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Community Affairs Legislation Committee

McDONALD, Mr Lance, Papunya

McFARLAND, Mr Blair, Central Australian Youth Link Up Service

RAY, Mr Tristan, Central Australian Youth Link Up Service

SHARMAN, Ms Lisa, Community Leader and Youth Worker, Titjikala

SIMMONS, Mr Terry, Titjikala

CHAIR: We will now reconvene. For the information of those listening, the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee will be giving evidence in Canberra. So we will now hear from the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service and representatives from community and then we will hear from Caltex Indervon. That is our program for the rest of the afternoon.

I welcome witnesses from CAYLUS, Titjikala and Papunya. As always, thank you for appearing before the committee. We particularly thank you appearing at this hearing. There is no way that we could have any kind of hearing on this issue without all of you. So thank you very much. We have a submission from CAYLUS. I know that you understand the processes around the protection of witnesses and evidence. If you have any questions, just ask us. If any or all of you have opening comments, we will hear those first and then we will go to questions.

Mr Ray : Thank you. We have tabled two documents, which seem to us to summarise the issue in a way that nothing else does. One is a cartoon about the issue—which I hope does not seem trite—and the other is a map. It is part of our submission but it visually depicts the issue.

CHAIR: It is in a larger format.

Mr Ray : And it is in colour, which does help. We have made a long submission which covers nearly everything that we could think of to say. We have a few points arising from other things people have said but I thought we would ask our people from the communities that are affected to speak. I would point out that Mr Lance McDonald was a big part of the initial push for Opal in 2005. Some of you might remember meeting Lance when he came and spoke on behalf of his community, which then had 100 kids sniffing. He was a big part of the push for Opal and also the push in the community to change that. Lisa and Terry have come in from Titjikala. Lisa was recently in Canberra talking about the impact of this issue on her community.

CHAIR: And you survived that, Ms Sharman?

Ms Sharman : Yes.

CHAIR: You did tell me that it was very cold. But, having been in Alice Springs this morning, I am not quite sure how that cold compared. We have the map, but how far away from where we are is Titjikala?

Ms Sharman : Titjikala is 120 kilometres away.

Mr Ray : You can see on the map that it is south east from Alice Springs.

CHAIR: So it is about 120 kilometres away. Is that road good?

Mr Ray : No.

CHAIR: It is not a good road?

Ms Sharman : Actually, now it is. It has been graded.

Mr Ray : But ideally you need a four-wheel drive to drive it.

CHAIR: And in the wet season can you travel on the road? In the wet season is it more difficult?

Ms Sharman : It is slippery.

CHAIR: What about Papunya, Mr McDonald? How far away is Papunya?

Mr McDonald : Two hundred and eighty kilometres.

CHAIR: I am trying to find it on the map.

Mr McFarland : It is due west.

CHAIR: I have got it. And what about the road there, Mr McDonald?

Mr McDonald : It goes on the bitumen on the Tanami Highway, and then there is a turn-off to Papunya and then it is a gravel road.

CHAIR: Okay. It just helps to get a sense of where we are.

Mr Ray : Lisa, would you be willing to start talking about this issue and what happens in Titjikala?

Ms Sharman : Okay. When Tristan and Blair first asked me if I wanted to go up and talk about petrol sniffing it was because there had been petrol sniffing happening at Titjikala. I know there are only two persons there who are chronic sniffers but a few young people have come on board with them and started sniffing. We recently had an eight-year-old who was sniffing in the community, and he found a can full of petrol and tried it out and started sniffing. Actually, that young boy is not in the community anymore. His families have taken him away. It is not because Titjikala is a sniffing community; it is because we have a station that is just five or two kays out of Titjikala that is selling sniffable petrol. Vincent is a guy I am always going to bring up in these things because he is from our community and he has tried moving around to other communities and that is not actually fixing the problem. He is still sniffing wherever he goes. I am sorry—

CHAIR: It is okay. You told us about that—

Ms Sharman : Yes.

CHAIR: and you said this guy was quite influential.

