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Thursday, 22 November 2012
Page: 9476


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (10:49): I rise today to wholeheartedly support the Low Aromatic Fuel Bill 2012, which is currently before the Senate. This is an excellent bill that Senator Rachel Siewert needs to be congratulated for. She has shown tremendous leadership on this issue, and her commitment has been long running, from her first speech, which I had the pleasure of listening to, back in 2005. She spoke then about the scourge of petrol sniffing and the need to deal with it. I congratulate her on that and on her participation in the initial petrol-sniffing inquiry, in 2006. She has continued to lead on this issue, always consulting with Australia's Indigenous people and always listening to their responses. It was Senator Siewert who initiated the 2009 Senate inquiry to follow up on the 2006 report. It was those inquiries that prompted the government's first comprehensive petrol-sniffing strategy, which did include a voluntary rollout of the low-aromatic fuel. She has now consistently followed that rollout, visiting communities, talking to stakeholders through the estimates process, and she has continued to push for a better outcome for the communities that could benefit from the broader rollout of Opal fuel and a ban on sniffable fuel. I really congratulate my colleague. As I have just said, it has been seven years in the Senate to the point where we now have a bill before us that I think ought to be supported by the Senate. I think it demonstrates what can happen when you have no one party having all the power and there is a capacity to negotiate outcomes, in which case you get outcomes for the community.

I heard Senator Scullion speaking in a most derogatory manner earlier suggesting that there had been some trade-off of the interests of Australia's Indigenous people. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Greens have had at the forefront of all our work in the Senate, always, the interests of Australia's Indigenous people. I just want to go through that for a moment.

It was my former colleague Senator Bob Brown who worked very hard to have Indigenous recognition as part of the opening of the parliament every day. That is a real improvement and recognition. It was in our agreement with the Prime Minister that we try to secure recognition in Australia's Constitution for Australia's Indigenous people. Furthermore, all our work trying to protect James Price Point, trying to secure substantial new cultural heritage listings, has always been to protect not only the environment but also the cultural aspects. The Burrup Peninsula is another place where we have worked very hard to protect the cultural heritage of Australia's Indigenous people when it has been set upon and undermined by the gas industry in Western Australia—something that is supported by the coalition at every turn, I might say, which destroys that heritage that is so precious to us.

Another example is that during the negotiation of the Carbon Farming Initiative I was very keen to make sure that one of the earliest methodologies we recognised in carbon farming permits was savanna burning, because Australia's Indigenous people in the Northern Territory have very important knowledge and skills. Getting that change to savanna burning not only is good for the planet in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also is actually providing money and employment to people living in Indigenous communities.

So the Greens at all times try to work for better outcomes for Indigenous people. I remind the Senate that it was the Greens who stood strongly opposing the Northern Territory intervention. We believed it was bad for Indigenous people, and we still do. We also stood up and opposed the so-called Stronger Futures legislation, which the government introduced, because we think it provides weaker futures for Indigenous people. I very proudly stood in the courtyard here with a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders saying that this Stronger Future legislation would be a disaster for them. So I will not have on the record anywhere a suggestion that the Greens are not acting in the bests interests of Australia's Indigenous people when we are informed by those people of what they want.

And that is the key point on which Senator Scullion is wrong. It is the communities themselves who are asking for this legislation, and it is ridiculous to suggest that a better process would be to go and talk to each of the states and territories and try to negotiate with them to legislate, because that is a recipe for never getting an outcome. Anyone who has been into a community and seen the appalling outcomes of long-term petrol sniffing knows not only that it can kill but that it damages internal organs, the brain and the nervous system. People who sniff petrol can become disabled and ultimately die. It does not just damage the health of the individual; it leads to family breakdown, domestic violence, community breakdown, vandalism and all sorts of shocking outcomes in communities. I think everyone recognises that if we can get rid of petrol sniffing we can at least enable people in Aboriginal communities to take up other opportunities for a positive engagement with life—with education, culture and music and so many wonderful things that can be achieved.

So I am wholeheartedly supporting this legislation. The scourge of petrol sniffing is still with us, because of recalcitrant petrol stations that refuse to stock non-sniffable fuel. This bill gives the minister the power to declare areas where it will be an offence not to supply non-sniffable fuel. It enables the minister to target suppliers in relation to specific communities that are being devastated by sniffing, and I am wholeheartedly in favour of giving the minister that power. To Senator Smith, who just suggested that this will not provide an outcome, I say: what other outcome do you want than to give the minister the power to go in an make it an offence to not sell this low-aromatic fuel?

This is actually providing an outcome. A talkfest with the Territory is never going to get you an outcome, because we see what goes on at COAG year in, year out. COAG is a great big black hole where the states frustrate action on a whole range of issues. What we want here is action to actually deal with the issue—the final piece of the jigsaw to deal with the issue of petrol sniffing and to end it. I cannot understand the mentality of petrol station owners who are prepared to exploit people and deliver horrendous outcomes in Aboriginal communities for their own benefit. But, since the mentality exists and there are recalcitrant petrol station owners, then something has to be done. I think it would be a thing to celebrate in this parliament if all political parties could join together and say: 'Let's do it. Let's just close this last gap in relation to this particular issue and let's give young Aboriginal people and their communities the chance that we want them to have.'

Anyone who has not been in the communities may have seen the film Samson & Delilah. If ever you want to see what is going on in communities, have a look at that film and come away and tell me that it is now not time to actually deal with this issue. It is essential that we deal with the issue. Let's do it. I do not think there is any justification in saying, 'No, this isn't the right mechanism.' Giving the federal minister the power is the right mechanism. I congratulate my colleague and again say that one of the real benefits of a parliament where outcomes have to be negotiated—where one party cannot just deliver something and have it rubber-stamped—is that you get collaborative outcomes. Senator Siewert's work over seven years in this place has finally led to a collaborative outcome whereby we are going to see, I hope, this legislation passed and the Greens able to deliver—with the government, it would seem—an outcome that will close that gap of disadvantage in relation to petrol sniffing in Australia's Indigenous communities.

I think it is a very positive step. So much is said about the way parliament behaves or does not behave. This is an opportunity for the Senate to show that we can demonstrate the leadership that is so essential and that is being asked for. That is the critical thing that is being asked for by Indigenous communities saying, 'Help us to do what we need to do to end petrol sniffing.' The Greens are very pleased to respond to that by saying: 'Yes, we will help you. Yes, we will legislate.' I again congratulate my colleague Senator Siewert for doing just that.