Cost of Food and Availability of Essential Items on the APY Lands

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation questions on the subject of the cost of food and the availability of other essential items on the APY lands.

Leave granted.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: The high cost of food on the APY lands has been a very hot topic in this chamber in recent weeks, and rightly so. Food is, of course, vital, but unfortunately it is not the only essential item that can be cost prohibitive for people on the lands. There are many more questions that need to be asked about this situation, not all of which I have managed to get on the record amidst all the hullabaloo of the last few weeks, so I thought I would ask a few more today. My five questions to the minister today are:

1.Is the minister aware that a single capsicum can cost as much as $4 on the APY lands?

2.What is the Weatherill government doing to reduce the cost of other essential items, like baby nappies, which, I gather from my personal trips to the lands, are so expensive that many shopkeepers do not bother to even price tag them, so that patrons are not put off buying them before they get to the check-out?

3.Has the minister personally visited the APY lands for more than a fly-in, fly-out trip? If not, exactly when does he plan to do this in his new role as minister, and would he like to answer that question this time?

4.Since Labor has been working on food security in the lands since coming into government 11 years ago, can the minister advise Anangu people how much longer they will have to wait, so that they can ration their existing stocks appropriately?

5.If the Labor government’s record on serving and consulting with Aboriginal Australians is as good as the minister might have us believe, then why is it that many people on the lands refer to government ministers as ‘pelicans’, who fly in, shit everywhere, and leave?

The PRESIDENT: The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation will ignore the opinion and the debate.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation): I thank the honourable member for her most important question on this most important subject. To start with, I am not in the habit of confirming the details of my diary with members of this chamber. If they want to do their own research they will find that from time to time I have spoken on matters to do with the APY lands. They can go and read the Hansard. I invited them to do that last time and I invite the honourable member to do that once again.

The Hon. K.L. Vincent interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I don’t know how much clearer I can make it, sir. Go and read Hansard, do your own research.

The Hon. K.L. Vincent interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Go and read Hansard and do your own research about when—

The PRESIDENT: Minister, you will direct your answer to me, thank you.

The Hon. K.L. Vincent interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: No; I am suggesting that the honourable member might do her own research—

The PRESIDENT: Order!

The Hon. K.L. Vincent interjecting:

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: Well, you are not the people of South Australia, as much as you might like to think you are.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The honourable minister will direct his answer to me and will ignore the interjections, which are out of order.

The Hon. I.K. HUNTER: I will, Mr President. I also suggest that if you have an interest in this you might like to read the Hansard as well, as I suggested last sitting week, because in there you will find details of when I have spoken on these issues previously. However, I will not be in a position of advising this chamber of what my diary commitments have been or will be; people can see that when I speak in this chamber on these matters.

To go to the substantive question, it is well accepted that improving food security on the APY lands, like many other important areas, requires a sustained, long-term cooperative effort. As I have previously advised on a number of occasions, this government is committed to improving the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people living on the APY lands and is following through with a plan to increase the availability and consumption of healthy foods.

I have said before in this place that the APY Lands Food Security Strategy is in the third calendar year of its six-year implementation and includes seven key priority areas each led by a nominated government department or agency. One, being financial wellbeing, which is led by the Australian government’s Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs; two, freight improvement, led by DPC-AARD; three, consumer protection, led by Consumer and Business Services; four, store management support, again led by FaHCSIA; five, education, led by Department for Education and Child Development; six, home management support, led by Department for Communities and Social Inclusion; seven, several discrete small projects, including projects I have spoken of before in this chamber, Come Cook with Your Kids school holiday program, and community gardens.

In each of these areas, governments are working together with each other and with communities to improve food security on the APY lands. I will take a moment to speak about each of these focus areas. It is well recognised that the financial wellbeing of Anangu is critical to the capacity to purchase nutritious foods. That is why the state government’s Food Security Strategy includes financial wellbeing as a key priority area for action. The state government is working with the Australian government to drive activity and outcomes in this area. Changes are being driven through the provision of education, budgeting supports and the implementation of income management assistance in partnership with communities. More specifically, the state government has continued to advocate for and supported consultation with Anangu regarding the introduction and implementation of income management on the APY lands.

