National

Why Australians in remote areas are paying 90 percent more for food

Why Australians in remote areas are paying 90 percent more for food
People living in some of Australia's remotest communities have been sharing photos revealing the staggering prices they are being forced to pay for basic groceries.
The photos, submitted to a parliamentary inquiry into food security and prices in Indigenous communities, include a $16 pack of sausages, a 3-litre container of milk for $7.30, a tin of Spam for $7.70 and apples for $8.30 a kilo.
The issue of price hikes in remote communities made national headlines in March, when a fed-up woman from Palm Island voiced her disgust at an $82 packet of lamb chops.
Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt ordered the inquiry, which has so far received more than 110 submissions, many calling for subsidies to help people pay for the exorbitant cost of basic food items.
A $16 pack of sausages being sold in a community store west of Alice Springs. (Supplied)
Yothu Yindi Foundation CEO Denise Bowden told nine.com.au that people living in the Northern Territory's Arnhem Land could expect to pay 90 percent more for groceries than people in Sydney or Melbourne, and about 70 percent more than in Darwin.
"That kind of disparity is unacceptable, and a very real situation for residents of our region. That price escalation makes it nearly impossible to live a healthy lifestyle in very remote communities, it's just too expensive," Ms Bowden said.
"It becomes easier to have a less nutritional diet when you don't have a substantial and consistent means of income to purchase quality staples.
"High food prices impact the region in a number of ways, but especially in their contribution to continuing poor health outcomes and high mortality rates."
Submissions sent into the inquiry told of food being mouldy when it finally arrived in the shops and others raised the issue of out-of-date products still sitting on the shelves.
The food quality is often poor by the time it arrives in remote locations. (Gidgee Healing)
"I have heard of meat being sold in very remote shops when it's use-by date has been expired, or it's been frozen and then defrosted for sale," Ms Bowden said.
"We don't point blame at the supply chain - this is the reality of living in a very remote location, and I often think urban residents take for granted the good quality produce that you have direct access to."
Remote stores are the main food source for an estimated 150,000 people living in remote communities, according to the National Indigenous Australians Agency.
In most indigenous communities, there is only one general store, and residents may have to travel for hundreds of kilometres to get to the nearest major supermarket.
The high cost of goods in local stores has been attributed to a range of factors including freight costs, no competition and a lack of wholesale buying power.
In a submission from Gidgee Healing, an Aboriginal health organisation operating within Mount Isa and the Lower Gulf Region of North West Queensland, dietician Kiri Woodington said the region's food security took a plunge every year during the wet season, when floods could disrupt the supply chain.
"During COVID-19, a mass shopping event and the stripping of the stores gripped the nation. People were shocked at the inability to buy fruit, vegetables and toilet paper. For those living in our region, this is an annual occurrence," Ms Woodington wrote in the submission.
A photo of a store nearly empty of fresh fruit and vegetables after floods in 2019, which cut Mount Isa and the Lower Gulf off from the rest of country. (Gidgee Healing)
"During my first wet season as a dietitian I had a lovely family come in for a discussion about getting their family eating well and healthy.
"Whilst chatting with the parents, it became apparent that this family, made up of two parents and two toddlers had not eaten in several days.
"What made the discussion sadder, is that the mother looked at me puzzled and said, 'But it's the wet season, we don't eat for two to three weeks during the wet season.'"
The Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs is due to submit its findings to the Federal Government in October.
Ms Bowden said she hoped the parliamentary inquiry, which is due to submit its findings to the Federal Government in October, would result in real change.
"This inquiry has received quite a significant amount of submissions, including from our region, because it's obviously a matter that we are all concerned with broadly across very remote demographics.  It would be a real disservice to our remote regions if nothing were to come out of this Inquiry.   Moving forward, there has to be some sort of subsidy put in place for very remote residents living in their communities."
Contact reporter Emily McPherson at [email protected]