Some residents in this outback town can’t afford fresh food, but a plan to change that sparks a backlash

A proposed community supermarket, hoped to improve the health of Indigenous residents in a remote town, has attracted swift opposition from businesses including the local IGA.

Key points:Proposed community supermarket hoped to reduce cost of fresh foodLocal businesses including IGA oppose supermarket on planning groundsThe supermarket would generate income for community

Halls Creek Shire has leased a large vacant area, next to the town's pool and basketball courts, to Alice Springs-based Indigenous non-profit organisation Mai Wiru with the view it will have a supermarket, distribution warehouse and car park completed within 18 months.

Halls Creek Shire president Malcolm Edwards said the council had long wanted to drive down the cost of fresh food in the outback town and improve the lives of the mostly Indigenous population.

"Expensive fresh fruit has been an issue. Most people are on the dole and haven't got a lot of money," he said.

"It's a big issue trying to reduce the cost of living in this town. One of the things we're looking at."

He said the town's businesses, in particular the IGA, had nothing to fear from extra competition, given the region's population was expected to grow.

"They're against it at the moment but I don't think it will be much of a threat to them," Mr Edwards said.

"There's going to be room for two supermarkets. They're probably going to have to reduce some of their prices."

a large area of red gravel near houses
The proposed supermarket's site is in a central area of town.(ABC KImberley: Ted O'Connor)

The concept plan put forward by Mai Wiru is still in its infancy, with more details expected to be revealed when the outback store's operator lodges a planning application.

Halls Creek IGA has been contacted for comment.

Opposition to proposal

A Perth-based legal firm acting for a small coalition of local businesses, including the IGA, wrote a letter objecting to the lease, arguing it was completely at odds with the council's planning strategy.

"The effect of the approval of this application will be to radically shift the centre of the township, to the significant detriment of business owners who are operating lawfully within the commercial zoned areas of the town site," the submission said.

Mr Edwards disagreed with the submission, which takes aim at the supermarket's location.

"They've raised some objections because the site is a civil and community reserve under the local town planning scheme and they're saying it doesn't fit that," he said.

"The fact is we're saying it does and we've got legal advice on that, because it's a non-profit organisation."

portrait of man in striped shirt
Halls Creek Shire president Malcolm Edwards. (ABC Kimberley: Ted O'Connor)

The supermarket is expected to create at least 15 permanent jobs for local Indigenous people and would be governed by a community committee.

Once the store's equity is paid off surplus profits would then be directed back into the community through grants.

The price of fruit and vegetables in remote areas has long been a contentious issue and was last year the subject of a federal Inquiry, which looked into price gouging and supply chain problems.

The inquiry heard evidence of how the high cost of vegetables and basic essentials — at times triple the cost of city supermarkets — was affecting what residents could afford to eat.

Three hours drive south in Balgo, leaders say more community control over their store has helped keep their food prices down, despite the high freight cost of getting fresh produce into one of Australia's most remote places.

Posted 30 Oct 202130 Oct 2021Sat 30 Oct 2021 at 11:26pm, updated 30 Oct 202130 Oct 2021Sat 30 Oct 2021 at 11:30pmShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp

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