Ms Sharman : Yes, and we have got Cliffy Stuart. He has always bounced back to our community. When I saw you guys in Canberra I told you, 'He is like a billboard for petrol sniffing.' He goes from community to community. He has been sniffing in Alice Springs. I think the police all know about Cliffy Stuart. He does not care. He has got to that point where he does not care. He can go to jail and he will come out and will still sniff. Right now we have tried getting him in a football team to keep him busy.

CHAIR: I think it is easier if you just have questions for Ms Sharman or Mr Simmons or Mr McDonald or anyone. It is not going to be formal. Just jump in when you want to. I think it is much better.

Senator SIEWERT: Where does the fuel come from? Does it come from Maryvale?

Ms Sharman : The unsniffable petrol? Titjikala actually sells Opal and Maryvale Station sells premium unleaded or something. Last Sunday we all had to come into town for the footy and I saw everyone filling up at the Maryvale Station before they came into town. Luckily we do not have Vincent in the community and a lot of the young people, like the three boys I have previously told you about, are busy doing training for football, but if Vincent comes back he is going to start sniffing again and—

Senator BOYCE: Did you say you have Opal in Titjikala?

Ms Sharman : Titjikala Store sells Opal.

Senator BOYCE: So why were people filling up at Maryvale?

Ms Sharman : The stores close on Sundays.

CHAIR: I am having trouble with what premium means. I understand standard unleaded, which means they are using the non-Opal as the standard unleaded and I understand Opal with the green circle. But the red circle with the cross through it that says 'trouble with premium', what exactly does that mean? That is what they have got at Maryvale. Do they sell the standard unleaded as well?

Mr Ray : Maryvale only sells premium. When people are sniffing fuel from Maryvale station it is premium fuel, which is a higher octane fuel and arguably more damaging than standard unleaded.

Senator SIEWERT: Is there not a problem elsewhere with the supply of that? Do you have it down at Mintabie?

Mr Ray : The issue with Maryvale is that it has the only unleaded fuel available. In other sites where you have a choice between premium and Opal, most people are filling up with Opal because Opal works in all cars that are pretty new or made after 1985 that are not a high-performance vehicle. There are some newer very flash vehicles that require premium. But the majority of cars on the road and particularly the majority of cars that are going to Aboriginal communities are standard unleaded vehicles and so can use Opal. At Maryvale you do not have a choice so when you fill up with unleaded it is premium unleaded that you are filling up with.

Senator SIEWERT: Why are they just carrying premium? I would not have thought there were that many high-performance vehicles there.

Mr Ray : We noted in our submission that Maryvale station is for sale. In advertising the station they say that they have good business from Titjikala. There is no reason that Titjikala community needs premium. We ask the same. We do not know why they choose to stock premium. They may say it is for the tourists coming past to Chambers Pillar. A way around that would be to have a supply of premium, but it is obviously not the majority of their business. The majority of their business is to Titjikala.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to come back to how things are locked up or not. You could have premium for where high-performance vehicles do need it but have Opal for Titjikala.

Mr Ray : Absolutely, in smaller quantities you could. It would be in a drum.

Senator SIEWERT: Have you approached Maryvale to see if they will stock Opal rather than premium or both? Has anybody spoken to the station owners?

Mr McFarland : I have tried to a few times but I can only ever get people who answer the phone and so never got through to the owners. I believe that the petrol sniffing task force has tried to and I think BP officials even tried to at one stage. Nigel Scullion might have had a go at talking them into it as well. We have had no joy. On that subject, we have tended to leave negotiations of this sort of issue to the Department of Health and Ageing, which is in charge of the Opal rollout, so that people do not get confused by various stakeholders ringing up and humbugging people. I would encourage you to talk to Health and Ageing about contact they have made.

Mr Ray : In the early years of Opal we did have a lot of direct contact with retailers and mount a lot of pressure. It has been five years. For a good part of the first part of that five years we were pushing as hard as we could but there is only so long you can push for. We try to coordinate and collaborate with the department rather than send mixed messages to retailers.

Mr McFarland : You guys mentioned it in the Senate. We even tried to shame them through public attention but they are unshameable.

