Energy costs impacting food security in remote Indigenous communities

24 March 2023

Food insecurity is described as the ‘norm’ by remote Indigenous Australians as they juggle rising power prices and food affordability, a University of Queensland study has found.

Researchers interviewed 17 households across four communities in Cape York and Central Australia between June and July, 2021, in collaboration with the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and Apunipima Cape York Health Council.

The UQ School of Public Health’s Dr Megan Ferguson said people living in these communities were regularly having to choose between buying food and using pre-paid energy.

“Reliable power is crucial for food security to ensure people can use refrigeration, cooking and other resources to store and prepare food. It is also essential for many other aspects of living in very hot areas of Australia,” Dr Ferguson said.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people described their cultural practices, such as obtaining traditional food and sharing, as coping strategies.”

“The findings show that regular food insecurity episodes often aligned with an ‘off-week’ in social assistance payments.” 

Dr Ferguson said other factors also impacted food security.  

“They included low income and unemployment, and remote living costs.

“Remote Indigenous communities have suggested that food security can be improved by extending energy rebates, improving transport options and food access, better computer access, increasing regular social assistance payments and providing training on budgeting.  

 “More work is needed with key stakeholders from community, state, territory and federal levels to transfer community-led suggestions into government policies.”

“These findings highlight the need for these suggestions to be tailored to the lived experiences of remote Indigenous communities.”

“We would like to thank the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who took part in this study, and the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress and the Apunipima Cape York Health Council who worked with our research team.”

This study is published with open access in the journal ScienceDirect. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2023.115726