The small get hurt all the time. Right now the most precious people are getting hurt—the people who are on the lowest income in Australia and their children. That is what Doug has referred to the whole time: getting that food to them. Who cares if we upset some market if it means that we get apples to a child? What is our major priority here? Let’s get real. We are looking at a population that is in decline. The population of Indigenous people in Australia is in decline.
Mr Bussey —Aboriginal people are on the increase.
Mrs VALE —Their fertility is, but when it comes to their age and to the individual people and how long they live, that is in decline.
Mr Bussey —It is only 2.5 per cent of population. If we cannot sort that out—
Mrs VALE —Exactly. We should be able to. We need a guardian angel department. We need a safety net because the tolerances are just too fine when it comes to Indigenous community stores.
Miss Bowcock —In these communities where everybody says that they should be able to have choice and do whatever they like we know that there are children in primary school with type 2 diabetes. We are solving the failure to thrive business but now we are actually getting children under the age of 10 with mature-onset diabetes that we would expect in the white population about 60 years of age. To me that is obscene. We know that their rollover down to kidney failure and death is actually going to be a lot quicker than it is for older people. Therefore, I do not think there is a choice.
Mrs VALE —We need a safety net.
Miss Bowcock —Yes.
ACTING CHAIR —That is coming up in this final section. As we close of on store management there are a couple of areas to discuss. First, we need to make sure that the stores are operating efficiently and, second, there is the question of viability. You cannot make them so efficient that they fall over. Mindful of that, let us look at efficiency. This document tells us two things: when you look at the size of the community they become less viable as they become small and they become less viable as the food-miles increase. You have helped us to lay this on and you can see that some are above the curve—above the line—and more expensive than they should be. Some will be below the line. I want to know why they are achieving lower prices. We need to do this survey again to make sure that this is not a snapshot. I do not know why they are above the line. What is going to happen is that either they may be very efficient or they may be moving into trouble and cannot sustain themselves. Or maybe these guys I am indicating on the document are about to go under and they are pushing across before they fail. Whatever the reason is, there is an alarm bell going as they move away from the line on the graph, because according to their size, how much food they order and how far it goes they are not on the line. Is taking your data and doing it more reliably and more widely one way of early identification?
Mr Bussey —We will no doubt do it again.
ACTING CHAIR —But are we heading in the right direction? Can these guys learn anything from these sites, because you just pulled out the use of generic labels. That knocks 15 per cent off prices instantly. So why aren’t the different parties talking to each other about that? These are snapshots and by next week they may have flipped, but that is the point I am making in general terms.
Mr Spicer —The change of the CEO, as someone said before, can change a store in three weeks. There is no doubt about that.
ACTING CHAIR —So if we are doing a monthly survey through the population health unit or the local health boards they are going to pick that up that same month. It will hit the screen and they will say, ‘What has happened at this store.’ And you will say that there was a change of CEO and suddenly we are onto a problem.
Ms Mellot —I will just say something about the graph where you have Yakanarra and Wangkatjungka. Wangkatjungka have a dirt road to go down plus they are 210 kilometres further out from Fitzroy Crossing whereas Yakanarra actually go into Fitzroy to collect their goods.
Miss Hines —My community will not eat home brand goods. It sits there and has got dust on it.
ACTING CHAIR —That is fascinating. You would not know it unless we asked. That deals with efficiency, but then the question is viability. How do we identify stores that are about to fail, because that causes huge social costs. We are looking for ways to identify them.
Mr Bussey —There is healthy competition between the stores. We go to all the store managers and they are all generally keen to know what is happening with others. There is healthy competition between small communities and the regional stores: Derby and Halls Creek. The competition is lopsided. Obviously there are also Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide.
ACTING CHAIR —You are the first one to really show us figures we can table. Is this worth repeating on a quarterly basis? Are you happy to make that a recommendation?