Senator SIEWERT: That is why we are talking about mandating. Of the 10 or so difficult outlets, if we were to break those up into philosophical objection, objections around the added infrastructure costs of a new bowser or new tanks and perhaps a lack of understanding, you mention in your submission named outlets. Under those three categories could you attempt to list the outlets?

Mr McFarland : Perhaps we could do a little bit of that. I am sure Health and Ageing would be able to do a better job. One interesting thing is that Kings Canyon used to have Opal. It is south-west of Alice Springs. The question marks have been resolved. David Hewitt rang up and found out that both of those question marks are indeed not stocking Opal there, so the question marks are gone.

Senator BOYCE: So they have gone green.

Mr McFarland : No, they have gone completely red now.

Senator BOYCE: They used to stock Opal.

Mr McFarland : Yes. Kings Canyon used to be owned by the same organisation that owns the Yulara resort, which you might recall was General Properties Trust, who were strong advocates with NPY Women's Council and CAYLUS in the original Opal Alliance push to get Opal there. So they absolutely had Opal in Kings Canyon. But they sold it recently and there seems to be a lack of corporate knowledge and remembrance of those things. They have now gone back to selling sniffable fuel through a change of management. On that subject, I note that there is an email from Wycliffe Well. We did approach Wycliffe Well years ago and asked them, and maybe Health and Ageing did as well, but again they have changed hands so probably never knew; the level of handover probably did not include 'We were humbugged once by some youth workers about our petrol'. So in terms of Kings Canyon there is clearly no impediment. They used to have it, they do not now. Kings Creek Station, I really do not know why they do not do it. There is Opal all around it; it cannot be a supply issue. Maryvale, we do not really know why. Gemtree say that there is no sniffing in their area and so they do not want to swap over.

Mr Ray : Gemtree mentioned concerns about losing business if they did, and in our experience it is not something that happens when you have a comprehensive roll-out, because there is just no choice.

Senator SIEWERT: Nowhere else.

Mr McFarland : Exactly. You have got communication from Tilmouth Well. They would like you to buy them another tank so they can have sniffable and unsniffable fuel but that is probably not a practical idea.

Mr Ray : We are talking about replacing all standard unleaded fuel in the region, so Tilmouth Well's suggestion of having parallel supply is beside the point. What we need to do is get rid of standard unleaded out of their pump. Then they will have a spare pump.

Senator SMITH: It may well be that some people would feel more confident with a stepping-stone approach. I am trying to distil what are the levels of hesitation. We are just talking about Tilmouth Well.

Mr McFarland : Laramba is a community that is so close to Tilmouth Well that they have elected not to go down that path. It is very much the same as Titjikala, where the cars fill up at Tilmouth Well or they fill up at Laramba, so they cannot really guarantee only Opal in their community. Plus that community has only had occasional sniffing problems over time. Rabbit Flat is closed now.

Senator BOYCE: Why is that?

Mr McFarland : The owner of Rabbit Flat tried to sell it but could not get anyone to buy it. His deal was that he would sell it to somebody but he would continue to live there. He did not seem to get anyone who wanted to buy a petrol station in the middle of nowhere with an ex-owner living in the petrol station, so he closed it. Somebody earlier on asked whether attempts have been made to communicate. We were asked to help Balgo when they had some sniffing problems. It is a little bit out of our zone but they prevailed upon us to give them some help. So we took people from Mount Theo because there are connections between those two desert communities. When we were there we talked to the community. The community, the police and we wrote to Rabbit Flat requesting that they swap over and stop selling sniffable petrol because it was causing sniffing in Balgo. Nobody heard anything back so it was futile. We tried it but it just did not work.

To continue the tour, I believe you have had communication from Ti Tree. Is that right? Ti Tree, is straight north of Alice Springs. I see you have not had communication from Ti Tree. They have refused to stock Opal in the past. We have communicated with them and they do not want to. A couple of years ago another petrol station opened there, which sells Opal. That is why you might see on the map that there is a green dot and a red dot. That means that you can fill up with Opal there if you choose to.

Senator SIEWERT: That goes to the point that you were referring to earlier, which is that you want to get rid of it, not have both.

