The inquiry into remote food pricing has found large disparities of food pricing in remote communities compared to non-remote communities.

The Indigenous Affairs Committee tabled its report on Monday, noting the lack of buying power of remote community stores to access wholesale prices, expensive supply chains and limited access to storage capacity as the main reasons for high pricing.

The inquiry has also reinforced concerns of food security for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living within these areas.

The report found no evidence of systematic price-gouging.

Committee Chair Julian Leeser said the issue of food security for remote Indigenous communities is not a recent concern.

“For many people living remotely, food security is a constant concern. The supply of quality and affordable food is often unstable due to poor infrastructure, seasonal changes, the high costs of living and operating stores remotely,” he said.

“However, despite these challenges, the Committee also learned that there is a very good story to be told about what happened in remote communities this year during COVID-19.

“We have an opportunity to harness some of the lessons of the Supermarket Taskforce and the Food Security Working Group that were established this year in response to this pandemic and can build on the networks and goodwill generated through that process.”

The third inquiry in a decade into remote community food pricing, the report made 16 recommendations to Government including:

  • Price monitoring
  • A national scheme of licensing and inspection of remote community stores
  • Investment in local food production
  • The continuation of the Food Security Working Group established during COVID-19.

“It is important to acknowledge that this is the third time this matter has been examined in recent years and none of those inquiries has resolved the concerns about food prices and security that have been expressed,” said Leeser.

“Consequently, complaints concerning food pricing need to be examined by a body that is equipped to do the thorough, forensic examination that will satisfy the public. That is why the Committee is recommending these matters be investigated by the ACCC undertaking an enhanced market study which they have never done in remote communities.”

Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt welcomed the report and commended the Committee on its “comprehensive inquiry into the complex factors faced by remote community stores that contribute to issues around food security and price”.

The Minister highlighted the collaboration across industry, community and government during COVID-19, but fell short of committing to implementing the report’s recommendations.

A statement from Minister Wyatt’s office said ensuring “a reliable supply of essential goods, groceries and other critical supplies in remote communities” was a “high priority for the Morrison Government“.

“I am currently considering the recommendations and will work with my Ministerial colleagues who hold responsibility for these matters to consider our next steps,” Minister Wyatt said.

Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney and Shadow Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians Warren Snowdon criticised the Government’s current approach to food security and pricing in a statement.

“How are we supposed to close the gap in quality of life outcomes when we are continuing to witness — in 2020 and in such a wealthy nation — the deprivation of basic items that so many of us in non-remote areas take for granted, like electricity or sufficient refrigeration space,” the statement said.

“Where is the urgency from this Government?”

“Labor is deeply concerned that the issues raised by this inquiry are too complex for this one-dimensional slogan-driven Government to contemplate.

“It is truly astounding that when the most vulnerable groups in Australia are paying some of the highest prices for the most basic items, the Government is pre-occupied with its pursuit of the Cashless Debit Card — which disproportionately impacts First Nations people.”

By Rachael Knowles