NACCHO Aboriginal Health News : Woman behind watershed non-sniffable fuel rollout in Central Australia honoured 10 years on


“The petrol sniffing problem was like a monsoon rain that flowed down and affected everyone

The liquid petrol was just pouring onto our lands and it was pushing people, particularly young people … and so we needed help with that, and that help came in the form of a different kind of liquid, which was Opal fuel.

That was a really triumphant moment and we knew that it would bring good things, and it has.

Everyone has been so happy since then because of the instant reduction in petrol sniffing. ”

Ms Inyika  ( Her other name is ‘never give up’ ) said through a Pitjantjatjara interpreter. She is now terminally ill and wanted to see her legacy recorded. CAYLUS estimated there had been a 94 per cent reduction in the number of sniffers in the region.

It is the 10-year anniversary since the roll out of non-sniffable Opal fuel in Central Australia and the APY lands, and the woman who led the fight against petrol sniffing has reflected on her triumphant campaign directed at the Federal Government in an interview with the ABC

For decades petrol sniffing devastated the beloved Aboriginal communities of fuel campaigner Janet Inyika.

Ms Inyika fought tirelessly to introducer get non-sniffable low aromatic fuel, known as Opal.

Janet Inyika at fuel launch, 2005

In a wheelchair, Janet Inyika wears a yellow carnation – the same type of flower she held during the launch of Opal fuel in Amata in the remote APY Lands of South Australia’s far north in 2005.

Back then she had everyone wearing the yellow flower, the colour of the fuel, as a symbol of change.

“That was a really triumphant moment and we knew that it would bring good things, and it has,” Ms Inyika said.

“Everyone has been so happy since then because of the instant reduction in petrol sniffing.

“They were so proud of me, and people have been coming up to me ever since and thanking me for all the work that I did to get to that point.”

Her other name is ‘never give up’

Janet Inyika, 2008

Current CEO of the NPY Women’s Council, Andrea Mason, said Ms Inyika was the face of council advocacy long before Opal was introduced.

Ms Inyika was also a leader with Aboriginal corporation NPY Women’s Council for many years.

“She actually has another name and her other name is ‘never give up’,” Ms Mason said.

“Her family was being impacted by sniffing. She was seeing people die around her, become brain injured, disabled for life, and she put herself right in the middle of the fire.”

Ms Mason was working on the APY Lands in the 1990s and saw the problem first-hand.

“I look at this community of Central Australia and there is a line drawn in the sand – the life before Opal fuel and the life after Opal fuel, and the important for us living in the life after Opal fuel is we must never forget how devastating petrol sniffing is,” she said.

Tony Abbott changed position to back fuel rollout

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was the health minister when the Federal Government backed the rollout of Opal across bowsers in the region.

Mr Abbott initially said petrol sniffing could be solved by “parents taking petrol away from their kids”.

However, veteran youth worker Tristan Ray said Mr Abbott was ultimately persuaded by voices on the ground.

“I think that it was just so obvious that it was making a really big difference and there were politicians on all sides of politics that saw the benefit,” Mr Ray said.

Mr Ray said there was still resistance from a handful of fuel retailers, but most have made the switch to Opal.

CAYLUS estimated there had been a 94 per cent reduction in the number of sniffers in the region.

It said on the edges of Opal zones, there were about 20 sniffers remaining

NACCHO Aboriginal Health and Drugs : #AMA and #Menzies say Cannabis replacing petrol sniffing as community drug of choice

screen-shot-2014-10-22-at-21934-pm ‘Petrol sniffing rates have dropped by almost 90 per cent in remote Aboriginal communities since the introduction of Opal fuel a decade ago.

But cannabis is becoming an increasing concern, with almost two in three communities citing it as a cause of major problems, including assaults on elderly people.”

Menzies School of Health Research in AMA report

Image Above Gunja and Pregnancy Aboriginal Health

“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,

“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 See NACCHO Previous report

See 10 year anniversary  year event October 27 in Alice Springs

Field workers from the Menzies School of Health Research visited 41 communities in 2011-12 and again in 2013-14 to interview community members about substance abuse and their attitudes to the introduction of low aromatic fuel (LAF).

