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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Senator SIEWERT (Western Australia—Australian Greens Whip) (11:54): I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.
Senator SIEWERT: I table the explanatory memorandum and I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard and to continue my remarks later.
The speech read as follows—
LOW AROMATIC FUEL BILL 2012
The problem of petrol sniffing is nothing new.
Over the past 20 years it has been the subject of reports, Senate inquiries, coronial inquiries, and research projects. The impact of petrol sniffing on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and communities is well known.
Some excellent work has been done to address petrol sniffing but sniffing still occurs in communities in the Northern Territory; South Australia and Western Australia.
Up to now we have relied on voluntary compliance of suppliers to introduce low aromatic fuels but unfortunately this approach is failing in some areas. Where petrol suppliers have refused to collaborate, the problem of petrol sniffing and all its associated horrors is more likely to occur.
It is now apparent that the problem cannot be overcome without legislation allowing the Government to regulate the supply of fuel in certain affected areas.
The idea of a legislative response is not new. In 2009 the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs recommended that the Government draft legislation to mandate the use of Opal fuel. Since that time, nothing has been done and the problem continues.
It is not for lack of information, research or even solutions. What we need is political will.
This is terribly tragic as the horrendous damage wrought by petrol sniffing can tear communities apart. Communities already facing multiple levels of disadvantage.
Legislation is urgently needed and, after years of delay by the Government, we have decided to introduce a Bill.
Petrol sniffing affects the lives of petrol sniffers, their families, communities and broader society. The negative impacts from sniffing are manifold and can include: social disruption; violence; family conflict; sexual abuse; child neglect; vandalism; social alienation of sniffers; incarceration; lowered morale in communities and numerous severe health problems. There are also serious community and financial impacts that come along with treating the physical and psychological harm caused by sniffing, as well as the impact on the criminal justice system from sniffing related crime.
Petrol sniffing causes long-lasting physical harm to sniffers. Chronic sniffers can suffer cerebellar ataxia, grand mal epilepsy, encephalopathy, persistent psychosis and chronic disability including mental impairment.
Research from the Menzies School of Health Research has found that neurological damage from petrol sniffing can be present at the very early stages of sniffing. This can include effects on memory, attention, learning, executive function and behavioural inhibition.
The research connected these changes to social disruption, low school attendance and illegal activity.
As the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs wrote in their 2006 Report on Petrol Sniffing:
Petrol sniffing diminishes further an already disadvantaged existence. It robs young Indigenous people of their future. It brings violence and even death. It undermines the social fabric of communities and plunges them into crisis
It must be clearly acknowledged that progress has been made. There is strong evidence to indicate that the Government's Petrol Sniffing Strategy has lead to a decline in petrol sniffing in Central Australia.
The rollout of low-aromatic or 'Opal' fuel is widely regarded as one of the most important contributors to this decline. Low-aromatic fuel (LAF) has very low levels of aromatic hydrocarbons, which create the high sought by petrol sniffers. As such, although it is still potentially highly damaging if sniffed, it does not produce the high that sniffers get from sniffing aromatic petrol, and is thus much less likely to be inhaled.
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 roll out has been more comprehensive this reduction is thought to be 94%.
This success has been recognised by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs, numerous NGOs, academics and the Government.
The Community Affairs Committee writes in their 2009 assessment of the Government's Petrol Sniffing Strategy:
The supply of Opal fuel has been a resounding success in helping to reduce petrol sniffing. Whilst visiting communities the committee heard about the difference that Opal fuel is making. Community members in Papunya described Opal fuel as a 'helping hand' that was said to have brought 'smiling back in the community'. In Mutitjulu Opal fuel was described as having completely changed the face of communities.
In 2008 an "Evaluation of the Impact of Opal Fuel", commissioned by DOHA, found that in 17 of the 20 communities studied, petrol sniffing had declined, with an overall decrease of 70% across all communities studied. Furthermore, it found that there is a statistically significant relationship between the distance from each community to the nearest ULP outlet, and the size of the decrease in the prevalence of sniffing at each community. This shows that the use of Opal fuel has had a significant role in decreasing the pervasiveness of sniffing. Qualitative feedback also indicated that most residents who have experienced a decline in sniffing attribute that decline, at least in part, to the introduction of Opal.
One submission from the 2009 Community Affairs Report sums it up very well:
Finally with Opal in the community the issue was addressed and something concrete was being done about petrol sniffing in Balgo. We stopped wasting endless time asking why, what can we do. Opal was something that was preventing sniffing. It is a good strategy. We have to be separate from petrol here.
It is abundantly clear - low-aromatic or 'Opal' fuel makes a difference. Overall it contributed to a 70% difference. That's 70% less lives ruined, 70% less communities torn apart, and 70% less cost of treating the inevitable physical deterioration from sniffing.