Mr McFarland : Yes. I do not really know about Barrow Creek. Wycliffe Well, I think you have had communication from. We did talk to them early on, when there was sniffing at Ali Curung. That was a couple of owners ago, probably, and it has not made it through. I have never personally communicated with Wauchope. Tennant Creek now has one petrol station that sells Opal. There was an outbreak of sniffing by people of petrol they got at Ammaroo Station. That is to the north-east of Alice Springs. You might see it on the Sandover Highway. CAYLUS went and spoke to the Ammaroo Station mob, who said, 'We want to keep normal petrol. We would rather not sell to local Aboriginal people than lose it,' but they undertook to put more severe restrictions on who they sold to. They have been there a long time and they were pretty aware of who was dodgy in terms of supplying petrol to them. There has not been any significant sniffing of Ammaroo Station petrol since then so it could be that their mechanisms of control have worked.

Urandangi you are aware of. You have probably seen them responding to various newspaper stories. That touches on another question—education. One of the points that the Urandangi person makes is that it would cost her more money, but our understanding is that the Commonwealth government pays a subsidy so that it would have no cost to the retailer or to the end user. So she has not heard that when it has been told to her. I remember telling her that myself, but who am I? Clearly, whatever level of education has been put out there to try and get retailers to realise that there is no cost to them in stocking Opal, it has not worked.

Mr Ray : It is a minority of retailers. The majority have got their heads around it.

CHAIR: Is there any map that shows us all the outlets? The ones that you have highlighted are the ones that have got Opal or have refused to. What I am trying to find out in my own mind is this issue about competitive advantage or disadvantage. In the areas where there are people who have said they do not want to stock it I want to know what the options are. So that if they did stock it and the recalcitrant traveller demands standard unleaded where could the traveller go? Does this map show me all the outlets on these roads or only the ones you have spoken to? I would like to know, whether on the Stuart Highway, those are all the places you can by fuel.

Mr McFarland : No, it is not. There is Jim's Place, just south of Alice Springs and Aileron Roadhouse just north of Alice Springs. That is most of them, though, I must say. There is the one near Yulara.

CHAIR: We can get that from the department. I just wanted to find out because one of the issues raised in some of the responses, and also anecdotally, is that there is a fear commercially that if they do not stock the unleaded petrol they will lose business to somebody else who is stocking it. The way you would test that would be to ask—I asked this of Alice Springs Council this morning—this question: if you were a traveller who absolutely demanded standard unleaded and you were in Alice Springs you could not buy it, so how far would you have to go in your car to get standard unleaded? That is the kind of issue I would like to have really clear data on. I will get the department to do that.

Mr McFarland : At least 200 kilometres is my guesstimate of that. I think the closest would be Ti Tree Roadhouse, which is 200 kilometres north.

CHAIR: That is a long way in a vehicle.

Mr McFarland : It is a long way. Yes, that is right. I hope that has given you a bit of a view.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Senator SMITH: Would I be correct in saying that the primary responsibility for encouraging people to shift to Opal is with the Commonwealth government through the Department of Health and Ageing?

Mr McFarland : Yes.

Senator BOYCE: Mr McDonald, there is standard petrol at Laramba and Tilmouth Well. Are they problems for you in Papunya?

Mr McDonald : Yes, because we are not far from Tilmouth Well. For town it makes a difference, but we have the shortcut road to Tilmouth Well, and I think that is causing problems for some young fellows in our region, who are cutting across by the shortcut, arriving in Tilmouth and filling up. I think Tilmouth Well needs to change. It is about time. They need to change to Opal.

Senator BOYCE: At Papunya, are you open seven days a week for Opal, or are you shut some days?

Mr McDonald : At Papunya we used to have the old petrol, but is all Opal now—not only in Papunya but in the nearby communities. We have the same languages as Haasts Bluff, Mount Liebig and Kintore. We are all one people.

Senator BOYCE: What hours are your petrol bowsers open?

Mr McDonald : From nine to 12 and from two to 4.30.

Senator BOYCE: Is that every day or just Monday to Friday?

