Just over a year ago I wrote about a Senate Committee inquiry into petrol sniffing. As my comments at the time suggested, I was uncertain how much value would come out of the inquiry, given the number of similar inquiries which had preceded it. However, it does appear to have been some significant steps forward since then. I have been hearing some good feedback from various places, and it was great to see a very positive piece on the front page of today’s Australian newspaper, which declared that “the petrol sniffing crisis in central Australia is over.”
I’m a bit reticent about endorsing complete claims of ‘victory’ in this battle just yet, but there has certainly been some big advances. It is pleasing that the Senate inquiry process did have a positive impact in gaining an expanded and quicker rollout of the unsniffable Opal petrol. It is also worth stressing that strengthening and supporting local leadership to help them better deal with some of the underlying issues has also played a role – something the federal government deserves credit for, but also something that must be continued, in recognition that substance abuse is about more than just the individual substance. Of course, the biggest credit has to go to the many people slogging away at community level. The role of government and wider society is to remove some of the barriers and provide some support, but it is people working on the ground who have to do the hard yards and make it work.
The Inquiry received evidence at a hearing in Cairns from a local worker from the community at Aurukun on western Cape York. I remember his evidence, which was quite insightful. It was good to finally visit that community myself last week, and also good to hear while I was there that the introduction of Opal (after a few bureaucratic hiccups) was still having a positive impact.
And given our propensity to beat up on big evil nasty multinational petrol companies, it is worth noting that Opal fuel was developed by BP, something they did despite there being no commercial incentive for them to do so.