Food shortage and the lack of everyday necessities is a reality that many remote communities are going to face due to panic buying in metropolitan areas, according to the CEO of a regional supermarket service.
The not-for-profit Mai Wiru Regional Stores Council Aboriginal Corporation has stores in nine communities including Amata, Oodnadatta and Pukatja, and is often the only option for Indigenous people to buy affordable produce for hundreds of kilometres.
Mai Wiru CEO Dennis Bate has warned of catastrophic consequences for remote Indigenous peoples due to the hoarding behaviour of residents in the big cities.
“The people living in remote communities are very concerned and worried that food will run short during this time,” he told NITV News.
“Some of this is what they are hearing from media sources.
“There has been an increase in sales which has [been] contributed to by the increase in government payments and the fact that people are staying in community with their families.
“Unlike those living in cities and big towns, they can’t simply get in a car and drive to the next supermarket, and the consequential effects on these already vulnerable communities could be disastrous.”
The panic buying that has been seen in the larger supermarket chains across the country has put the supply chain under huge pressure, with the demands of the larger supermarkets being prioritised.
Mr Bates said this is contributing to ‘supply challenges’ for stores in remote communities, alongside the increasing demand.
“As a result, smaller stores like those operated by Mai Wiru are struggling to even get in household basics including toilet paper, tinned food and baby formula,” he said.
“We have been increasing the stock levels on a local level ensuring each store maintains a three-week supply.
“We have a back-up strategy where we are housing essential items that is released to the stores on demand.
“We have experienced shortages in some items due to supplier shortages which have been out of our control.”
Mr Bate said that he has seen store managers receiving as little as 40 per cent of their ordered products due to the lack of availability.
This lack of supply, he said, would be “detrimental to their health and wellbeing, and that would be catastrophic.”
While Mr Bate is ‘gravely concerned’ about the impact of panic buying on remote communities, Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt has urged people to be calm.
In a statement, Minister Wyatt said ensuring remote communities had essential supplies was a priority for the Federal Government.
“I am aware of some community stores not receiving their full order and a limited number of stores having stock issues,” he said.
“This is something that all Australians are experiencing to some extent.
“People can expect some pressure on stock levels for a couple of weeks, but we are doing everything we can to resolve those issues as they develop.
“There is no need for people in remote communities to stock-up or hoard supplies and we need the community’s help to resist the panic buying we’ve seen in urban areas.”
Minister Wyatt said it’s also important for people to stay at home and remain in their communities.
“Travelling to other towns and cities could increase the chance of you and your family getting sick and so we are encouraging people to remain in their community,” a statement from Mr Wyatt’s office said.
“The safest place for you and your family is in your own community.”
In conjunction with the APY Lands emergency committee, Mr Bate said Mai Wiru has reduced the availability of fuel at all their stores, to reduce travel with the lands and to keep people at home.
“Mai Wiru reduced the sale of fuel in the community as an aid to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus,” he said.
“Initially people resisted the implementation of the new rule, but when it was explained it was a method to restrict inter community travel and to keep people safe they accepted it.”