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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11759

Mr DEBUS (8:39 PM) —On behalf of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, I present the committee’s report entitled Everybody’s Business: Remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Community Stores, together with the minutes of proceedings and evidence received by the committee.

Order that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr DEBUS —On behalf of the members of the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs I would like to acknowledge the Ngunawal and Ngambri peoples, the traditional custodians of this land, and pay respects to the elders, past and present. I also acknowledge other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who now reside here.

The Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs has completed its inquiry into the operation of stores located in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities, initiated in December 2008. This inquiry was of vital interest to our remote Indigenous peoples and to the many stakeholders who have been working in partnership with their communities over decades to improve the health of Indigenous Australians. I am delighted that this report is a unanimous one.

The committee received 112 submissions during the course of the inquiry, many from individuals living in remote Indigenous communities and some from government departments, store owners and store managers, freight providers, health experts, universities, non-government organisations and Indigenous representative organisations. The committee held 28 public hearings and visited 17 remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities, from Cape York and the Torres Strait in Queensland, to Broome in the west, into Central Australia and across the top of Australia to Arnhem Land. I would like to express the committee’s sincere appreciation and gratitude to the remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities who participated in the inquiry. The committee thanks in particular the traditional owners and elders, who welcomed us, and the clans and families in those communities, who shared their experiences, and also the store managers, who opened their stores to the committee during busy shopping hours, morning and evening. The honest commentary from all participants involved assisted in informing the committee’s view and evaluation of the complex challenges to food security in remote regions.

The title of the report was drawn from an observation by Mr Traven Lea, chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nutrition Strategy and Action Plan, NATSINSAP, and a descendant of the Wuli-Wuli, Darambal and Djirubal people from South-East Queensland. At hearings in Canberra Mr Lea acknowledged the positive trend in national strategic policy, which has made the wellbeing of Indigenous Australia everybody’s business—all of Australia’s business. Specifically, developments under the Council of Australian Governments National Indigenous Reform Agreement to close the gap on Indigenous health have focused the national effort on the disproportionate chronic disease burden borne by Indigenous people.

Poor nutrition, particularly low fruit and vegetable intake, is an important determinant of the health gap. In most remote communities the store is the principal source of fresh fruit and vegetables. Therefore, the committee made a number of recommendations aimed to promote the consumption of and improve the supply of and affordability of nutritious fresh foods in remote Indigenous communities, including: collaborating with every remote Indigenous community to develop and manage a healthy store policy; establishing a national remote Indigenous food supply chain coordination office, which would support communities or groupings of communities to develop supply models appropriate to them that deliver healthy perishable foodstuffs regularly—weekly where possible; establishing a remote community store infrastructure fund to assist in the investment of delivery, refrigeration and storage of fresh and healthy produce; and, supporting community garden, traditional foods and farming projects.

The financial capacity of Indigenous people living in remote communities is limited. This, combined with the fact that most goods and services in remote Australia are at least 20 per cent more expensive than in the city, poses an even greater strain on providing access to healthy and affordable food. The committee found that there is no comprehensive data available about the cost of living for Indigenous Australians living in remote communities. Therefore, the committee recommended commissioning a regional cost of living study for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders living in remote communities.

By far the majority of stores are owned by the Indigenous community in which they are located. The committee was impressed by evidence from remote communities that both own and manage their community store. (Time expired)