Mr McDonald : That is Monday to Friday, but on Saturday it is open only half a day.

Senator BOYCE: Thank you.

CHAIR: Mr McDonald, I have not been to Papunya. That is a loss to me, I know, and one day I hope to get there. But a few years ago it was Papunya that hit the media for the large number of petrol sniffers in your community. In fact, some of the most confronting media stories of several years ago were about your community. Would you like to tell us about it from your experience? Mr Ray and Mr McFarland have already told us that you had such a strong voice in making a change in your region. Would you like to tell us a little bit about the work you and your community have done and the changes between then and now?

Mr McDonald : It has been a long time, and some of the people sometimes have a look back on the past in Papunya. It is good to encourage other communities around Australia. Papunya was big in the media with the petrol sniffing.

CHAIR: It was.

Mr McDonald : It included our nearby communities as well. When we introduced Opal, there was still sniffing going on because some of the other communities had the old petrol. In Papunya we separated all the children in our tribes and in the different languages. We divided them and we sent them back to their own regions and areas. That made us deal with our younger children. It has been really hard for black people. There was a council there before there was the shire council. In Papunya we had a talk and a big meeting amongst ourselves. We got together and separated each of the family groups, and we divided all the children. Each family had its elders—its older brothers or uncles—who could talk to the younger children, and it was a big family matter for each family group. We had a talk and told them that what we were introducing was unsniffable fuel. When Opal comes through, we have to stop sniffing petrol. That is what we told everyone, not only for Papunya but for nearby communities Mount Leibig, Kintore and Haasts Bluff. We all get together as a region in that language group and we solved that big problem that was really, really worrying for us and upsetting.

But now everyone is happy, all moving on. Our younger girls stay and do sports and learn computers. We have CAYLUS soccer nights. There is a computer room in Papunya where everyone learns how to fiddle around with the computers, go on the internet and all that. The young fellas in the communities are also learning how to record music. It also includes the girls as well. Everyone is recording music in Kintore, Mount Liebig, Haasts Bluff and Papunya. It is up to the adults to show good things to the younger children. Sitting back and doing nothing will not make things happen. It is up to the older people, being proud of the country, looking after children.

Big credit to the Opal coming through in this region and changing everything. That is really good. We do not call them sniffers anymore; we just call them by their names, because it has been a long time now. We think that Tilmouth Well is the only frightening one for us, because we are living on the same road that it is on. Tilmouth Well is in the middle of where three tribes are mixed up. There is Anmatjere tribe this side, Warlpiri and us mob—Luritja Pintubi tribe. We think that Tilmouth Well needs to change because we do not want to go backwards. We want to go forwards.

Senator SIEWERT: How many people are currently sniffing? I missed the name—you do not want to call them sniffers anymore. What is the word that you want to call them?

Mr McDonald : Every person has their own name and we call them by skin names or 'nephew', 'uncle' or anything. But we don't go with the old name because it will bring back the memories of that young fella.

Senator SIEWERT: Are there people who are still trying to access petrol in the community?

Mr McDonald : We recently had a little bit of a problem at Tilmouth Well because there were some young fellas going to cut across to Tilmouth Well, getting that old fuel to sniff it. They were sniffing somewhere in the bush. We had a talk with those people and we explained to them, 'You've got to stop it because we don't want to go backwards.' Now that person is all right, but the fuel in Tilmouth Well is still the same. It may be waiting for that person to change his mind. That is why I think we need to look at changing that roadhouse.

Senator SIEWERT: So in community it could just take one person who wants to sniff petrol to affect other people as well?

Mr McDonald : Yes, one person, then five, then more. This is how it is in this part of the region, in Central Australia. One touches it, then more touch it.

Mr McFarland : If I can add to that, there was recently a boy from South Australia who came up for a funeral and got left behind when the other mob left. They left him there with extended family, but he was falling through the safety net a bit. He started sniffing and he started other people sniffing, and then there were 12 people sniffing in Papunya. That boy's father turned up and took him to Kintore and the sniffing died down there. The youth workers got really involved with them. At Papunya the other 11 stopped. But then he started up another 15 in Kintore. So you really cannot underestimate what one person can do.

