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Thursday, 22 November 2012
Page: 9487

Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (11:39): Petrol sniffing has apparently been around or known of since about 1951, but it was not until the 2000s that action was taken. Certainly, Senator Rachel Siewert, who was instrumental in getting the first inquiry held, deserves congratulations on doing that, as do many organisations, such as CAYLUS, and many elders, particularly the women, in rural Aboriginal and remote communities that pushed for something to be done about the scourge of petrol sniffing. As a member of the community affairs committee I have been involved in two of the three petrol-sniffing or low-aromatic fuel inquiries that the committee has held. It has been very instructive to visit communities and to see what is being done and what cannot be done because of the problems not just with petrol sniffing but with chroming and glue sniffing, with the substitution of marijuana, or ganja, for petrol when it is not available.

We are looking at a more serious problem and an underlying and complex problem around why petrol sniffing happens. Just recently the ABC reported that there had been an outbreak of petrol sniffing in Tennant Creek, with 10 young people sniffing petrol. It is really a very serious issue. Some of the things that have happened have certainly improved the situation, and the development of Opal fuel by BP is one that needs to be lauded and celebrated. In itself Opal fuel, the low-aromatic fuel, has made a major difference to the number of petrol sniffers.

Part of the original inquiry that sought to push the introduction of low-aromatic fuel said that youth programs needed to be established in many of the communities where petrol sniffing happened because it was a result of loss of self-esteem, it was a result of boredom and it was a result of lack of cultural connection. On the second inquiry that the committee held, we went to a number of remote communities, met people undertaking youth work programs and saw that there were some benefits beginning to develop.

I must admit the one thing that has concerned me in many cases in regard to the sorts of programs that we as governments—federal, state and territory and even local—impose on Aboriginal communities is that we do not have a component to try and build local social and community capacity. We tend to still have the situation, which was obvious in one community we visited, where the youth worker leaves after a few months, as they are expected to do when their contract expires, and the program stops. I am very happy to accept that someone with a degree in youth work is probably far superior at setting up a youth development program than someone without a degree. But I certainly know of many communities throughout Australia where locals have seen a need and simply filled it, perhaps not as expertly as someone with a degree. But what we are not doing is giving communities the sense that they are in control of their own destinies and that they are the ones who should be working out how to fill the gaps.

The other consequence of petrol sniffing and other substance abuse is that in many cases in some of these communities we have a semi-literate generation of young people who are not able to assist their own children with their education. They do not see the benefits of education and do not support education for their children, which, of course, creates an ongoing problem that may yet affect another generation. It has really become a serious problem that needs very complex solutions and I congratulate all those who are working in the area to try to develop some of those solutions.

I note, in the outline accompanying the amendments to the Low Aromatic Fuel Bill that have been provided to us today, that the government says:

The Government recognises the devastating impact of petrol sniffing on young lives and the importance of action to reduce the incidence of petrol sniffing and its impact on families and communities. In this context these Government amendments are in keeping with the Bill’s object to reduce the potential harm to the health of people, including Aboriginal persons and Torres Strait Islanders, living in certain areas from petrol sniffing. The amendments also provide clarity on a number of technical issues to facilitate the clearer administration of the Bill.

If this is true, I cannot imagine that anyone would have any concerns with this bill. But when you get a virtually rewritten bill, with 25 substantial amendments attached to it, 10 minutes before the debate begins, with no notice to the coalition, naturally one suspects a rat. I noted that Senator Siewert interjected a number of times during speeches, saying, 'Read the amendments.' This was in terms of some of the coalition's objections to this bill. The amendments do in fact include a change so that instead of the bill saying 'a corporation must not supply regular unleaded petrol in a low-aromatic fuel area' it now says 'prohibiting the supply of regular unleaded petrol in a low-aromatic fuel area'. If this had been discussed and gone through with the coalition and if it had been suggested that this was a good way to get around objections to the Corporations Act not covering sufficiently the concerns and the organisations that are involved in ignoring the low-aromatic fuel position, that would be fine. But, of course, we have nothing except those words written on a piece of paper and Senator Siewert interjecting, 'Read the amendments.'

As I think everyone in this place knows very well, Senator Nigel Scullion has been at the forefront of trying to ensure that low-aromatic fuel is available throughout the Northern Territory, and many others in this place have been keen to ensure that low-aromatic fuel is available in my own home state, particularly in areas of Western Queensland where it currently is not available and in the APY Lands. This is not just a problem for Indigenous communities, but the main areas of concern have been in Indigenous communities, and that is where the change to low-aromatic fuels has made a very large difference. If in fact those amendments overcome the objections that were made by all parties when this bill was before the committee, then certainly let's look at them; let's consider them. However, given that there are currently negotiations going on with the states and territories and given that this bill appears to say that the minister will only legislate if states and territories do not, surely the best way to go ahead with this is through negotiation and discussion.

As I said, if the bill would do what the government now says it would do, let's have a proper look at it. Let's certainly look at going ahead with the legislation if it will reduce the incidence of petrol sniffing and therefore the devastating impact of petrol sniffing. We have no problems with that, but why would these amendments simply be rushed into the chamber with no discussion with the coalition, who I think both the Greens and the government know have strong concerns in this area about reducing and then eliminating petrol sniffing? Certainly it would be our strong intention to go ahead in that way, and the government and the Greens certainly owe it to us to sit down with us and look at this. Also, they should be talking to the communities and the state and territory governments involved. Without their involvement, it is a ridiculous proposition to suggest that this bill should simply be passed because the government and the Greens say: 'You don't need to read the amendments. You just have to accept our word that they do exactly what we say they do.' This is certainly not acceptable to the coalition but we are certainly open to discussion on the topic.

The PRESIDENT: Order! The time for the debate has expired.