A model of income management was introduced in 2012 after consultation with Anangu across the APY lands, and I am advised by the Australian government that as at 31 January 2013 there were 260 voluntary participants. The state recognises that income management must sit within a suite of financial management tools and resources, as well as a range of other supports if it is to be effective. This includes services such as financial counselling provided by MoneyMob. Since July 2012 MoneyMob, I am advised, has opened three offices on the APY lands at Mimili, Amata and Pukatja.

The state government through the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion has funded a MoneyMob community educator at Mimili since October 2012. In November and December the educator provided services from the council offices at Fregon as well. While that officer recently left the role, I am advised that a replacement educator commenced on 4 March 2013. I am advised that Amata is presently unstaffed. However, during the recruitment process for a community educator and a financial counsellor, MoneyMob has continued to provide a presence every second Friday in that community.

Other initiatives that support the financial priority action area within the Food Security Strategy include minister Macklin’s announcement in May 2012 that $891,154 will be made available for the implementation of an intensive family support services program for the APY lands to support at risk families manage a daily budget and provide mentoring to assist in the purchase and preparation of nutritious foods.

I will take a moment of the chamber’s time to talk about freight improvements. The state government has committed to addressing the challenges in delivering freight to the APY lands and related contract administration with a view to developing a more efficient and cost effective supply chain. To achieve this, the state government has provided funding for two critical pieces of work that will lay the foundation for a more efficient supply chain into the future.

As a preliminary step, the first freight project funded by the state government involves the recruitment of a consultant to work with willing APY lands stakeholders to assess and review current freight arrangements to the APY lands. A longer term initiative, also funded by the state government, is a second freight project for the development of the APY lands Freight Strategic Plan. The strategic plan will not only develop a baseline approach for freight but identify potential value adds that can be incorporated with any new identified resourcing or through the development of strategic partnerships. It is intended that both of these contracts will also support the work of the APY Lands Stores Review and stores more generally. Both freight projects are planned for completion before the end of the financial year.

It has been suggested in this place before that freight subsidies might provide a simple solution to the cost of freight, prices in stores, and even to the cost of living on APY lands. The state government does not support that proposition. There is no single solution to the complex challenge of food security on the APY lands. The state government recognises that freight has an impact on costs along the supply chain and to that end has funded two freight projects. However, in line with industry experts, the state government does not support that notion that freight subsidies are an efficient or properly targeted remedy to food insecurity on the APY lands. Indeed, the notion of committing to any type of subsidy at any particular single point along the chain of supply and consumption is problematic, particularly in a region like the APY where the causes of food insecurity are many, complex and cumulative rather than standalone.

In 2009, the House of Representative’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander committee conducted an inquiry into remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community stores. In the subsequent November 2009 report, Everybody’s Business, there was the following discussion on the issue of freight, specifically freight subsidies:

Ian Lovell, a cold chain and freighting specialist for remote communities, suggested that streamlining the efficiencies in the supply chain was the first and most important step before considering freight subsidies. He stated:

‘…if you cannot be convinced that the supply chain is working at the optimum already then to put a freight subsidy in is going to perpetuate inefficiencies. I would say that before you entertain a freight subsidy to anywhere you really need to be satisfied that the supply chain is working effectively, both cost effectively and in terms of service and delivery.’

Mr Lovell highlighted the difficulty in ensuring that the freight subsidy is passed on effectively to the consumer. He gave the following example of how freight subsidies can become absorbed by the market:

…if you give a subsidy of, let us say, 10 per cent, who is actually going to get it? In a free market, you will find that suddenly costs change, and of that 10 per cent maybe four per cent will get through to the community and the other six per cent will go to either the store, the transport company or the supply because the price signal is there.

In 2012, DPC-AARD confirmed that this remained Mr Lovell’s position, I am advised. This is why the food security strategy approach is multifaceted and seeks to create ownership for driving solutions to the range of challenges across governments, sectors and communities.