CHAIR: It is like what Ms Sharman was saying about Titjikala. A couple of blokes can actually colour a number in the community.

Senator SIEWERT: Where did this particular young man get the petrol from?

Mr McFarland : In Papunya somebody had brought in some petrol in one of those ATV vehicles, those four-wheel drive motorbike sort of vehicles, and they sniffed that. The people who brought it in had not realised that it had premium in it. Then they went on and raided stuff from the store, then the store realised what was going on, so they put in all sorts of protections. When it moved to Kintore it went down a similar path, but it also unfortunately went to avgas.

As somebody mentioned earlier, avgas is now sniffable. Nobody had ever thought about sniffing it until this kid turned up in Kintore who had just been sniffing down the road. They tried avgas because at that stage the aviation companies that fly in and out of Kintore had a whole lot of drums behind a wire fence but with inadequate protection. The kids were jumping the fence. There was a little bit of petrol in the bottom of the empty ones, but that is plenty if you want to sniff it. This much fuel can keep three or four kids high for a day. So the kids were suddenly accessing this. That got us all hopping around for a while. We contacted the plane company and got them to get rid of all their excess fuel. The local shire council wrote to the essential service officers out there to go down to the airstrip twice a day and make sure drums were not left lying around. They would empty them out and put them in small, secure storage. They shipped a whole bunch back into town. We chased them around and limited that supply. It only takes one person to create a whole lot of trouble.

I will comment on what Lisa talked about earlier—the two blokes who have been sniffing at Titjikala, one of whom moves around a lot. He comes from down south near Mount Dare. There is another one with a very similar story at Papunya. They are both guys who have sniffed for a very long time, who probably have brain damage and who have been through treatment lots of times and have been mandated to treatment. We have a mandatory treatment system in the Northern Territory. Their damage is probably at the level where all you can ever try and do is manage them rather than expect them to recover fully. There are a handful of people in the region like that, who Lisa I think has described as walking billboards for sniffing, particularly the one from Apatula who ended up in Titjikala then got kicked out of Titjikala and ended up in Alice Springs and then moved from location to location in Alice Springs. We know when he is in town, because we go from having a couple of reports about sniffing in a week to having 10 in a day, all in different parts of town—because he is a very active and public sniffer. He walks down the middle of the main street sniffing. There are a handful of guys in the region who are damaged to the level that they will always sniff whenever they can possibly get the chance. The one in Papunya tends to stay in the community and does not leave, so cutting off supply might be enough in his case.

Senator SMITH: At page 5 of your submission you talk about data collection and about the release of the data. Can you walk me through your comments about the petrol sniffing strategy unit and how it collects data but is reluctant to make the data available to this committee? I am curious to understand that a bit more.

Mr McFarland : We are too. The petrol sniffing strategy unit asked us to feed in any reports of sniffing. They were going to be the central place that collected that data because they have good connections with GBMs—government business managers—in remote communities, so they have a conduit to remote communities. We would always email them with stories of the outbreaks like the ones we have been telling you, about what was happening, where it was coming from and what we were doing about it, so they could collate it and get some sort of picture. They once shared that with us and we had a glimpse of what was happening across the Territory but recently they have decided not to show it to us. So we send information into this black hole. I do not know what they do with it—hopefully, something useful—but it certainly never comes back to us anymore. We are aware, because this is our bread and butter, that the most sniffing is happening in that region, also in the Lake Nash region in our zone with casual outbreaks in other places. Certainly, the majority of sniffing outbreaks and reports are coming from Titjikala and Lake Nash.

Senator SMITH: Based on what your networks are able to tell you but, if you have a gap in your network, you will be blind to other sorts of areas. Do you recall the last time you had access to that data or were provided with some feedback?

Mr Ray : I think it was the February report that we saw. We have had a lot to do with data collection and have acknowledged it as an issue in the region. I could not come up with a better model than that. One approach is to hire very expensive consultants. They do one-week visits to communities and do a population check list, but that is very expensive and unreliable because they are often strangers to the community, whereas with this method all of the agencies in the region agreed to collaborate—as we do with the strategies unit; we continue to collaborate—to send anything we heard of to a central point not only to make sure it was being responded to appropriately but also to make sure the data collection was happening. To me, given my experience, that would be the hardest data you could expect to get.

