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Monday, 7 May 1984
Page: 1628

Senator ROBERTSON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to the recently published report of a survey of New South Wales school children's drug taking habits? Does the Minister agree that there is cause for alarm in the drug usage indicated by the report? What action is contemplated to co-operate with the States in taking steps to overcome this problem, particularly in the area of the sniffing of solvents and aerosols by teenagers?

Senator GRIMES —I did read in a newspaper over the weekend about the survey conducted in New South Wales by, I think, the Education Department, which indicated that there was a further increase in the use and abuse of drugs, illicit and otherwise, by school children, particularly in that State. In particular, I remember that mention was made of the relatively high percentage of students who had indulged in the very dangerous practice of sniffing solvents and various aerosol products. I know honourable senators are aware of the very real problems in the Aboriginal community of people sniffing petroleum products.

It is always disappointing when, given that there has been so much publicity in recent years about the use and abuse of drugs, this sort of survey indicates a problem is continuing to be present and is, in fact, getting worse. It is indicative, I believe, of a social problem which faces not only Australia but the whole world. Certainly this Government will co-operate with the Government of New South Wales or any of the State governments in trying to introduce an effective and efficient drug education program in an effort to cut down the amount of abuse of this type. A second approach would be to introduce safer products on the market to avoid exposure of young people to these substances and their abuse of these substances. I note that in Ireland recently a solvent for inclusion in glues was developed which is not volatile, as are the solvents that are used now. It will certainly be of assistance in this area. The basic problem is why young people-indeed, people of all ages-abuse drugs in this way. I will refer to the Minister for Health-

Senator Kilgariff —Would you support the setting up of a select committee?

Senator GRIMES —I was not aware that Senator Kilgariff wanted a select committee . But certainly, the problem the honourable senator has raised in this place in the past, that is, of petrol sniffing amongst Aborigines, is very serious. I will certainly convey to the Minister for Health Senator Robertson's concern in this area and find out what correspondence he has had, with the New South Wales Government in particular, in regard to this issue. Certainly, I accept the fact, as I did many years ago when I was a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare looking into this matter, that we need a more effective Commonwealth-State Government program to attack this very serious problem.