Ms REA —I think that graph is, yes. It sums up where we as a committee are really focusing in this inquiry. I appreciate that we do have to keep our eye on the end game, which is making sure that people in remote communities get access to reasonably priced, good quality food and that their nutrition is improved. I think there are safety nets now. If a community fails, there are options, whether it is through the government or others, to get food in to people. There is not going to be a situation where a community is allowed to starve. I think we are going back to what that graph tells us not just about who should be the safety net but about how we can actually heed the warning signs and look at those stores that are succeeding, why they are and what the lessons are that can be learnt and applied elsewhere if possible. The one thing we do know is that every community is different, but at least we might be able to come up with some sort of a formula or a format that teaches some lessons and gives us the warning signs before we ever get to the point of talking about safety nets. That is why I think that that graph is quite useful.
Mr Paling —In November Burringurrah fell over, and we got emergency phone calls from the CDEP up in Geraldton. We responded very quickly. We actually sacrificed some of the food. I think we sent a ton and a half or two tonnes of food. About a month ago, the same thing happened in the same location and we were back again.
Ms REA —That is the point that we are making. We want to find out about—
Mr Ryan —I disagree that the actual safety net is in place. The safety net is not in place.
Ms REA —Okay.
Mr Ryan —If we had not been here, there was a community that twice in three or four months would have had no food. There was another community as well, so the safety net does not exist.
Ms REA —But there are places like yours. What I am saying is that we do not want this discussion to just be about what the safety net is. We want to it to be about how we can heed the warning signs and what we can do. What are the recommendations we can make that will assist communities to be more viable and what are the support networks they need in place so then when things do start to fall over, whether it is a CEO or other circumstances, what are the warning signs that enable us to get in there before we have a community that has no food?
ACTING CHAIR —As we move to the final area, we are now assuming that pallets full of fresh fruit and vegetables are arriving at the door of the community store, and we are now looking at this issue: what do you do inside the store to maximise the likelihood that the fresh fruit and vegies are being taken home by the families that really need it and that it is being turned into nutritious alternatives that continue as sustainable family practices that lead to healthy kids and healthy seniors? We are now at that end of the spectrum.
Mr Fryer —It needs to be marketed properly. There is an issue between the supply and the demand. A lot of stores have most of their meat products frozen. Most people in the communities do not have microwaves. That meat tends to hang on balconies and verandas to defrost. Milk products—and you can back me up on this, Nicky—are delivered frozen. A lot of the time they are very hard to thaw out and they generally go off very quickly, so those products are not purchased. Therefore, powdered milk is the alternative. There are strategies that really are affected through the supply.
ACTING CHAIR —Thank you. Is there a solution to that?
Mr Paling —I thought I would mention cryovac meals being stored in the community stores. They are impervious, and there is a company in Queensland that is actually making up particular meals for Aboriginal communities to make sure that there is the required amount of vegetables and the stuff that is acceptable to the community in them. So the community is requesting what they want in their meal packs.
ACTING CHAIR —Do you use water and heat them up in a pot?
Mr Paling —No, you just heat the pack up. It is food safe under all conditions and it is from a company up in Queensland. It would solve a lot, because you have a complete meal there with all the ingredients, and they tell me that they can specify it by community store.
Ms Hollin —I would like to say something about Deadly Tucker. The issue of choice has come up quite a lot today. To create demand for healthy food, people really need to be able to make informed choices. There is a difference between choice and informed choice, and there is also a difference between making an informed choice and accessing healthy foods. Deadly Tucker supports the FOODcents program, which is specially adapted for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It was developed by the health department of WA quite a number of years ago and remains in the condition in which it was first developed. It has not been updated for many years; however, it is still a live resource and is being actively used. We and Red Cross use it extensively in our engagement with Aboriginal communities, with some considerable success in engaging extremely hard to reach people who live in the town sites and in the camps around Kalgoorlie-Boulder. We can actually get them to learn about healthy foods, about how to budget and about making affordable and healthy choices. There are myriad resources out there that have already been developed by the Heart Foundation, Diabetes WA, RIST and a whole variety of other organisations. The actual resources are already there; it just needs the will to deliver them.