Mr McFarland : It is probably worth noting that, in response to the last Senate inquiry where you recommended that this law come into being, one of the things that the government came back with was that they wanted to have better data to work on. They now have better data to work on because all these agencies are now feeding data to them. They are not sharing it with us but, presumably, they have it. I am sure it would show that there is more sniffing around places where there is sniffable fuel. It is a bit of a blind Freddy research project.

CHAIR: How often did you get that information? Up until February were you getting it monthly—

Mr McFarland : Six monthly.

Mr Ray : We continue to collaborate well with that unit. They have great people working there, so we did hear quite regularly.

CHAIR: Up until February this year you were getting regular feedback with the data and seeing it and then, without explanation, in February it stopped. You still do not know why you are not getting it?

Mr McFarland : The explanation was that they are not sure the data is reliable.

CHAIR: There are so many words you could say to that response, Mr McFarland, but nonetheless I will not say them.

Senator SMITH: Just to get some feedback: clearly, one element in the success has been educating motorists around the fact that Opal fuel is not detrimental to the mechanical efficiency of their motor vehicles. As far as you are aware, is that campaign still current or has it fallen into the abyss?

Mr McFarland : It still operates. There was an Opal stall at the recent Alice Springs show. There were also some events out in some remote communities celebrating the effect of Opal and congratulating communities on getting on board with Opal and celebrating this major success in Aboriginal health.

CHAIR: Do many of those communities have one of those stalls?

Mr McFarland : No. The one I am aware of is the one at Hermannsburg, which is an easy drive at the end of the bitumen road.

CHAIR: We go there a bit.

Ms Sharman : A van was giving out stuff in the communities. They went from Hermannsburg to Titjikala.

Mr McFarland : How was it?

Ms Sharman : It was good. Some players from (indistinct) out there and they were just talking to community members about the use of ganja and all those things, thanking them for having Opal in their community.

Mr Ray : We say in our submission that we think that communication campaign has been pretty comprehensive. Again, this was another reason the government gave in their response to the last Senate inquiry for not implementing Opal mandating legislation. The other thing is that we want to do more public information campaigns. We think we have done it very well, but it still has not changed the minds of this handful of retailers.

Mr McFarland : I know there are a lot of people out there who just will not believe that Opal is not hurting their cars. In fact, Craig Catchlove before talked about he noticed in the paper that Harts Range community was talking about going off Opal because they also did not believe that Opal was not hurting their cars. But we got involved with the petrol sniffing strategies unit and had an information and education campaign in that community. It was specifically targeted for that community. We specifically went out and asked, 'Where are these cars that are not working?' They said, 'This one and this one.' So we put those cars on trucks and brought them into Alice Springs and got independent mechanics to look at them. They found one of them was missing a fuse—after it was replaced it started fine—and the other one had stuff in the fuel tank that looked like Coca-Cola and dead bugs. Really the issue was gunge in the fuel. Opal was not the issue at all.

We then sent a mechanic out to the community to look at a bunch of other cars they said were also affected by it. He found similar things. There was nothing wrong with the petrol. It was stuff in the tanks and other issues. So we took that education campaign to the community and now they are on board and they have decided there is nothing wrong with Opal. They are looking at their underground tank. Maybe it is rusty and cracked or something like that. We did that very specific and targeted work with that community to bring them on board with the idea that Opal was not the problem. To their credit, they responded very open-mindedly once we had dealt with them. They did not like the big campaigns that seem to be so far away. They felt like a voice in the wilderness saying, 'But, but!' and nobody was listening. So us specifically saying, 'We are here; tell us about it,' resulted in a lot of table banging in the first half an hour but we won them over in the end. So now they are quite happily staying with Opal.

But there is a lot of misinformation about Opal out there. You will never convince everybody that Opal is not hurting their cars. It just will not happen. People are not convinced by scientific facts that they read in the paper; they are convinced by the guy next door leaning over the fence and telling them something.

