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Government inquiry into food security in Australia

Dr Amy Carrad, Research Officer, School of Regulation and Global Governance, Australian National University

There’s something in the wind. Recent years have seen a number of state and national inquiries into food, food systems and food security, and other opportunities such as informing the ACT’s Capital Food and Fibre Strategy.

We now have the opportunity to contribute to a national Inquiry into Food Security in Australia

Following a referral from the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator the Hon Murray Watt, on 26 October 2022 the House Standing Committee on Agriculture commenced an inquiry into food security in Australia.

The Committee invites interested persons and organisations to make a submission addressing the terms of reference by Friday, 9 December 2022.

How to make a submission to the Inquiry into Food Security in Australia:

  1. Ensure you have read the information on how to prepare a submission to the Committee – particularly the requirements – which can be viewed here.
  2. See also below for some general tips on writing a submission.
  3. Write your submission (either on behalf of yourself or an organisation you have permission to represent), referring to the terms of reference (below).
  4. Remember to submit your submission by Friday 9th December 2022.

Terms of reference:

  • National production, consumption and export of food;
  • Access to key inputs such as fuel, fertiliser and labour, and their impact on production costs;
  • The impact of supply chain distribution on the cost and availability of food;
  • The potential opportunities and threats of climate change on food production in Australia.

A handy definition

Food (in)security

Food security exists ‘when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life’. (Food and Agriculture Organization, FAO. The State of Food and Agriculture 2001. No. 33. Food & Agriculture Org., 2001.)

Food security is commonly considered to comprise four interrelated pillars – with an additional two dimensions proposed more recently by Clapp et al. (2022).

  1. Availability: The supply of food to the community and the commercial systems that provide access to that food, and considers the quantity of food, and the quality and range of foods available.
  2. Access: Having the economic and physical resources to obtain appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. Access is influence by more than the food system alone – it also requires factors such as adequate income to be able to afford food, and private or public transport to places where food is sold or traded.
  3. Utilisation: Includes knowledge of basic nutrition and cooking skills, as well as access to clean water, sanitation, and physical infrastructure (e.g., refrigeration, storage, cooking facilities) for food preparation.
  4. Stability: Stability of availability, access, and utilisation over time, and the ability to withstand climatic disasters or seasonal events, economic disruption, and conflict.
  5. Agency: Having the agency to shape one’s own relationships with food systems and to address power imbalances within those systems, including through meaningful input into governance processes.
  6. Sustainability: Interconnection between food systems and other global systems (e.g., ecological systems). “Food system practices that contribute to long-term regeneration of natural, social, and economic systems, ensuring the food needs of the present generations are met without compromising food needs of future generations” (HLPE, 2020, 10).

Some suggested recommendations for governance and monitoring in Australia

(outside the specific scope of the terms of reference, but vitally important):

  1. That the Australian Government, in collaboration with key stakeholders (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, culturally and linguistically diverse groups, civil society, health, environment, research, non-industrial food producers, social and community services) and drawing on international examples, develop a comprehensive Food Systems and Food Security Plan/Strategy with clear objectives and measurable targets, and which makes clear the responsibilities of the different levels of government.
  2. That the Australian Government creates a Food Systems and Food Security Council responsible for implementing and reporting on the Australian Food System and Food Security Plan/Strategy, and acting as a single coordinating body to address issues in the Australian Food System. This Council should include representation from across all government departments as well as the stakeholder groups listed above.
  3. That the Australian Government create an ongoing dedicated Food Fund to support activities across diverse sectors conducted by all levels of government, non-government organisations and civil society.
  4. There is no standard or consistent way to measure food insecurity in Australia. The government should ask a more comprehensive set of questions to be asked in national surveys in order to understand the true prevalence and severity of food insecurity in Australia, by using the 18 item Household Food Insecurity Survey module.

General points on making submissions to government inquiries/law or policy reviews 

(acknowledgement to Belinda Reeve for these points)

  • It’s helpful if different organisations/researchers/individuals working in the same space align their recommendations or ‘asks’ (but also make multiple submissions - the more submissions the better);
  • People making submissions are sometimes asked to give in-person evidence at Committee hearings that are conducted as part of these types of inquiries. This is a great opportunity to explain your position in more detail, but be prepared to be challenged! Have evidence supporting your argument available (this goes for submissions too);
  • Submissions and in-person evidence will then inform the report produced by the Committee at the end;
  • Submissions can be targeted to your own area of expertise/concern, i.e., don’t feel that you need to address every point in the terms of reference;
  • Submissions can also point the Committee towards important research projects or groups working in the area and provide a summary of why they’re important - remember that these types of inquiries are often a fact finding mission where the Committee wants to get a sense of people’s views and what issues they see as an important;
  • You can also write a submission saying that you support another organisation’s submission, or the recommendations set out in a particular document, for example;
  • Start your submission by introducing yourself/your organisation, explaining what you do, and why this inquiry is important to you/why you’re interested in it;
  • These types of processes often take many years and they’re an opportunity to get issues on the political agenda;
  • It’s important that multiple voices are heard and that we counter the dominance of some parties in the process, e.g., industry based groups;
  • Try looking at other organisations’ submissions for inspiration, e.g., the Public Health Association of Australia’s submissions or those from the NSW Inquiry into Food Production and Supply.

Where and when to submit:

Upload your submission to the Inquiry into food security in Australia by 9th December 2022.

About the author

Amy Carrad is a Research Officer within the ANU’s School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), working with Dr Ashley Schram, Dr Belinda Townsend, Professor Sharon Friel, and Dr Patrick Harris (UNSW) on the NHMRC Ideas Project ‘Evaluating Systems Change for Health Equity: A Case Study of Australia’s COVID-19 Policy Response’.

Prior to joining RegNet, Amy was Project Manager and Primary Research Assistant on an ARC funded project exploring the role of Australian local governments and civil society organisations in food system governance. She was also the lead research assistant on a large systematic literature review on nutrition labelling policy for the World Health Organization’s Nutrition Guidance Expert Advisory Group.

Amy holds a Bachelor of Public Health from the University of Wollongong (1st Class Honours) and PhD in health promotion and organisational change from the University of Wollongong.

Contact: [email protected]