Update 10am: Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin’s office has provided The Punch with this statement: The Government has not cut funding for Mai Wiru stores. In fact, the Government has offered Mai Wiru continued funding while it considers a range of options to best support stores in the APY Lands. We are working closely with the community and Mai Wiru to do this work. Outback Stores run a number of successful community stores across remote Australia. They only operate in places where they have the support of the community.

The Federal Government is in the process of a hostile takeover of community stores in South Australia’s remote APY lands. Aboriginal communities are fighting hard to preserve their grassroots model with its explicit focus on healthy eating.

By the community, for the community. Pic: Supplied

It is hard to believe, but even services with exemplary outcomes face the chop in the year of the Federal balanced budget. Community-led Commonwealth-funded Mai Wiru will have its funding terminated this week and its twelve stores closed, liquidated and replaced by Canberra’s preferred provider; Outback Stores. The South Australian Government has advised they do not to have the funds available to support Mai Wiru and have sent the organisation back to the architect of the takeover, Federal Minister Jenny Macklin.

Outback Stores have a chequered history since they received $48.1 million in 2005, to enter communities by invitation and upgrade community store infrastructure, capacity and viability. To date, up to $80 million of funds have been provided, despite only 21 of a possible 110 stores in the Northern Territory signing up to the model.

Outback Stores have responded with a harder sell, with capital upgrades used as potential inducements to gain a community foothold. With millions in cash, such a monopoly arrangement has left many communities over a barrel. If you want an upgraded store, improved infrastructure and all the bells and whistles, local store control must be repatriated to this Darwin-based federally funded arrangement.

So why are Aboriginal people from South Australia’s APY Lands fighting for Mai Wiru? Local Aboriginal elders cite a range of reasons. They cherish the grassroots organisation and the centrality of ‘their store in their community.’ Stores in remote communities are in every sense an essential service, as well as being the community focal point. That is what sets remote stores apart from their urban equivalents.

Outback Stores on the other hand is a wholly Government-owned business. In contrast to Mai Wiru which genuinely operates as not-for-profit, locals worry that Outback Stores’ profits may be repatriated to head office or to other regional stores.

Finally Mai Wiru approaches the stores as a vehicle to impact community health, rather than the Outback Stores model which sees stores as independent businesses with some health aspects.

Australia should be celebrating that its most traditional and remote citizens have developed an effective regional food security model that is achieving health outcomes in a way that a national model hasn’t. During an APY Lands general meeting in the town of Amata last week, it was discussed that Mai Wiru was the first organisation to grapple with food security issues in Central Australia and that they had received a National Heart Foundation Award in 2007.

We should be inspired that Mai Wiru’s twelve directors are all indigenous and drawn from each of their twelve stores, plus representation from the APY Lands and one each from Nganampa Health, NPY Women’s Council and APY. In comparison, Outback Stores have a three-member national board, with no positions filled by Indigenous Australians.

According to leading APY Lands figure, Mr Kawaki (Punch) Thompson: “They talk about Closing the Gap, but really they are taking resources away from Aboriginal people. It is happening before our eyes… We are doing this, not just for ourselves, but also for the future of our children.”

In a final bid to survive, Mai Wiru submitted its costings to the Government to prove the efficiency and effectiveness of its stores’ model. It appears that a comparison with Outback Stores has simply never occurred.

The general meeting of the APY Lands community challenged Minister Macklin’s intentions, asking, “You can find tens of millions of dollars of funding for a non-Aboriginal Organisation to help remote Aboriginal Stores, but you won’t fund a successful Aboriginal organisation that is already doing the job, to help remote Aboriginal Stores. Minister Macklin, what is different about us?”

It is time Jenny Macklin and Warren Snowdon declared publicly their intentions for stores in the APY Lands. Mai Wiru deserves an even chance to demonstrate their effectiveness. In fact, they are entitled to a fair cut of the resources selectively poured into the Northern Territory but shouldn’t have to dump their own solutions in order access them.

Outback Stores was never intended to be inflicted on unwilling communities. By doing so, the federal government risks wiping out an inspiring and successful local organisation, and replacing them with an unwelcome entity whose track record is no better.

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    • John T says:

      04:18pm | 28/06/12

      Oh just another $80 million of our money on a bunch of desert tuck-shops.
      If you choose to live in the middle of nowhere why should the government
      sponsor you? The never ending Aboriginal guilt industry just keeps rolling on & anyone who dares question it is by default racist.

