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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 185

Mr SNOWDON (7:53 PM) —Mr Speaker, may I congratulate you on your elevation to the high post that you now will, I am sure—how will I put this—handle with the aplomb for which you are renowned.

Mr SPEAKER —That is very charitable of you, the member for the Northern Territory.

Mr SNOWDON —I am here tonight to talk about a very important issue to remote Aboriginal communities not only in my electorate but in other parts of Australia: the question of petrol sniffing. Petrol sniffing, as honourable members may know, has been a chronic activity amongst some young Aboriginal people in some remote communities around Australia. It has cost many lives over a period of years of young Aboriginal Australians. It is something which Aboriginal Australians have been trying to deal with, and they have come up with a number of strategies to so do. One of them has been a novel one—that is, to substitute full leaded petrol with avgas. Whilst avgas contains more lead than super petrol, it does not contain that hydrocarbon that gives the high that young Aboriginal petrol sniffers, and indeed older petrol sniffers, seek when they sniff petrol.

I will just quickly refer to an item in the Medical Journal of Australia of 17 July 1995 that evaluates the strategies used by remote Aboriginal communities to eliminate petrol sniffing and which particularly goes to this question of avgas. As you will recall, Mr Speaker, the then Minister for Transport and Regional Development on 1 July lifted the tax on avgas. At the same time, those people who used avgas as a substitute for petrol, where it is used for non-aviation sales, were informed that they had to pay a full lead tax, which would radically increase the price of the fuel. The excise duty was increased to 45.242c a litre, making it uneconomical for these communities that were using avgas as a substitute to purchase avgas as a substitute and deal with petrol sniffing as part of an overall strategy.

The Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs was made aware of this, as was the then Minister for Customs, Mr Truss, in August of this year. But, to date, there has been no satisfactory outcome to those discussions. I point out that, as recently as 30 October, a minute was sent to Dr Peter Tate of the Pintubi Homelands Health Service at Kintore in my electorate in which it was said that there were discussions going on between the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Customs, Treasury, ATSIC and Health to discuss the matter in October.

The fact is that their failure to deal with this issue expeditiously has the potential to cost lives. What I am concerned about is the inaction by this government in dealing with this matter and to come up with a solution that will provide those communities with the capacity to use avgas as a substitute for non-aviation purposes in their communities as a control mechanism for petrol sniffing. If they do not do it, if they cannot do something immediately—and I mean immediately—there is the potential for real harm to be done. The good Senator Herron, the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, says he is concerned about Aboriginal health, but if he were really concerned about Aboriginal health he would have done something about this. He has not.

This government needs to do something about this today. In fact, it should have done something about it yesterday. I am concerned because today I have had representations from Ngaanyatjarra Council in Western Australia—the community of Warburton. I have spoken to the Kintore Homelands Health Service in the last few days, and I have had representations from Aboriginal Congress in Alice Springs about this very matter in the last two weeks. It is going to hurt people if there is no remedy to this forthwith, and I ask, Mr Speaker, if you would pass the message on to the government that they ought to do something about this immediately.

We need a solution today, and I ask them to make sure that those communities that are using avgas as a substitute are able to continue to use it at the old excise rate of 13c a litre, which is what they were being charged. That would make it economical. Any other mechanism, if they are asked to pay up-front and then get money back, is going to be too costly. They will not be able to afford to do it. They need to get this done today, and they need a concession made by this government immediately. Mr Vaile was able to do it on avgas tax to 1 July. They should be able to do it today with this one. (Time expired)