Mr McDonald : I just want to say that from listening to a story in my region we should look at kids when they get addicted. There is a program for when they get addicted to gambling. There is a program when they get addicted to alcohol. When they are addicted to petrol sniffing there should be some program to get them on a good road to live like a good adult person and support younger children. Somehow we need to organise a program where we can teach kids to behave, live a good way and be a good adult when they are grown up.

CHAIR: That is similar to what congress said, which is that there is an issue around addiction. It does not matter what the addiction is to; there is an issue around addiction and there should be part of our health system that understands that and is there to help people. I thought that was very telling.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to go to the point that you made in your submission about retailers refusing to stock Opal and knowing the numbers. In your submission you say it is confusing to work out which retailers are refusing to stock LAF, so how have you worked out your map? Was it through personal communication and talking to people?

Mr McFarland : Yes.

Senator SIEWERT: So the department does not share that information?

Mr McFarland : No.

Mr Ray : There is some public information, but it does not include the sites that are refusing. You can see some stuff on the petrol sniffing strategy website but not the refusing sites.

Senator SIEWERT: We get a bit of information at estimates, but it is hard—

Mr Ray : Also, the public information has dots on a map but not the names, so you do not actually know which community that is.

CHAIR: If we match your maps to the dots, we will be able to work that out.

Senator SIEWERT: You also talk about keeping on the negotiating but never getting to the point where Opal is accepted. Is that what I should take from your comment where you said that they made every effort to keep negotiations open with retailers, that they are just dragging it out?

Mr Ray : We think the department have done an extraordinary job with the lack of tools that they have. We fully understand that they never want to whack their fist on the table and walk out of discussions saying, 'You're just not doing it, are you?' You always have to go back and keep trying. You always have to keep trying. With five years for some of these sites, you cannot say the sites have not had a full chance to move on board, nor that the department have not tried hard enough.

Senator SIEWERT: I want to ask about areas outside this region because you referred briefly in your submission to the north. I know you have had some involvement but perhaps we should talk to the people from Lake Nash first.

CHAIR: I would like to ask Titjikala and Papunya: Yuendumu gave evidence this morning that their community always feels vulnerable, that as long as there is leaded petrol out there that they were always worried—they did not use the word 'relaxed'—it could come back. For Titjikala where you have some sniffing and it comes and goes and for Papunya where you have some as well, do you share the view that until this fuel is not there you will not be safe?

Ms Sharman : Yes, it is not safe because these young men we send them away to places like Ilpurla, one of those places, and they have come back and they have left all their sniffing. They go to work at the clinic but they see young men wandering the streets sniffing, making all this noise and dancing. That makes the other young men join in because they think it is cool what he is doing. A lot of the young men have been stealing from the cars that fill up at the station on Sundays. When they go out hunting and come back, they are thrilled. I have seen families with jerry cans that went missing from their car or somebody drained out their car while they were sleeping. It is always going to be happening. We will not know until they come out like other young men because they will start off by sniffing somewhere else beyond a sand hill. In our community it is beyond a sand hill or somewhere. There are still probably three more sniffing that we do not know about until they come out and it will be too late to stop the sniffing.

Mr McDonald : Papunya is not far from Yuendumu. We call ourselves neighbours, Yuendumu and Papunya. With the younger children, once they stop sniffing, if they go to another community like Yuendumu and they find out there is no more fear of sniffing, then the story will spread: 'Come here to Yuendumu. Let's pile up here. We're going to be sniffing here.' We need to focus because kids are told the bad things but they think, 'We can go there. I might go back and call my friend. They'll stop you in Papunya but you could go somewhere else.' Even with really good communities there is no sniffing there but around Central Australia when someone looks at something in another community, then they call them to go there. Once that community is all right but another community has not got over it, then they all move there because everyone is one big family and we are all just moping around. That is the frightening part and the worrying part.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr McDonald. Thank you, Mrs Sharman and Mr Simmons, representatives from Titjikala and Papunya. Thank you for your evidence. If you think of anything that you want to add, get in contact with the committee.