FNQ Aboriginal communities priced out of the food and fuel markets
by Jim O’Toole
Sea Swift, a name synonymous with Far Northern Queensland and Northern Territory Aboriginal communities, is the life line that sustains remote townships along the northern seaboard.
Now owned by the Queensland Investment Corporation, a Queensland Government Company, Sea Swift barges can be seen plying between Cairns and every coastal community to Darwin.
Industry sources said QIC paid an unconfirmed $300 million in 2019 for the freight company which services much of Northern Australia including the Torres Strait, Gulf of Carpentaria and the mining township of Weipa.
QIC Global Real Estate’s (GRE) flagship funds, the QIC Property Fund and QIC Shopping Centre Fund, achieved an annualised since inception return of 8.61% and 7.74%5 respectively for the financial year to 30 June 2020. GRE’s Assets Under Management was circa $17.75 billion (US$12.2 billion) at 30 June 2020.
All community foodstuffs and fuel are carried by Sea Swift but their freight charges have increased by 32 per cent over the past 12 months taking staple food prices beyond the reach of community members.
A food wholesaler told Cairns News prices have gone through the roof giving an example of powdered milk which has increased by 50 per cent in price.
“The fuel levy on Sea Swift freight has risen from 6% to 38.38%,” he said.
“A consignment of bottled water sent to Yam Island cost $317.95 to buy. In this case the consignment consists of 20 cartons of 600ml water, 15 cartons of 1.5ltr water and 4 cartons of 250ml water.
“After adding all the extra charges the water cost $462.07 plus ‘Other Fees’ such as a $15 document levy, a fuel surcharge of $177.34 plus $81.67 extra going to the Torres Strait Regional Council and Ports North for the privilege of these people having clear, clean drinking water.”
The businessman was scathing of the federal and state governments for disadvantaging the majority welfare populations of these tiny communities living ‘on country’ but being starved of decent food.
Fuel supplied by Sea Swift to the Far Northern community of Bamaga retails at $3.10 a litre, making it impossible for road trips to doctors or hospital in Cairns. A carton of mid-strength beer retails for $96.
“I understand the fuel cost is a global problem apparently but surely some relief can come via the federal government offering freight companies a larger percentage deduction in fuel excise as they are not getting anything now according to Sea Swift,” said the distressed businessman.
(Editor: The federal government halved the fuel excise of 44 cents a litre at the pump for motorists in April)
“The Port and Council fees should also be abolished. This is a disgrace and shameful adding further costs to these already struggling families.”
He gave examples of the wholesale cost increases for typical foods bought by families in most communities:
Corned Beef Hamper Was $6.50 Now $8.20 increase of 26%
Tom Piper Braised Steak & Onion Was $3.00 Now $3.60 Increase of 20%
Golden Circle Cordial Was $3.75 Now $5.00 Increase of 34%
Cairns News has contacted the Labor Member for Cook, Cynthia Lui, ironically from Yam Island in the Torres Strait, for comment.