“This year, it is 10 years since low aromatic fuel was rolled out in Central Australia. In those days, there were around 500 people sniffing in the region; it was an epidemic,” Mr Ray said.
“Community leaders from Papunya, the Mt Theo programme and NPY Women’s Council lobbied hard for the fuel to be introduced and they were listened to.
These days there wouldn’t even be 20 people sniffing in the same region. Low aromatic fuel is a community-driven solution supported by governments, retailers and the fuel industry that has worked well and stood the test of time.”
Tristan Ray, from the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service, a regional petrol sniffing prevention programme based in Alice Springs, welcomed the report
Download the Report here monitoring-trends-petrol-sniffing-2011-14
” Thanks to the roll out, the number and frequency of young people sniffing petrol in remote communities is still decreasing.“But, while the decline in petrol sniffing is very positive, petrol sniffing remains a problem in some areas of rural and remote Australia.
“Petrol sniffing is incredibly destructive. It can cause permanent brain damage, asphyxiation and seizures, not to mention the harm it does to wider families and communities.
Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion Press release
Background from NACCHO
Petrol sniffing is a serious problem that has claimed over 100 Aboriginal lives from 1981 to 2003 across Australia . It is very common in Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory and Western Australia and not restricted to Aboriginal youth.
The practice was first observed in 1951, and is rumoured to have been introduced by US servicemen stationed in the nation’s Top End during World War II [10,16].
Of the Aboriginal population in 1994, 4% had tried petrol-sniffing but only 0.3% practised it at that time.
In 2005 there were some 700 petrol sniffers across central Australia , with the addiction linked to as many as 60 Aboriginal deaths in the NT between 2000 and 2006, and 121 deaths between 1980 and 1987.
A study into the prevalence of petrol sniffing in selected Indigenous communities revealed sniffing continued to decline between 2011 and 2014.
Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Nigel Scullion, said today the downward trend coincided with Coalition Government’s continued roll out of low aromatic unleaded fuel in areas affected by petrol sniffing.
“The final Menzies School of Health Research report found that in 17 selected communities where low aromatic fuel has been introduced, the number of people sniffing petrol dropped from 647 in 2005-07 to 78 in 2013-14 – a fall of 88 per cent,” Minister Scullion said.
“That is why I have banned the supply and sale of regular unleaded fuel on Palm Island, and in areas around Katherine and Tennant Creek.
“I am determined to stop access to regular unleaded fuel where we have the evidence that it is still hurting people. I am confident this strategy will continue to make a difference and save more lives.”
Menzies researcher, Professor Peter d’Abbs, who conducted the study with Gillian Shaw of Bowchung Consulting, said the study demonstrated beyond doubt how effective low aromatic fuel had been in reducing petrol sniffing.
“Removing regular unleaded fuel has meant other initiatives, such as employment, youth and recreation programmes and targeted substance misuse interventions are much more likely to be effective,” Professor d’Abbs said.
The Coalition Government’s support for low aromatic fuel is part of the Indigenous Advancement Strategy which aims to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by getting adults into work, ensuring children go to school and making communities safer.
The full report, Monitoring trends in the prevalence of petrol sniffing in selected Australian Aboriginal communities 2011-2014: Final Report, is available on the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet website.