ACTING CHAIR —If I have an unlimited supply of apples and I halve the price of apples, do people buy twice as many? Can someone tell me about demand elasticity? If I make fruit and vegetables cheaper, do people take twice as much of it or just the same amount and spend more on other foodstuffs? People are saying they will buy more coke, chicken and cigarettes, so is pricing as big an issue as we are making out?
Mr Bussey —It is, but you expect to get what you pay for. There is a demand for healthy, tasty, reasonable quality fruit and vegies, but there is very little demand for second-class food that has come from someone else’s store to the communities. I am sure that happens, because we get stuff that is blemished and rotten on the day it arrives. No offence, but that cryovac food is going back on what we have already started. We are looking for healthy, fresh, good quality food to go into the communities. Those are the rights we all have. We do not want to eat food that needs heating up. We all have the right to high-quality food, especially in Australia, where it should be available.
Ms REA —So you are saying it is about quality more than price.
Mr Bussey —I agree with that, but I am just one person.
Mr Davies —That is plain and obvious to everybody in Fitzroy. When you buy tucker at Turunda—and I am going to say Turunda because it is shocking—it lasts one week in your fridge. If I buy vegies at Bayulu, I don’t know why it is different but that food is actually fresher and lasts longer in my fridge. If I buy food here in Broome or do everything at Woolies, for some reason the vegies and fruit last longer in my fridge.
ACTING CHAIR —Than what?
Mr Davies —Than fruit from Turunda. Most people in town—and you can ask anybody—guess that they must be buying old tucker at the end of its shelf life. What guarantee is there for customers that we are getting fresh tucker from these suppliers? A lot of the communities we are talking about are smack bang in the middle of pastoral leases full of cattle. We have always eaten that cattle and we like eating it more than the grain fed cattle from down south, which tastes like rubbish. We like free-range cattle, but a lot of it goes to Indonesia. They are eating all the good tucker over there. Yakanarra found a solution to their problem: they pay 15 grand to Gogo every year, which allows them as a community to go out and slaughter a beast whenever they want one. So some ideas that community people have come up with need to be looked at too. We like our meat fresh, with blood running. It tastes better than shop stuff. I only by shop stuff when I am between killers, and most families are like that.
ACTING CHAIR —So you pay 15 grand to a pastoral lease to—
Mr Davies —Yakanarra did that.
ACTING CHAIR —Is it common to find killers and just kill them illegally?
Mr Davies —Yes, that happens. It has always happened. The biggest station managers do that to one another. That is the history of this country.
ACTING CHAIR —So what happens? Do you bring it back and share it amongst your family groups in the community?
Mr Davies —Yes. They bring the killer back in and just spread it out—
ACTING CHAIR —It does not turn up in the store of course.
Mr Davies —No, it does not.
Mr Bussey —We have got to face it too that our westernised way of gathering food—walking into a shop—is pretty boring. This is why nutrition is so much more than just shopping. As an extended family you will go out and knock a killer off or you will go fishing or collect bush food. That enjoyment has gone in some ways. It is not all bad; there are many positives, but walking into a store and buying food that is not the best—
ACTING CHAIR —Is there any capacity for individuals particularly on the coast to bring seafood in and sell it in the store? Does that break any health rules? Would you accept a whole lot of seafood or maybe some locally grown vegetables in your store and put a price on them?
Mr Carter —We already looked at that option some 20 years ago. The restrictions you have in the way you package food or the health regulations make it difficult for communities to go into something like that and they do not have the funds to do it under their own steam unless it is federally funded. At the end of the day communities do not really want an outside organisation coming in there, doing everything and making a profit out of it.
ACTING CHAIR —If you went out there and shot some roos, chopped the tails off and brought them in, would your store say no to the roo tails?
