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Food security in remote First Nations communities

Good nutrition is essential to good health and a strong future

Food Security means having access to a range of food, drinks and other essential groceries that are reasonably priced, safe and meet the dietary and cultural needs of the household. 

The National Agreement on Closing the Gap commits all Australian governments to change the way we work to share decision-making and partner with Indigenous Australians to improve outcomes. The 2023 Commonwealth Closing the Gap Implementation Plan, released 13 February 2023, recognises remote food security as a national priority.

The 2020 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs’ (HORSCIA) Inquiry into food pricing and food security in remote Indigenous communities did not find evidence of systematic price gouging by stores in remote communities. The Inquiry found higher costs are broadly caused by two key factors: lower commercial purchasing power of remote suppliers; and higher operational costs, including freight and repair costs (HORSCIA Inquiry). 

Price and availability of food in remote communities has been further stretched in line with national market trends impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain interruptions, severe weather and rising fuel costs. 

Through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, the National Indigenous Australians Agency provides funding to First Nations communities and businesses for place-based projects to improve community nutrition outcomes. We are also developing a national strategy for food security in remote First Nations communities, in partnership with state and territory governments and First Nations peoples.

School Nutrition Program

The School Nutrition Projects (SNP) provides meal services to students in 73 schools across the Northern Territory. A key objective of the SNP is to improve school attendance and learning outcomes. Through the SNP, NIAA grant recipients provide a combination of breakfast, morning tea, lunch or afternoon tea to students attending school. Meals are prepared in accordance with the Northern Territory Department of Education’s School Nutrition and Healthy Eating Policy and National nutrition standards.

Remote Food Security Working Group

Through the Remote Food Security Working Group, the Australian Government is working with state and territory governments, retailers, major wholesalers and distributors to ensure residents of remote First Nations communities have access to the essentials they need.

Outback Stores

The Commonwealth owned company, Outback Stores Pty Ltd, provides high quality retail management and support services to 47 First Nations owned stores across Australia (numbers can fluctuate slightly as management arrangements change). This includes providing financial underpinning support to a number of marginally viable stores that may otherwise not be able to operate.

Remote Community Stores

Over 200 stores service remote communities across Australia. The HORSCIA Inquiry found higher on average prices in remote stores are a genuine and direct result of the significantly higher costs involved with operating in remote contexts. If your community store needs support, you can contact:

  • Outback Stores – provides retail store management and support services to Aboriginal owned community stores. Outback Stores does not receive any store profits; however does charge a fee for services.
  • Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations (ORIC) – provides advice on how to incorporate; training in corporate governance for directors, members and key staff; and legal compliance oversight and advice. 

The Australian Government does not own any remote stores. Like commercial businesses nationwide, remote stores operate under a variety of ownership and management arrangements.

National strategy for food security in remote First Nations communities

In partnership with state and territory governments and First Nations peoples, the Australian Government is developing a national strategy for food security in remote First Nations communities. 

The Strategy responds directly to Recommendation 10 of the 2020 House of Representatives Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs Inquiry into food pricing and food security in remote Indigenous communities (HORSCIA Inquiry). It will shape actions in response to the HORSCIA Inquiry and seeks to provide a coordinated national approach to improving the price, availability and quality of food and essential groceries in remote First Nations communities.

The Commonwealth is investing up to $11.8 million over two years (2023-24 to 2024-25) for Strategy development and early implementation of priority projects. 

  • $10.4 million for priority actions identified through Strategy development. 
  • $1.4 million for remote consultations and project management activities. 

Information will be published on this webpage and shared broadly as details are finalised.

Government response to HORSCIA food security inquiry

The Australian Government tabled its response to the HORSCIA Inquiry on 2 December 2021.

The report makes 16 recommendations, including a live price monitoring tool, national stores licensing, a focus on local distribution and food production, grants to support community stores, and other measures to address store governance and management. 

Many of the recommendations cut across Commonwealth and state and territory responsibilities. The Government has supported or provided in-principle support for 10 of the 16 recommendations.

The NIAA is leading the Government response including engagement across governments.

Outback Stores

Outback Stores Pty Ltd (OBS) is a wholly owned and independent Commonwealth Company created under the Corporations Act 2001. Its operations are governed by a Company Constitution and an independent board of directors who are appointed by the Commonwealth. As a Commonwealth Company OBS must meet the requirements of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act). 

The OBS board is responsible for the strategic direction of the Company. The Chief Executive officer, who is appointed by the Board, is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Company. OBS is an Indigenous Portfolio Body in the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC) portfolio. To improve outcomes for First Nations Australians the NIAA collaborates with all Indigenous Portfolio Bodies in the PMC portfolio, including Outback Stores.

OBS was established in November 2006 and emerged from a need to improve the health of Indigenous people in remote Australia by addressing nutrition-related health problems, unreliable food supplies and store closures. Its purpose is to be a sustainable business that makes a positive difference in the health, employment and economy of remote Indigenous communities by improving food affordability and availability, nutrition and community services. OBS provides retail store management and support services on a fee for service basis to Aboriginal owned community stores and works closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a holistic way to improve health, nutrition, employment, training and economic outcomes for First Nations people.

OBS strives to enable and empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to live healthy and prosperous lives and work towards Closing the Gap. OBS does not receive any of the profits from the stores it manages on behalf of the community. Any store profits belong to the storeowner.

For further information, including locations, please visit Outback Stores.

Community Stores Licensing – Northern Territory

The Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act 2012 (SFNT Act) Commonwealth legislation sunset on 16 July 2022. Stores licensing has transitioned to the Northern Territory Government.

Food security grant – closed

The 2021-22 Budget committed $5 million for remote stores to overcome barriers to food security in their communities. This was increased to $8 million in response to the high need for reliable food supplies identified across remote Australia. 

Outcomes from the highly competitive Strengthening Remote Communities – Food Security Grant Opportunity have been finalised. A total of 79 applications were received and 43 of those were successful. Ninety-three per cent of successful applicants are First Nations owned organisations.