According to today’s Australian, the petrol sniffing crisis in central Australia is over…
After years of government inaction, dozens of inquiries and reports, and hundreds of young lives crippled by the debilitating habit, Aboriginal leaders, social workers and police told The Weekend Australian that the problem finally appeared to be beaten.
A cautious optimism is now spreading throughout the region, with only about 20 people believed to be sniffing in central Australia north of the Northern Territory border – down from about 600 just 18 months ago.
Further south, in the heavy sniffing Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands in South Australia, the Nganampa Health Council says there has been a 60 per cent reduction in sniffing to September last year, following a 20 per cent fall the previous year.
The dramatic development has largely been credited to non-sniffable Opal fuel, now rolled out across central Australia, and strong community leadership. New Territory legislation giving police extra powers to intervene has also helped curb the problem in the Territory.
“The crisis has passed,” says Blair McFarland, a social worker with close knowledge of petrol sniffing trends in remote communities in the Northern Territory.
“Ten years ago, bushfires were raging in remote communities. There were hundreds and hundreds of petrol sniffers. It was totally devastating lives in those communities, and everything was suffering.
“Now, thanks to a combination of Opal, community action and some diversionary programs, the bushfire is basically out. There are still some spotfires that we have to deal with – there always will be – but it’s now at a stage where we can deal with it.”
Let’s hope so.
The issue was dramatised in the film Yolgnu Boy which I mentioned a couple of days back.