Mr Carter —Our store actually supplies roo tails. We buy them from the shop because we do not get roos up where I am. That produce comes in, the same as kangaroo meat does for the dogs—it is used for dog food. A few of the old people like their kangaroo meat—the roasted tail—and they eat that.
We own an internationally recognised resort, which is called Kooljamon Resort, and we cannot even sell that resort our products from our aquaculture centre because of restrictions put in by fisheries, and not only fisheries but the health department and everything like that with processing requirements, so that it makes it very difficult to get into industries such as that.
ACTING CHAIR —Let me go back to that fresh fruit and veg idea. Should it all be free or should there be a gold coin? Just as an idea, you may well say to people that for every hundred dollars they spend in the store they get 10 fresh fruit and veg credits. That means that whenever fresh fruit and veg come in they can just come back with their credits and take away their fresh fruit and veg by showing the credits and collecting the produce. Is that too burdensome? Would it just make people say, ‘I am not going to buy fruit and veg. I am just going to wait until I get a free credit,’ so nothing moves on your shelves?
Mr Carter —In our store anybody who spends over $100 gets a 10 per cent discount. Pensioners within our community automatically get 10 per cent discount regardless of how much they purchase in our store. Under the management of their income we have a credit system in place where people can put a credit into the store. They have to build up a credit system there—a bit like a lay-by but in reverse—before they can book up. If they did reach their limit, it goes back to the manager of the store and then it is referred back to me. We look at their credit history, a bit like the banks, and if they have a good credit history then we will bump up their credit rate.
ACTING CHAIR —In all of those incentives for these groups, which are across the board, how do I get more fresh fruit and veg going home to a household? Do I have some kind of incentive?
Mr Carter —If there is good presentation on your shelves and the produce is fresh and firm, it will get bought. If it is not fresh and the presentation is not good, it will sit there for ever and a day.
ACTING CHAIR —If the shelves are full of fresh apples and oranges, you reckon that if they are good quality they will go and they do not need to be subsidised?
Mr Carter —No, that is half of one and half of the other.
ACTING CHAIR —I am trying to work out how to get more of this into households. Does it need to be subsidised?
Mr Carter —If it is cheaper, it probably would sell a lot better.
ACTING CHAIR —Do we agree that it needs to be made cheaper? Okay, I see that lots of you have agreed with that. How do I do it? Do I subsidise the freight? Do I say to store, ‘Here’s the money, make the fresh fruit and veg cheaper’? How do I make it cheaper?
Mr Carter —Buy it in bulk.
ACTING CHAIR —You know the cents per kilo. If we assume it has arrived, it is in great nick and it is in the store, how do I get more of it out the door? At the moment, people are going to buy as much of it as they are going to buy. What happens if I had twice as many apples? Will they buy more apples?
Mr Fryer —You have to market it properly.
Mr Carter —Yes, if it is marketed, presented properly and fresh, and you know that your community will purchase the fruit. I know that my people will because they love their fresh fruit and vegetables. If you reduce the prices on that and subsidise prices on your non-essential items, you manage it that way. It all boils down to the management of your store.
ACTING CHAIR —What if there is a piece of fresh fruit and veg available at the store for every child under the age of 18 every day? They could go to the store and get a piece of fresh produce. Is that a way of doing it?
Mr Spicer —Anything like that is quite possible and is well worth trying. How much work does it take to give that to everyone? If we spend half a day organising to give that fruit away for free, where are we making the money to pay for the managers to do everything else? It is not free. Even though you might give it away, it is not free because it is still a cost to somebody.
ACTING CHAIR —At the moment, I cannot find a way to do it.
Mr Clements —What about through the schools? Before, we used to give kids small bottles of milk at recess time—when I was a kid, anyway. Why can’t they do it at school? They could give all the kids at school some fruit and a couple to take home.
ACTING CHAIR —One of the teachers could take a couple of boxes a day of fresh fruit and veg to the school, and everyone would get a piece on the days it is available.
