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Committee calls for more funds for remote sto -

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Committee calls for more funds for remote stores

Meredith Griffiths reported this story on Tuesday, November 17, 2009 12:31:00

ELEANOR HALL: A parliamentary committee has called on the Federal Government to do more to ensure
that Indigenous Australians have access to fresh food.

The committee found that local stores could play a key role in improving the welfare of people in
remote communities by selling healthy food.

But it said this would require logistical and financial support from the Government, as Meredith
Griffiths reports.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The Labor backbencher Bob Debus says that supplying nutritious food is just
about the most fundamental way to improve health in Indigenous communities.

BOB DEBUS: The statistics are just awful. Indigenous Australian adults are twice as likely to be
obese as non-indigenous Australian adults. The incidence of end-stage renal disease in remote areas
of Indigenous Australia is 20 times higher than it is for the rest of Australia.

There are a number of statistics like that and we know that a substantial reason for that
horrifying health gap is the absence of nutritious foods.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: He's the chair of a committee which has spent nearly a year investigating the
operation of local stores in remote communities.

Its final report says the stores can play a pivotal role in improving the social, economic and
health outcomes of the communities but says successes are scattered.

The committee has made 33 recommendations.

Bob Debus says the most important is that the Government set up a national office to coordinate the
food supply chain so that remote communities can receive fresh food every week.

BOB DEBUS: Likely it will work that there is a small number of people in each state who give
support to communities or groups of communities to develop ways in which you can supply these
healthy perishable goods regularly by whatever means of transport is best available and according
to the local circumstances.

People who are used to making deliveries of food in the commercial sector tell us that this is not
necessarily a terrifically hard thing to do, although when you get into the most remote places
obviously you have to be able to adapt.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The committee has also suggested that the Government establish an
infrastructure fund to help remote community stores buy equipment like refrigerators.

The inquiry also looked at the effectiveness of the Outback Stores program which started under the
Howard government.

Some communities were initially reluctant to hand over the management of their stores to people
appointed by bureaucrats, but Mr Debus says the model has worked extremely well.

BOB DEBUS: At the beginning it was conceived as being an initiative that was essentially set up on
a business basis. It was essentially a commercial enterprise and what we've noticed is that some of
the stores are nevertheless simply ensuring that there is food security in very remote places
without actually making a profit or even breaking even.

And what we are recommending is that there is a review of the Outback Stores to simply acknowledge
that there are two different kinds of models that you can have. One in the somewhat larger
communities which will be business based but another which will involve some form of subsidy
because it is serving the needs of the most remote or the smallest communities.

This is I think, not controversial, it is just a sensible way to proceed.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The chief executive of Djarindjin community near Broome, Andy McGaw has
welcomed the recommendations.

ANDY MCGAW: We were very scared and worried with what they may do, and I think we'll take heart
that the approach they've taken to date seems to be quite balanced and one that we'd support.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: But the manager of the local store at Yuelamu in the Northern Territory is wary
about the Federal Government getting too involved.

HAROLD RAUNACHER: Every store has got their own needs. Every community is different.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Harold Raunacher lives 250 kilometres west of Alice Springs but says he's had
no trouble getting a consistent supply of fresh fruit and vegetables for the past 15 years.

(to Harold Raunacher) Is it very expensive though?

HAROLD RAUNACHER: If you take fresh fruit and vegetables and you sell them at cost, or just above
cost, then they're cheap enough to buy for anyone. If the Government is going to do anything, they
should maybe put some money towards the freight of the goods.

ELEANOR HALL: Harold Raunacher is the store manager of Yuelamu. He was speaking to Meredith