House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Affairs
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Chapter 1 Introduction
Across Australia there are approximately 1 112 discrete remote or very
remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Of these, 947 communities
have a population of less than 100. At the time of the 2006 census, there were
around 175 stores operating in remote Indigenous communities in Australia. 
Often a community store is the primary source of food and other goods. Food
is transported across great distances and in extreme temperatures which adds to
the complexity and cost of delivery, in particular for perishable foods.
Over the last few decades lifestyle conditions, such as diabetes, heart
disease and obesity, have become more prevalent in remote Indigenous
communities. In addition Indigenous children up to the age of four are
30 times more likely to suffer from nutritional anaemia or malnutrition than
The local store has the potential to play a pivotal role in improving the
social, economic and health outcomes of remote Indigenous communities. While
community stores represent an opportunity to lead change and there are positive
examples of stores that provide a wealth of services, training and health
benefits, these successes are scattered. Given the importance of the local
community store, more can and must be done to ensure these stores meet the
needs of the communities they serve.
It is the Government’s role to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people along with non-Indigenous Australians living in remote areas of
Australia have access to a secure food supply and services that are adequate to
support their health and well-being.
The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous
Affairs (FaHCSIA) noted in its submission the following definition for food
…when all Indigenous people in remote communities, at all
times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe and
nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active
and healthy life.
The Department of Health and Ageing coordinates the promotion of
nutrition and healthy eating initiatives and has recognised that good health
for Indigenous Australians is more than simply a matter of access to
Improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is not
just about improving the physical wellbeing of an individual; it is about
working towards the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the whole
Fred Hollows Foundation provided insight into the cultural and economic
importance of the store for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:
Those communities were historically ration places and now
they are stations. They fought hard to get that land back and to have the right
to have that land. They fought hard to get a store building. It would have been
40 or 50 years ago where we work. They are very proud of running their store.
They do seek to improve their knowledge, practice and skills in running the
store, and more support should be given in that regard.
You need to have a philosophical approach to stores. You need
to have a look at an Indigenous approach to the store as not just a store in
that community. It is a gathering place. It is a place where people can practice
their governance, meet and talk about what happens in that store and what they
sell. They also do a lot of services and community activities through the
store, so you need to change your mindset from the non-Indigenous thinking of
what a store is to what an Indigenous person living in a community thinks.
Conduct of the inquiry
On 4 December 2008 the Committee accepted terms of reference from the
Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs to
inquire into and report on the operation of local community stores in remote
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
In particular, the Committee was asked to report on:
n food supply, quality,
cost and competition issues,
n the effectiveness of
the Outback Stores model, and other private, public and community store models,
n the impact of these
factors on the health and economic outcomes of communities.
The Committee has examined a range of issues relevant to the role of the
store in remote Indigenous communities including governance models, food
supply, quality and cost, competition issues, store management and the impact
of these factors on the health and economic outcomes of remote Indigenous
The Committee received 112 submissions from a wide range of sources
including Commonwealth, state and territory government departments, store
owners, store managers, freight providers, health experts and providers,
individuals living in remote Indigenous communities, academics, and Indigenous
representative organisations. A list of submissions and exhibits received is at
The Committee conducted 28 public hearings in Canberra, Darwin, Alice
Springs, Broome and in remote areas of the Northern Territory, Queensland and
South Australia. A list of public hearings is at Appendix C. The Committee
visited and inspected stores in 17 remote Indigenous communities. A brief
summary of remote community visits is at Appendix A.
The Committee thanks the Indigenous communities it visited for their
hospitality and the welcome received to the land and the communities. The
Committee also notes the commitment of these communities to ensuring the
success of their local store and the Committee was privileged to meet with many
inspiring and dedicated community leaders and professionals working in remote
Submissions received and transcripts of evidence can be found on the
Structure of the report
There is a range of factors that impact on the successful operation of a
community store. As each community varies, so do its particular needs and the
context within which the community store operates. The Committee recognises
that, while there is no simple recipe for success, there are a number of
initiatives which would greatly assist communities and store managers to
achieve the best outcomes appropriate to each area.
This report discusses the need for flexible community store models to address
the needs of individual communities. Indigenous communities are varied and
unique and a community store must appropriately respond to the population size,
the history of store management and ownership in the area, the cultural
framework, the geographical location and environmental conditions, and the
local economic and social capacity of the community.
Essential to improving the widespread operation of community stores is a
clear appreciation of the role they play within remote Indigenous communities,
and the great variation that appropriately exists across communities in how
stores are owned and managed. Accordingly Chapter 2 outlines how community
stores function as much more than a shop in remote communities, and the range
of ownership and management models.
Chapter 3 discusses the health outcomes of Indigenous peoples and how
healthy produce promoted and sold in stores can contribute to healthy
Chapter 4 examines logistical difficulties in delivering fresh and
quality produce in remote communities, and infrastructure and storage issues.
Different purchasing and supply models are considered, along with opportunities
to increase local production.
Chapter 5 details the higher cost of living experienced by those living
in remote areas, and the impact of these costs on health outcomes. The chapter
considers possible mechanisms to redress these financial and health costs.
Chapter 6 discusses the governance of community stores, outlining the
importance of good governance, governance models, cultural protocols,
regulatory obligations, and improvements to the required oversight and support
Chapter 7 discusses the future of remote community stores across
Australia and comments on the Outback Stores model and the proposal for a
national licensing scheme.