Miss Bowcock —Most schools in the Kimberley provide a fruit and veg break, whether they fund it themselves, get it through the education department or through the community. One of the things that has always done quite well—I do not know why more schools do not do it; I am sure scanning does not help—is to have bowls of fruit sitting at the counter. When people come through they might have some small change and generally someone will say, ‘Why don’t you buy an apple or an orange or something with that change?’ It is what you were saying, Warren: straight marketing. If you go into Coles and Woolworths, you will see all the incidental stuff at checkout. Community stores over the years have had bowls of fruit or pieces of fruit at the checkout for people as they go through. That is an easy way of doing it. One other thing I would like to mention is that I think you should ban those machines that contain all-day suckers that are out the front of stores.
ACTING CHAIR —Lolly machines?
Miss Bowcock —Yes. All-day suckers are the big ones—
Ms REA —Chupa Chups.
Miss Bowcock —Yes, that sort of thing. Sometimes you will find that that is the highest seller for stores. You have already heard today about the shortage of dentists and not being able to get dentists out to communities. I have known school dentists who have gone to communities and found from one visit to the next that kids have gone from having no missing or decayed teeth to having a mouth full them. That has been because of an all-day sucker machine at the front of the community store.
ACTING CHAIR —They soak up all the small change that most kids carry.
Miss Bowcock —Yes, and they stay in the kids mouth until they are finished. I think there is room for kids to have confectionary, but it should certainly not sit in their mouths all the time rotting their teeth.
ACTING CHAIR —Can we move from fresh fruit and veg to the familiarity with some of these lines, cooking classes, instruction and confidence building for young mums? Do you have any views on the role of a social focus like the supermarket to get involved in cooking classes or instruction?
Mr Fryer —I think Clint can comment on some of the programs that Nindilingarri did at Bayulu. Do you want to talk about Bayulu, Clint, and the health promotion and marketing stuff that you did out there?
Mr Bussey —In our program it is essential really. It is not just aimed at women and young mothers, it is aimed at everyone. You will find in the Kimberley Valley, as Patrick said earlier, that the men are as keen as mustard for this type of thing. The men are often the first ones to come up and ask. They see something in the store that they are not sure about and they will ask about it and how they go about fixing it up.
ACTING CHAIR —What is a good time of day and what is a good forum to do it?
Mr Bussey —Usually in the morning and we do it at all the communities with a store. We go to every one of the communities. If they do not have a store, we will bring it along. We will bring it along uncooked, uncut, whack it on a table and go for it. You cannot beat traditional foods. A lot of the time we will take a kangaroo carcass, we will take fish, obviously, with sorry business and things like that going on. Rarely, we will get a killer. You cannot beat traditional foods.
ACTING CHAIR —How is it done in communities where there is not a NACCHO? Who is going to do it?
Miss Bowcock —There are lots of cooking classes going on in schools. I run a program, as I said, in schools that goes for normally all of second term and probably hits at least half the schools in the Kimberley. The classes get points, it is a challenge, it is a competition, the classes get more points if they have health education lessons and things like that and cooking is amongst the highest of the health education lessons they get. That is just working generally in second or third term but it happens in a lot of schools, particularly the remote schools. Clint’s counterpart down in the Kutjungka region is doing lots of that too.
Ms REA —Does going to the classes and in other cases doing the education and awareness programs translate to people cooking more stuff back at home? It is not just about, ‘Good, I’ll go down cook up a nice feed today, but when I go home I don’t have to worry about it.’ Does it actually work?
Mr Bussey —The most pleasing thing we see is that, if we introduce a particular recipe—we use a lot of cheap lentils and canned food—you go back into the store and the ingredients are gone. It does not happen all the time. Things are not always fabulous but that is one of the things that we notice. You get feedback from the store. We do a lot of talking with stores and stuff. A lot of the time the stores will have trouble. They will get a line of good quality, healthy foods in and they will have trouble moving them. They will come to you and say: ‘We’re having trouble here. We’ve got this in. What can you do about it?’ You go home and think about it, give Robyn a call and come up with an idea to use that within a recipe.