    • Galooloo says:

      09:10pm | 28/06/12

      No - just not very knowledgeable perhaps.

      If you choose to live in a lesser populated state you will receive more federal funds per capita to make up the difference between the smaller and larger states ability to fund essential services. That happens to be how this federal system is run.

      The principle is the same for remote communities, regardless of race.

    • John T says:

      08:33pm | 29/06/12

      No not less populated-really in the middle of no where.
      50% of communities are less then 25 people, often just a handful.
      Aboriginal culture is to all intents and purposes now a museum artifact.
      Trying to make remote Aboriginal communities self-supporting is not feasible: the disadvantages of location are too great & our taxes should not support the fantasies of urban progressives.

    • Audi says:

      08:45pm | 29/06/12

      Total Bull S Galooloo this only applies to Aboriginal people any one else’s dole what be cut off for choosing to live there.
      Just try it!

    • Andrew Laming MP - Shadow Indigenous Health says:

      04:29pm | 28/06/12

      Just hours ago, Families Minister Jenny Macklin agreed a three-month funding extension while the Department conducts an “independent asessment” to again reassess the groups future. In an appalling way to treat any enterprise, the Minister forgot to notify Mai Wiru, who only fund out about the announcement through a media outlet.

    • PsychoHyena says:

      06:28pm | 28/06/12

      Andrew, perhaps you would like to comment on Nigel Scullion’s comments that the Coalition messed up the intervention and then proceeds to blame the ALP for the handling of this, surely if the implementation of a policy is messed up in the first place just months before a Federal Election it is the installing Government’s responsibility, not the responsibility of those that inherited a flawed system. Otherwise you could claim that the success of the Liberal Government was built upon the policies implemented by the ALP.


    • Little Joe says:

      07:51pm | 28/06/12

      @ PsychoHyena

      You are picking and choosing again .... he is against the Carbon Tax and reckon that Aboriginal Housing is a mess under Labor.

      Ps. Sorry about yesterday. I was in very bad form!!

      Pss. Do you work in the mining industry?? I did some time in the goldfields of Africa

    • PsychoHyena says:

      09:51pm | 28/06/12

      @LittleJoe don’t stress, blogs and forums are definitely places where people’s tempers flare. No I’m not in the mining industry though I’ve had family work in the industry both at smelters and the mines themselves, I’m in the software industry. I hear the African goldfields can be a horror to work in.

      It’s not so much picking and choosing, I’m honestly wanting to know what Andrew’s view is on Nigel’s comments as they are both Shadow spokespeople for Indigenous matters. Though I’m wondering if you might be responding to a different post of mine further down now that I think about it.

      Personally I’m against the NT Intervention on the simple basis that it was targeting one group of people rather than all “at risks”, that’s why I voted Greens as they were the only party to oppose the intervention.

      You mention below that you experienced increased prices in the Torres Strait area, personally I think that’s a major factor in the issues we see as this would increase the depression amongst the adults and their dependency on alcohol and other drugs. I believe that in the NT we’re typically facing a case of “I don’t care” and hopelessness. They’re finding it difficult to just keep their heads above water, due to high-levels of alcoholism they’re mostly unemployable, they wonder what the point is of their children having an education when they are seeing no employment opportunities.

      I wonder in fact whether the focus on the children was in fact the wrong approach, perhaps if the adults had a sense of self-worth they might be more willing to say “well I had some tough times but with some help I got through it and look what I’m doing now”.

    • Little Joe says:

      06:46am | 29/06/12

      @ PsychoHyena

      The question is, ‘Do you want to protect the children??’

      Did you every consider that sexual abuse may lead to alcoholism that may lead to depression?? Studies have also shown that people who are victims of sexually abuse have a higher probability of becoming an abuser.

      The question now becomes do you want to end the cycle??

    • PsychoHyena says:

      09:55am | 29/06/12

      @Little Joe I think I might not have been clear in my point, I agree that children should be protected and that reducing/eliminating sexual abuse of anyone is important. But I also believe this should be coupled with services for the adults and that banning the adults from everything while not offering them actual support is stupidity.

      Sorry long day yesterday and I forgot to do my usual proof-read to make sure my comment got across what I wanted it to.

    • pa_kelvin says:

      04:35pm | 28/06/12

      The Govt should be encouraging these groups,not taking away from them…Typical Labor need the funds for their defecit.

    • PJ says:

      05:08pm | 28/06/12

      The Gillard Governments Intervention, like the Malaysian solution for Asylum Seekers, reflects poorly on their commitment to human rights.