Sadly, this potential of LAF -its immense capacity to make a difference, is being undermined by certain retailers who refuse to stock LAF.
The voluntary roll out of LAF has been extensive- and credit needs to be given to those communities, governments and businesses who work tirelessly to supply LAF. But, efforts to extend its coverage and to cut off availability of standard unleaded fuel are being compromised by some intransigent retailers.
The reasons given by suppliers for not stocking LAF do not stand up to scrutiny, particularly given the cost to nearby communities of their decision.
This was confirmed throughout the 2009 Community Affairs inquiry. Submissions and evidence both indicated that supplies of unleaded petrol were continuing to enter some communities as a result of several strategically located retailers who refuse to stock LAF. Submissions from communities expressed disappointment that the Government had not been more proactive in driving the rollout of LAF and stated unequivocally that communities would benefit from a petrol free quarantined region.
It was evident during the inquiry, that despite attempts to engage with these intransigent suppliers, they remain unwilling to stop supplying RULP and bring in LAF.
As the Committee outlined:
…numerous submissions and witnesses raised concerns that the recalcitrant roadhouses are unlikely to ever voluntarily introduce Opal fuel and noted the lack of progress following years of consultations. The committee also notes that one of the roadhouse owners has publicly voiced their personal opposition to supplying Opal fuel. These remaining sources of regular unleaded petrol within the Petrol Sniffing Strategy Zone are a concern to the committee and agree with the NPY Women ' s Council that: "It is absolutely vital that the widest possible coverage of Opal is achieved in the Central region so as to close off opportunities for sniffing.
Evidence from recent Senate Estimates shows that this problem still continues.
It is deeply concerning that the attitudes of a few could frustrate the efforts of entire communities.
This must be addressed immediately.
We propose legislation that gives the Federal Government the power, when necessary, to regulate the supply of certain fuels.
It may be said that this is a serious step -a measure of last resort. Well, it should be serious, and this is our last resort. Negotiation has not worked. The evidence is clear- we cannot eradicate petrol sniffing without dealing with supply.
This was echoed time and time again in submissions to the 2009 inquiry.
The Committee recommended that the Government investigate legislation to mandate the supply of Opal in the Petrol Sniffing Strategy Zone and that unless all relevant stations agreed to adopt Opal within six Months, the Government should draft legislation.
That six months is well and truly passed.
It must be said that LAF is not a panacea. It is a vital element of a broader strategy - a comprehensive response which addresses the underlying causes of petrol sniffing, including a combination of supply, demand and harm reduction measures. Such a response must include community management plans; youth services; effective and culturally sensitive policing; treatment and rehab services and information services.
Many of these components already exist and are quite successful - but the missing piece of the puzzle is the power to regulate fuel.
It is most regrettable that the Government, almost 3 years after the Community Affairs Committee's report on Opal and 6 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; despite the unreasonable intransigence of a few suppliers; and despite the fact it is well within the power of the Government to quickly address this issue.
That is why the Australian Greens are introducing this Bill. The time to enact legislation which supports the roll out of LAF is now, and we urge the Government and the Opposition to stand along side us and support this Bill.
Our Low Aromatic Fuel Bill tackles petrol sniffing by giving the Minister the power to designate certain LAF and Fuel Control Areas. In LAF areas, suppliers would be prohibited from selling regular unleaded petrol (RULP); they may be subject to certain requirements in relation to LAF, such as promotion, provision of information and record keeping in relation to LAF; and a scheme of controls could be implemented to regulate the storage and supply of other fuels, such as Premium Unleaded Petrol (PULP). In Fuel Control Areas, unleaded petrol is not prohibited but suppliers can still be subject to certain requirements relating to LAF and a scheme of controls to regulate volatile substances. Allowing for two separate types of designated areas with different levels of regulationrecognises that to be effective there may be areas where the banning of regular unleaded petrol is unnecessary but that still require a degree of control over fuels.
The Bill includes consultation requirements when designating LAF Areas and when setting up the schemes of control. Designating a LAF area or a fuel control area, setting up a scheme of controls and determining requirements for LAF are done via legislative instrument. Legislative instruments were specifically chosen to allow enough flexibility to tailor solutions to each LAF or Fuel Control Area.
Vital to this approach, is the ongoing financial support of LAF through the Government's Opal Fuel subsidies. We would expect that the Government will ensure that LAF and Fuel Control Areas have access to subsidised LAF.
This method, drawn from the model outlined by the South Australian Centre on Economic Studies, aims to reduce petrol sniffing by removing RULP, making PULP harder to access and promoting and subsidising LAF.
We ask for your support in passing this Bill which is a major missing element in our efforts to eradicate petrol sniffing and which will finally allow us to put a stop to the unfathomable reluctance of a few obstinate suppliers holding the rights of communities to ransom.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.