Ms Hollin —We have been delivering our version of the FOODcents program for quite a number of years now in a variety of different environments. I think your question was: what is a good time? There is no such thing as a good time, it is whatever works for that community and whatever works with that group. So whether it is taught in schools, whether it is done in community venues, whether it is done in the middle of a paddock, which is often the case, it is about sitting down with people in whatever environment they find themselves in and then adapting it appropriately to your audience. It has huge applicability. We have found through external evaluation that when you teach people cooking skills and how to choose and select healthy, affordable food it does translate to changes in home behaviours because nobody knowingly wants to hurt their children. Once people realise what the foods that they are buying are actually doing to them and their families, they do not want them any more. I am happy to submit external evaluation in support of that comment.
ACTING CHAIR —We are moving to our last five minutes. Does anyone else have a comment? We really need to get down to final comments now before we close, so please have a think.
Mr Paling —FOODcents is a generic program. The home economics teachers now do FOODcents at the Foodbank as part of their professional development, so we are attacking from inside the schools now. The FOODcents program will become part of the high school curriculum. It is a very simple thing. Not only does it teach people to eat better nutritionally but there is a guaranteed saving on the family food bill of $2,000. We, Red Cross and a heap of other people are trying to stop the leeching, if you like, of the schools, and if the store people come the rest of the distance I think we will meet in the middle and make a substantial difference at the end of the day.
ACTING CHAIR —We have had different views on the issue of cross-subsidy. Should we in the end be making unhealthy food that little bit more expensive and using it within the store to cross-subsidise? We have had both views expressed. Can I get a general consensus?
Miss Bowcock —I think that either way it does not really matter. People will buy what they want to buy. What is more important is placement of food in the store. Right from the beginning it is the whole marketing of the food. I know when Dr Amanda Lee did her work in Minjilang she found that just by moving sugar to the back of the store and putting it in an inconvenient place where people could not find it sugar sales dropped by 13 per cent.
ACTING CHAIR —By how much?
Miss Bowcock —By 13 per cent, if I remember rightly. I could be wrong on that, but it was a significant drop just by placement. My argument with store managers in discussions with them is that they should not put large bottles of cool drink where small kids can get them. That is generally what happens. The 1.25-litre bottles are the only things that the little kids can reach in the fridge and so that is what they get. Normally they will not drink the whole lot but they are still going to overconsume. If store managers think a bit more about the placement of their items, particularly in relation to kids, that could make a big difference. Marketing is much more important than cross-subsidising.
Mr Bussey —I have a bit of a problem with increasing the price of unhealthy foods. People are still going to buy those foods; they are going to have less money to spend on the healthy foods. It would be better to limit unhealthy foods in the stores.
ACTING CHAIR —Do you have some examples?
Mr Bussey —Cool drinks are a classic example, and chips.
ACTING CHAIR —There are two different categories here. One is that if you took Coke away there would be a riot, but you can replace ghee with trans fatty acid free cooking oils and polyunsaturated oils. Is that happening?
Mr Bussey —Or portion sizing. Instead of two litre bottles at the front of the store you could have the little 250 millilitre cans.
ACTING CHAIR —Can we go through the issues here. There is portion size and restricting access of placement but what about simply replacing unhealthy pies with healthy pies? Are all the oils on sale healthy oils?
Miss Bowcock —No, in some places they are not. I think it is a matter of economics. Talking about Coke, a classic example was a couple of years ago when a CEO of a community got the idea that Coke was causing diarrhoea in the community. There was a water alert for coliforms but there was no extra diarrhoea, so somehow or other he decided that Coke was causing the diarrhoea. Instead of not selling Coke he put it on the shelves and it was not sold cold. People still bought Coke but they bought it warm. Anything that the stores wanted to sell more of they put in the fridge and sold cold. So strategies like that make a difference. You do not say, ‘We’re restricting you’ but if you want to drink cold Coke you have to take it home and then chill it yourself.
