Senate debates

Thursday, 13 February 2020


Outback Stores Pty Ltd; Consideration

3:46 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Outback StoresAnnual report 2018-19. Just for the benefit of senators: given that this week we have been discussing closing the gap, I thought it was important to put on the parliamentary record some of the good things that Outback Stores and similar organisations who are looking after food and the sale of food are doing in regional and remote Australia.

Outback Stores, for those of you who are unaware, run around 39 stores across the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. In the Northern Territory we have over 20 stores, largely in the Top End of the Northern Territory; we do have one in Papunya. One of the things I was impressed with in looking at their annual report was their focus on closing the gap in life expectancy within a generation. Outback Stores is committed to providing access to good, quality food at an affordable price, and it does lead to better health outcomes for current and future generations.

I think it is important for the Senate to be aware that organisations like Outback Stores focus on trying to reach the targets that have been set in improving the lives of First Nations peoples. One of those is to try to halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five within a decade. They work with a number of the stores, communities, schools, healthcare providers and non-government organisations to promote healthy food and drink choices at a really young age. That is quite critical, especially for babies and toddlers growing up in communities where it isn't easy to get access to good foods and to food at a reasonable price. That is quite important in terms of families being able to have healthy foods.

The annual report goes on to say that stores have a healthy-food policy in place, with goals of reducing the sales of sugary drinks, increasing the sales of fruit and vegies and increasing healthy takeaway options. They invest in activities that support community members to make good, informed decisions for their families. They also look at another target along with halving the gap in mortality rates: they look at halving the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in employment outcomes. Since 2006, on reading their reports, Outback Stores have really focused on having many of their staff Indigenous, with an Indigenous employment rate of around 80 per cent. Their strongest sale results were in 2018-19. If we look at their annual report, we see a couple of Indigenous employees from Beswick—sorry, from Barunga. Beswick is down the road from Barunga. You've got Barunga, Milikapiti and Maningrida whose stories are in this annual report. I encourage senators to have a look at it.

In Papunya the community store director has enlisted the help of remote retail specialists such as Outback Stores. For those of you who don't know where Papunya is, it is about a 2½ or three-hour drive north-west of Alice Springs. It is quite a remote community. That store now receives a weekly delivery, ensuring that it has great quality fresh fruit and vegies, as well as meat and dairy, readily available at good prices. Before Outback Stores took over in that area the store was only serviced every second week. Have a think about that in terms of the quality of food and its availability, and being able to buy it at a reasonable price. Small shops in the bush don't have the buying power of the larger supermarkets in towns like Alice Springs, Katherine and even Tennant Creek. They have much higher transport costs and it takes a lot longer to get the stock into stores. I urge senators to have a look.

The other organisation I'd like to speak about on the record next time is the Arnhem Land Progress Association, which operates eight stores in Far North Queensland and 12 other community stores in the Northern Territory on behalf of Indigenous corporations and regional councils. I will gladly share the story of ALPA at my next opportunity. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.