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Thursday, 22 November 2012
Page: 9469


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (10:22): The one thing that keeps this chamber together is the consideration of the welfare of our community, and I object to what Senator Scullion said. Senator Scullion and this side of the chamber have worked very closely together in a shared commitment to ensure that our First Australians receive strong services in our community. We share that. In terms of the process around the Low Aromatic Fuel Bill 2012, this is not the first time that the Senate's community affairs committees have considered the issues around petrol sniffing. In fact, we have had three inquiries on the issue. Everybody acknowledged that there needed to be action. Everybody acknowledged that the use of Opal fuel was one of the key strategies that was going to make a genuine difference.

In 2006, the first inquiry looked at hope in our communities, and the stunning title of the report was, Beyond petrol sniffing: renewing hope for Indigenous communities. One of the recommendations from that committee inquiry was a call for people to work together to ensure that Opal fuel was available across the areas of need. We called on state and territory governments to work with the Commonwealth to ensure that Opal fuel was available and used so that those communities were protected.

In the limited time I have I am not going to talk about all the other recommendations that we have had from our inquiries year in, year out. I acknowledge the reverence with which Senator Scullion refers to our committee and refers to the recommendations that we make. But, as we in this chamber all know, we make lots of recommendations and they are not all acted upon. In terms of the work that we do in our committee, I think that we would have had strong policy if governments of all flavours had taken up every single recommendation of every single community affairs committee inquiry of which I have been a member but, to my sorrow, that has not happened. What happens is that committees work together. They look at issues and bring forward recommendations for governments of all flavours, and decisions are made and work continues around them.

In terms of petrol sniffing, in 2006 we said that there needed to be coordinated work into the future to look at the way that Opal fuel could be developed, distributed and used effectively in the communities. Then we move forward to 2009, when the committee again looked at the issue of petrol sniffing across Australia. There were very encouraging issues that came forward in 2009. I know other senators talked at length about the wide range of issues that work together, including the importance of community empowerment and diversionary programs, but the petrol-sniffing strategy in which Opal fuel is key continued to be a major plank of work across the parliament to ensure that petrol sniffing was addressed.

In 2009, our committee was so frustrated by the continued lack of clarity around what was happening with Opal fuel. In fact it was that committee that, in 2009, recommended that there should be a process across governments to look at mandating the use of Opal fuel. It is there in our recommendations—I believe it was recommendation 5. In 2009, to my disappointment, we did not get that recommendation taken up immediately. But the issue continued to be discussed, and all of us who are interested in this area continued to work with communities and community organisations. One of the things that was on the agenda the whole time was frustration that there continued to be so much misinformation perpetrated by a range of individuals. We have never been able to actually find someone to talk to who raises these issues about the damage that Opal fuel can do to cars and the fact that it would be difficult to have financial advantage if you used Opal fuel in communities. These things continued to happen. We noted that in 2009 and we said that there needed to be changes into the future.

Senator Siewert, in putting forward her bill, referred to the recommendations of the 2009 committee inquiry. She said that there had been a lack of action. She said that we know things have continued to happen but we need something to cut through to address the frustration that we all share about the fact that we have a tool that we know works. There is no debate about the fact that the use of Opal fuel reduces petrol sniffing in communities. No-one even argues that point. It is clear and it is documented; the evidence is there. The issue with which we continued to struggle is the fact that, seemingly, we could convince some people in the business community that the use of Opal fuel was something that should be part of their business model and that working in Aboriginal communities where there could be danger had with it in many ways a community responsibility to provide the services that would best suit their communities. That was something with which we were struggling.

As people have pointed out in this debate, there continues to be ongoing work with the federal and state governments to move towards getting responses to this process. That was the discussion we had throughout the recent inquiry which finalised in September this year. When we put forward our recommendations, we said that the work needed to continue. We accepted that a process needed to happen. We said that the bill put forward did not meet some of the legislative processes and that it needed to be amended. As you can see, there have been a number of amendments drafted to address the issues that we raised in the committee recommendations. If you look at the minority report from Senator Siewert, you can see that she picked that up. She acknowledged that there needed to be changes to the draft legislation that was put before us.

Now that work has been done and, again through due process, we have come back to this place to say that this is one step that can be taken. It will not solve all the problems. No-one pretends that one step will solve all the problems. But we have a process that we are putting before the parliament that says that, if you follow this act, a framework could be implemented, a trigger could be implemented that the minister could use to say, 'In this circumstance, we're going to step in.'

It is not to stop the other issues. It is not to stop the valuable work that continues to happen amongst governments to work towards agreements to ensure that they can maintain the positive steps that they have taken up till now. I think one of the reasons for putting this legislation forward is to give that a bit of impetus and to say, as we have to in many cases when governments need to work together: 'Get a move on. This needs to be done.' There needs to be an urgency about the process because, while we are waiting and discussing and reviewing, people continue to have the horror of petrol sniffing in their communities. That was the evidence we had before our committee, and no-one denies that.

Communities sat before us, telling us about the horrors of petrol sniffing—the fact that, with all the efforts that have happened up to now, there are still outbreaks of sniffing—and that people continue to have that awful virus that seems to spread so quickly and everyone has been struggling to find out what stimulates it and how it continues. As long as there is petrol available in the community, petrol that allows the sniffing to happen, sniffing will happen.

The legislation that is before us is not perfect. In fact, I cannot remember a single piece of legislation placed before this place that has ever been perfect, so we continue to look at how things evolve and how we can make things better. What we are asking the government and the parliament to do is to take this step as one step along the road: to maintain the discussion, to maintain the debate, to maintain the commitment. When that happens, we can genuinely say that we have made a difference. We are not imposing this; we are engaging in it. We are responding to the need that has been put before our committee, before each of us individually. Everyone who is part of this debate has been working with communities and is dealing with people on a weekly and monthly basis.

I reject that this is something that is being rushed through. I think we have waited, I think we have encouraged continuing action and I think that this is one step that parliament can take to address the issues that we all know about. If we do not take this step, I am wondering how much longer we do have to wait.