Mr Fryer —If they want to buy it they will go to great lengths to get the product they are after. Brand specific, product specific—it makes no difference. It is education; that is the key. They need to know why not to buy that product and why to buy the other product. Education is the key.
ACTING CHAIR —Lastly, the little pet issue that I mentioned earlier: in mid-sized communities where there are simply very few places where they can store fresh fruit and veg, is there any place for a community cool area which has lock-up areas for individual families to store fruit and vegetable items? I know it does not happen anywhere. Is it worth a trial or do you think it is futile to have a mini coldroom where you can unlock the padlock to your family stuff?
Mr Davies —It would only get broken into. They will find a way of breaking into it.
—You can’t make a CDEP project to make something out of something pretty tough?
Mr Davies —I think there was a guy who was trying to run with that idea, but that is sort of going backwards. That is not bringing our people forward.
Mr Spicer —How is that any different?
Mr Davies —That is just allowing us to tick our little boxes.
—Let me just defend the benefit of it. It gets you refrigerated fruit and vegies between two-weekly deliveries in communities of 200 or 300 people 10 years earlier than you are going to.
Mr Davies —People will get access to that food. You have a lot of cultural links to them. You know: ‘You are my aunty. You won’t say no to me. Go and get that tucker.’ People have ways of getting it. Outside cultural ways, they have ways of getting it.
ACTING CHAIR —We will burn that one? Communities get a two-weekly delivery. I do not mind if they break in; at least someone is eating it! Will we burn that one?
Mrs Martin —Just one thing. That is a great idea for a remote community, but then you have to take the fuel in to keep the generator going to feed the refrigerators. Who is going to pay for that? There are all these other things. You cannot walk into a remote community with a great idea, go like that and get power. It comes from somewhere. The fuel is carried in via freight. Then you have things like water. The water is great for the people who live there because they are used to it. Or are they used to it? Are their kids sick from it? I do not know. Sometimes those questions are not asked, which is for the government a good thing. But, when you actually go there and you want to provide a service that incorporates the use of the community’s water, it is not always good water. Strangers that come in there get sick.
ACTING CHAIR —What sort of water service are you talking about?
Mrs Martin —In a remote community, you know, bore water—drinking water. Some of the waters have so much mineral in them that people get sick. There are two towns. Fitzroy is much better now. Halls Creek is in crisis. Halls Creek do not have water that does not make them sick. Women have to drink—
ACTING CHAIR —Do they get diarrhoea from contamination or minerals?
Mrs Martin —It is the mineralisation of the water. Pregnant women cannot drink the water there. They are asked to drink bottled water, which is provided by the Water Corporation. There are other places in the state that do the same thing. I am sorry. I just thought I would put it in now. For all these great ideas, we have to find a way to make them work. I have to say, looking at some of the people in this room, that we have done it all; we have tried all this. Some of us have been working in the communities for 25 years—and some of us for 27, but we will not go there! The only thing I ever saw that worked was the homemakers. They were people who lived in the community and contributed to the community. If you wanted to get fruit out there, they would find a process to do it. The only ones who come close are Nindilingarri, up there in Fitzroy. They are the only people who are actually doing something there on the ground.
ACTING CHAIR —What is their job and who are they?
Mrs Martin —That is that mob. Do you see what I mean?