      Despite Amnesty international accusing the Government of ‘Ethnic cleansing’ it still refuses to revisit the control measures through the Parliamentary Committee on Humans Rights.

      The Aborigines feel that the Gillard Government is extending explicitly racist laws that vilify the Aboriginal people and culture.

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      05:35pm | 28/06/12

      Abolish all specific laws and institutions relating to the aboriginal people. Treat them as you would any other Australian citizen, equal under one law, one nation, one people. Also abolish all multicultural institutions for the same reason.

    • PsychoHyena says:

      06:21pm | 28/06/12

      Unfortunately the original plan (supposedly) was to extend the program to all at-risk families, but both the former Coalition Govt and the current ALP Govt have been unwilling to upset white Australians by following through.

    • JohnW says:

      06:41pm | 28/06/12

      @Shane, dream on mate. In this country, some people are more equal than others, and equality can only be achieved via racist affirmative action policies.

      They even want to have a referendum to “enshrine” special rights for some in the constitution.

      Maybe we ought to rename the country as Orwellia as well.

    • Carz says:

      06:56pm | 28/06/12

      Small reminder that it was the Howard government that introduced the Intervention, and they did it under the guise of actioning child sexual assault in Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory, effectively stating that if you did not support the Intervention you were supporting paedophiles and child abusers. Funny that the Intervention had absolutely nothing to do with child abuse in any form and a lot to do with letting the government decide what is best for our Indigenous peoples.

    • Fiddler says:

      07:10pm | 28/06/12

      what a shame PJ that no-one pays any attention to what Amnesty say. They’re like the UN, just even more pathetic

    • PJ says:

      07:36pm | 28/06/12

      Carz Mate

      The Howard Government did a lot of things that were later adopted and added to by our current clueless Government.

      The point is, the Intervention is much much more than it was under Howard, to the extent that it has universal condemnation by Human Rights Organisations around the world.

      Amnesty International says now, i.e under Gillard Government watch, we are ‘ethnic cleansing.

      The Government has used the Intervention to starve Indigenous Australians off their land, so that they will go where they were ordered originally, which is into 21 Hug Towns. Once they are there, then and only then will they receive the goods and services.


      Especially when you consider we will happily spend $424 million dollars on 13,500 Asylum seekers, people whom we have no idea who they are except that they have paid People Smuggling gangs to transport them here.

      Stupid me thought we were still in the ‘Sorry’ zone on Indigenous Australian affairs.

    • PsychoHyena says:

      08:28pm | 28/06/12

      @PJ nice to see the current Government cop it for a policy implemented by a previous Government. In fact it was the Rudd Govt that re-invoked the Racial Discrimination Act that Howard suspended. All the processes involved are what was passed under the Howard Govt. It just so happens that the UN didn’t perform an inspection until 2010.

      Given that the Coalition supporters are complaining over the ALP removing the refugee legislations implemented by the Howard Government why are they now complaining because the ALP kept this particular policy? This is all on the Coalition’s head, just as the Carbon Tax will be on the ALP’s head when the Coalition doesn’t abolish it.

    • PJ says:

      05:19pm | 28/06/12

      It was only recently Outback Stores were caught out having access to customer CentreLink data. This broke many privacy laws including the statements on privacy made by Centrelink itself. This all relates back to the Income Management part of the Federal Governments Intervention.

    • Wantok says:

      05:57pm | 28/06/12

      Surely Woolies &/or Coles could do a lot better than these badly run and dysfunctional businesses and I’m sure they would be happy to give something back to the community.

    • PJ says:

      07:44pm | 28/06/12

      Indigenous Australians wanted to run their own businesses:

      “They (Gillard Government) won’t support us becoming sustainable in our own right.” - Community leader Rosalie Kunoth Monks.

    • Little Joe says:

      07:56pm | 28/06/12

      I worked in the Torres Strait over a period of 24-mths.

      Their local stores were an absolute rip off with families having to pay twice the price for fruit, vegetables and essentials. I hope that the same is not being witnessed in these communities.

    • Julia says:

      02:20pm | 29/06/12

      @ Little Joe - you’ve had an awesome career! the stores are pretty expensive in most the communities but that fact has to be weighed up against the fact that the profits are going back into the community. i acted for an Aboriginal store in a rural NT community, i am all for letting Aboriginal’s run their own stores. they take a lot of pride in it and it also offers employment to Directors on the community, rather than employment to a bunch of white collars in Canberra


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