House debates

Wednesday, 6 February 2013


Low Aromatic Fuel Bill 2012; Second Reading

5:16 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill and I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

It is my great pleasure today to introduce the Low Aromatic Fuel Bill 2012 on behalf of my party, the Greens, particularly because of all the other important issues relating to the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal people which were on the agenda earlier today.

Closing the Gap is an important initiative. It is fitting that this bill be introduced to the lower house today because this bill will contribute directly to efforts to close the gap by giving government the powers to help communities remove the final hurdles that are preventing them from eradicating petrol sniffing.

Petrol sniffing has devastating effects on individuals, families and communities. Over the long term, petrol sniffing can kill. It damages internal organs, the brain and the nervous system. Petrol sniffing does not just damage the health of the individual; it can lead to family breakdowns, domestic violence, community breakdown, increased violence and vandalism. However, the reason we need this legislation is not that the other antisniffing programs have failed but that they have been so successful and we are very close to breaking the petrol-sniffing cycle in many remote communities in Central Australia. According to the Central Australian Youth Link-Up Service:

The rollout of low-aromatic Opal Fuel has been an unprecedented Indigenous health success. Across all sites the use of the fuel has been associated with an average 70% reduction in prevalence of sniffing and in Central Australia where the rollout has been more comprehensive this reduction is thought to be 94%.

Programs like Mount Theo, which removed young people from the source of petrol by sending them to detox on country and supported that detox with connection to culture and community, have been wildly successful, but those who started those programs acknowledge that it was incredibly hard work. There is a cycle around petrol-sniffing outbreaks. They start as something one or two kids do but then it becomes a culture, drawing in more kids and ultimately impacting a whole community, causing lasting damage to the wellbeing of those communities.

The development of Opal fuel has offered a way for communities to limit access to the very source of sniffing, and to circumvent the physical and social trauma of sniffing. The development of Opal fuel has been important to shifting how communities approach petrol sniffing, but Opal itself is merely one of the tools in a broader strategy that addresses the underlying causes of petrol sniffing and includes community management plans, youth services; effective and culturally sensitive policing, treatment and rehab services, and information services. But low aromatic fuel is a key part of breaking the cycle.

One of the most important features of the rollout of the anti-petrol-sniffing strategy has been that it has allowed the community greater control over whichever substances are available in their communities. It has required consistent political commitment that ensured that Opal is available, and the continued evolution of the voluntary rollout strategy is a testament to the work my colleague Rachel Siewert has undertaken over the past seven years to ensure that this issue has a place on the national political agenda. Petrol sniffing has always been a significant issue to which she has dedicated her time since she entered federal politics. As a result, we have seen slow but consistent improvements.

If you looked at interviews with people 15 years ago, you would see that then there was little hope that it would be possible to break the cycle of sniffing in Central Australia. Greens in parliament have provided the ongoing pressure both to put the aspirations of Aboriginal communities on the agenda and to ensure that the policy response has been comprehensive and ongoing. The broadly successful voluntary strategy has seen fuel providers in the designated 'antisniffing' zone sign on to supply Opal in response to community pressure for change. But there are still pockets of resistance and, as a result, this progress has stalled for some communities. In fact it has been stalled since 2009 for three or four communities; so long as one or two petrol station owners hold out against stocking Opal fuel, sniffing will continue to be difficult to completely prevent.

The 2009 committee inquiry, which the Greens initiated, recommended that the antisniffing strategy could be strengthened by giving the minister the powers that are contained within this bill to mandate the use of Opal fuel in certain areas. This would give the government the power to ensure that the aspirations and the sheer hard work of communities are backed up by a process that ultimately prevents a selfish few from consistently undermining the efforts of the community as a whole.

It is clear to the Greens that there are still those selfish few, and so this bill will give the minister the power to ensure that Opal fuel is mandatory in those places where the community has taken significant steps to address sniffing and has turned to the government to support their efforts.

It is most regrettable that the government, almost three years after the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee's report on Opal and six years after their first investigation into this issue, have not moved to fix this problem, despite the hugely damaging impact of petrol sniffing on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities, the unreasonable intransigence of a few suppliers and the fact it is well within the power of government to quickly address this issue.

I had the opportunity this morning to meet with some Aboriginal people from Titjikala, who are once again here in parliament to seek support for their goal of eradicating petrol sniffing. This legislation is also important to Closing the Gap because it originated not in a department or a minister's office but from serious and sustained efforts by Aboriginal people to take ownership of the solutions and to develop locally controlled and culturally appropriate solutions. The people from Titjikala made it crystal clear this morning that you really do need to be able to designate whole areas as sniffable-fuel free and Opal-fuel only, because otherwise community driven solutions will not work. They told me in particular that not less than one kilometre from their community, where you can only buy Opal fuel, you are able to buy regular fuel. As a result, people from that community or people from other communities will go to the neighbouring community, buy the fuel and then travel a kilometre down the road into their own community and start sniffing. The result, as they were explaining to me, is that someone who is sniffing petrol and walking down the main street becomes a walking advertisement and attraction. As a result, the efforts that they had taken themselves in their own community were being thwarted because someone a kilometre or so away was not prepared to assist them.

This legislation would address that problem by giving the minister the power to designate whole areas as Opal fuel areas only. These are people who have made it clear to me that petrol sniffing continues to hurt their community and that, after many years of working on strategies to resolve these issues, they expect the government to take that final step and do everything in its power to fulfil its promise to back their own considerable efforts to eradicate sniffing.

The Greens have taken that step, and I am pleased that the government has supported it. The Greens bill is aimed at preventing petrol sniffing in communities by making it an offence to supply sniffable petrol in designated areas. This bill will give the minister the power to declare areas where it will be an offence to supply non-sniffable fuel. This will mean that there is some power to tackle the recalcitrant petrol stations who, even after sustained consultation with the affected communities, refuse to stock non-sniffable fuel. This bill gives the minister the power to act on calls from specific communities that are being devastated by sniffing.

The bill contains significant requirements for consultation with affected communities as well as suppliers and state and territory governments. However, it ultimately gives the minister the power to act when all other efforts have been made. This is the support that the communities who have almost resolved petrol sniffing have asked for. With Greens in parliament, we are able to deliver the final piece of the puzzle which will empower communities to continue to work together with government on programs that give communities control over petrol sniffing.

This bill is also an example of a strong consultative process. Throughout the committee process and development of the amendments there has been consultation with stakeholders in the Northern Territory. We feel confident that they are supportive of this legislation. I know that some of those people are watching this debate and I want to acknowledge their work to get us to this very significant point.

Initiatives to close the gap require a collaboration between government and community. They require the government to supply Aboriginal people with the tools they ask for to achieve the outcomes they aspire to rather than imposing solutions upon them. This bill is a way to recognise the work being done out there in the communities to eradicate sniffing and to ensure that the work is finished. It cements our goal of giving support to communities over corporations. It is our way to show communities that their efforts to end the cycle of sniffing and the harm that sniffing causes will be reinforced. I commend the bill to the House.


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