ACTING CHAIR —If these guys did not exist, would it be the—
Mrs Martin —Hang on. Do not say that, because they should exist. This is the point. You can keep saying they do not exist in other places, but we actually need to get over that little hump—that is, that they only exist in one place at the moment—and look at where it can apply in other areas. Andrew is an amazing resource. You have these young people who have clout in their community. They are the ones you should be sitting on the ground with. Without them, we are not going to be thinking about the fact that, if you want more refrigerators in the community, you need more power and therefore you need more fossil fuel or whatever. Do you see what I mean? Homemakers did it all. The other thing is that you work on the culture. Here in Broome, if one of my daughters went out with a bloke who could not cook, she would not bring him home. Come on. If you do not bring home a bloke who can cook—no. It is a part of the culture here in Broome. Men here in Broome are taught to cook. Andrew is one of the best cooks, but his missus makes the best chilli. But that is not the point. Do you see what I mean? There are lots of ways that we can do things if we can get these young people together. They have the benefit of lots of other people in their community who have been part of the homemakers.
I coordinated the homemakers in the West Kimberley for about four years because nobody else would do it. That program worked: (1) it made sure that kids had a feed and (2) there was fresh fruit, because it was all subsidised. There are only two places in Western Australia that still have the homemaker program. One of them is Pandanus Park—they still give the kids fresh fruit—and the other is in the Pilbara.
ACTING CHAIR —Which community?
Mrs Martin —I am not sure where it is in the Pilbara, because I keep to my own turf, but here it is in Pandanus Park. It was going for years and it was successful, but that program was stopped because they employed non-Indigenous people. I do not get that. I did not get it then and I do not get it now. Between what you are doing at cultural health and what the old homemakers used to do you would have it all. Cultural health are the only way to go because they understand the culture of the community, and they also have intimate knowledge about what is happening in those communities.
ACTING CHAIR —So where there is no NACCHO there are health clinics, and those health clinics have Aboriginal health workers. Is there a role for expanding their activities out of the health centre down to the store, where you guys don’t exist? I mean, I cannot create NACCHOs everywhere.
Mr Davies —The homemaker programs used to run out of Family and Children’s Services, which back then we used to call ‘welfare’. My mother did that in Kununurra in the seventies.
ACTING CHAIR —So you have Aboriginal health workers. Is that a good place to start? I cannot make a new program begin, but you have existing senior Aboriginal health workers—
Mr Davies —In communities there are a lot of senior women that were cooks. They would cook bread, meat, vegies and everything in the ground clean. A lot of that knowledge is still in some of the senior ones. A lot of them know how to cook. It is not like all our mob do not know how to cook.
ACTING CHAIR —But they would be pretty senior women now, wouldn’t they?
Mr Davies —Yes, but there are younger ones that learn from them. A lot of people say our mob eat too much meat and it is no good for you, but it is about how you cook it. If it is cooked on coals in a ground oven, a lot of the fat goes from the meat. A few years ago I heard news about a doctor that worked with people in Utopia. They were the healthiest Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and they were living more of a traditional life. It was interesting to read that.
Mr Spicer —There is a lot of great stuff coming out of this, but for it to succeed you would strangle the vehicle, being a commercially operated store. Unless you have subsidies and other grants to help with that, it would be a struggle. The stores in the communities are just about the only non-grant business going on.
ACTING CHAIR —It could work through the store. We have the HACC people here, but all the ingredients come from the store.
Mr Spicer —That all happens now, but achieving those outcomes would strangle the store.
ACTING CHAIR —I am not sure what you are saying.
Mr Spicer —It is not commercially viable for us to spend all our time promoting fresh food. It requires all the agencies, and it should not be the sole responsibility of the store.
ACTING CHAIR —Absolutely not. That is why we are talking about welfare, Aboriginal health workers, local senior volunteers and the homemaker program. You cannot put any more of an onus on the store.
Ms REA —But you cannot have one without the other. If the store does not provide the ingredients then all those education programs do not work, and if the education programs do not work then the store won’t sell the nutritious food. The two have to go hand in hand. The issue is how we find that balance between providing good quality food and, where possible, having a sustainable and commercially viable store.
ACTING CHAIR —The committee will take into consideration everything that has been discussed in today’s hearing. We are due to report our findings to the government in the latter part of this year. I thank everyone for coming.
Resolved (on motion by Ms Rea):
That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.
Committee adjourned at 5.05 pm