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Governments urged to follow Queensland lead in subsidising food costs in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Introduction by Croakey: Researchers have called upon all Australian governments to follow the lead of the Queensland Government in subsidising the cost of food in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“We commend the Queensland Government on its recent announcement of an increase of the discount on essential items from 5.2 percent to 20 percent,” say the researchers, from the University of Queensland, Menzies School of Health Research and Monash University.

“We encourage all jurisdictions to also act by implementing subsides to address the cost of food in remote communities. Reducing the cost of food is just one measure needed to improve food security and achieve health equity.”

It’s a timely call as the Federal Government undertakes a consultation on a National Strategy for Food Security in Remote First Nations Communities (submissions close on 11 August).


Megan Ferguson, Bronwyn Fredericks, Eddie Miles and Julie Brimblecombe write:

The Queensland Government recently announced welcome and long overdue relief in extending the discount it applies to essential goods in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities from 5.2 percent to 20 percent.

This subsidy is one measure to contribute to improvements in food security and health equity and sets a precedent for action in other jurisdictions.

There is no doubt that cost of living issues currently impacts Australians. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living in remote communities have faced higher food costs for decades and are being further impacted by rising cost of living pressures.

The cost of a healthy diet directly impacts on food security and diet quality, which affects current and future health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in remote communities.

Data insights

In Australia, there is no national data of the cost of food or diets in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities; however, there is extensive and recent evidence from Queensland and the Northern Territory.

In 2021, we reported that to purchase a healthy diet in remote Cape York communities, families on social security would need to spend 38 percent of their household income. Similarly, families in remote Central Australia would need to spend 40 percent of their household income, meaning that healthy diets in these regions are unaffordable, at well above the internationally accepted standard of 30 percent of household income.

In 2023, we reported that families across Northern Territory communities, would need to spend 42 percent of their income to purchase a healthy diet. These data are in line with jurisdictional surveys and extensive research on the affordability of healthy foods.

Unaffordable healthy diets impact directly on food security. Food insecurity was reported by three out of four families with young children  across eight remote Cape York and Central Australian communities, and participants in five remote Northern Territory communities, according to research reports.

These rates are well above the most recent national survey reporting 31 percent of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote communities experience food insecurity. Food insecurity impacts the ability to eat a diet that supports health and wellbeing, including for future generations. Families identify women, infants, children, and the elderly as groups to prioritise for food security.

There are differences in diet quality reported across communities but, like other Australians, there is a consistent pattern of consuming above the recommended amounts of discretionary foods (i.e., foods high in fat, sugar and salt) and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Within the context of unaffordable healthy diets in remote communities, families have described prioritising food for children.

Action towards affordable healthy diets is needed to support families, and to also ensure healthy diets for pregnant and breastfeeding women for the wellbeing of future generations.

Beyond relief

Low income and limited employment opportunities, coupled with the cost of food in remote stores results in unaffordable healthy diets. There is much evidence of remote store owners and managers doing what they can to reduce the cost of healthy food.

Communities have long called for government support to help address the cost of healthy food.

Evidence can inform how government action can not only provide relief to customers at the register but can go further and drive changes in purchasing behaviour to improve health equity.

International guidelines and evidence call for three key components of a subsidy on healthy foods to impact on purchasing behaviour: i) ensuring  high magnitude subsidies on healthy foods, ii) signalling subsidies to the customer, and iii) monitoring prices to ensure discounts are passed on to customers. Additionally, restrictions on the merchandising of discretionary foods can be implemented alongside subsidies on healthy foods to further impact on health equity.

The Queensland Government introduced the Remote Communities Freight Assistance Scheme early this year. The subsidy currently provides customers with a discount of 5.2 percent on a range of essential items such as fruit and vegetables, bread, milk, meat, and household items at the register in stores of eligible businesses in remote Queensland communities.

We commend the Queensland Government on its recent announcement of an increase of the discount on essential items from 5.2 percent to 20 percent.

This increase is significant and is in line with action which will contribute to improvements in food security and health equity.

We call on the Queensland Government to sustain this action for the life of the scheme and beyond the current end date of 2028.

Addressing food security and health equity

We encourage all jurisdictions to also act by implementing subsides to address the cost of food in remote communities. Reducing the cost of food is just one measure needed to improve food security and achieve health equity.

We urge all state, territory and federal governments to act by implementing new actions on additional community-led solutions to address food security explored through the decades of research, projects, and the most recent national Inquiry into food pricing and food security in remote Indigenous communities.

The Australian Government is currently consulting on a National Strategy for Food Security in Remote First Nations communities, presenting a significant opportunity to advocate for action to improve affordability of healthy food and other solutions to improve food security in remote communities.

There is a real opportunity for genuine action in partnership with remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to drive change that will improve food security and health equity.

Author details

Dr Megan Ferguson is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Queensland. Megan has a long history working in partnership with remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in addressing food security and food environments, particularly supporting the use of local evidence to inform organisational and public policy.

Professor Bronwyn Fredericks is an Indigenous woman from SE Qld, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Engagement) at the University of Queensland. Bronwyn has a long history of working with the tertiary sector, governments, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-based organisations. As part of this she was appointed Commissioner presiding over the Queensland Inquiry into Service Provision in Discrete Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including remote stores.

Mr Eddie Miles is from the Warlpiri and Gurindji people and is an Honorary Research Fellow with Menzies School of Health Research. Eddie has significant experience based in the remote retail sector and in food security and food environment research, in supporting Aboriginal Store Directors leadership in their businesses and driving their research priorities.

Professor Julie Brimblecombe is a Professor at Monash University. Julie has a long history working in partnership with remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in addressing food security and food environments, particularly in responding to Indigenous-led organisation’s research priorities.

Further reading

  • Federal Government consultation on a National Strategy for Food Security in Remote First Nations Communities.
  • The Senate Select Committee on Supermarket Prices was appointed to inquire into and report on the price setting practices and market power of major supermarkets. Its report was published in May.
  • The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is currently inquiring into Australia’s supermarket sector, examining the pricing practices of the supermarkets and the relationship between wholesale, including farmgate, and retail prices. Its final report is due no later than 28 February 2025.

See Croakey’s archive of articles on rural and remote health

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