Download the Report here monitoring-trends-petrol-sniffing-2011-14

They found that the number of people sniffing petrol had fallen by almost 30 per cent – from 289 to 204 – over that period.

Comparable data from 2005-06 for 17 of the survey communities showed an 88 per cent fall in sniffing rates.


“The key conclusion of the study is that the introduction and use of LAP on a regional basis is associated with a continuing decline in numbers of young people in remote communities sniffing petrol,” the researchers said.

“In addition to an overall decrease in the prevalence of sniffing, people who do sniff tend to do so less frequently, which suggest that less harm is being caused by petrol sniffing in Australia’s remote and rural Indigenous communities than previously.”

LAF, originally known by the brand name Opal, was introduced in 2005 to combat sniffing.

In the majority of communities surveyed, its introduction was widely supported.


One elderly woman told the field workers: “Opal fuel? Everyone stopped because of that. It’s really good.”

In some communities, however, interviewees expressed frustrations about the continuing availability of regular unleaded fuel at nearby, accessible outlets, and concerns about the perceived adverse impact of LAP on engines, particularly small engines such as outboard motors, motorcycles, lawn mowers, and whipper snippers.

The researchers found that in many communities, sniffing had been overtaken by alcohol and cannabis as troubling issues.

In just over half of the communities visited, alcohol abuse was seen as a major concern, and was associated with grog-running, binge drinking, violence, and deaths.

But 27 of the 41 communities – 65.9 per cent – cited cannabis as a cause of major problems, including drug-induced psychoses, fighting over scarce supplies, and assaults on old people to get money to buy cannabis.

In a similar study in 2007-08, concerns about cannabis were raised in just three out of the 31 communities studied.

But the researchers said that did not mean that people were switching from sniffing to cannabis and alcohol.

“The evidence regarding drug substitution was equivocal,” they said.

“In around one in three communities, field workers were told that the decline in petrol sniffing appeared to have led to an increase in use of cannabis, alcohol, and/or other drugs.

“A similar proportion reported hearing no evidence of such substitution.

“In some cases, growth in cannabis use preceded the decline in petrol sniffing.

“In general, use of alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs appeared to be a product of a mix of social, cultural, and economic factors, rather than any single cause.”

The Monitoring trends in the prevalence of petrol sniffing in selected Australian Aboriginal communities 2011-14  can be found at

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Supporting mental health and wellbeing to help close the gap:download report card 2012

Congress Co-Chair Jody Broun (picture above) has welcomed the first national mental health report card and its recommendation that that mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples be included in ‘Closing the Gap’ targets.

 “The report’s chapter on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples stresses the importance of mental health and wellbeing to extending life expectancy and in reducing early deaths,” said Co-Chair Broun.

Download the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples report here

 “The necessity of a more holistic approach to Aboriginal health has been a consistent message I have heard during the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan consultations during the past two months.

 “That is, that health and wellbeing, culture and family are all linked with our physical health.

 “For example the report highlights what many of us see in our own families and communities – the impact of trauma and grief which contributes to self-harm and high levels of suicide among our people.

 “At our recent national meeting Congress Members stressed the importance of  access to mental health services, and mental health issues as underlying many of our health and social issues – especially in the justice system.

 “Congress also supports the National Mental Health Commission’s recommendation that key health groups such as Congress, the National Health Leadership Forum, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation(NACCHO) , the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation and the Australian Indigenous Psychologists’ Association be central to decision making about health and mental health in Australia,” said Co-Chair Broun.

 “The information in the report card should also play an important role in informing the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan,” she concluded.


Contact: Liz Willis 0457 877 408


Minister for Mental Health Mark Butler today welcomed the release of National Mental Health Commission’s first National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.

The annual Report Card was a 2010 election commitment of the Gillard Government and forms a central part of the Government’s record $2.2 billion mental health reform plan.

Mr Butler said the Report Card reminds us of the significant needs of an estimated 3.2 million Australians each year who live with a mental health issues, and highlights the importance of the Government’s investments to grow and improve the mental health system.

“We asked the National Mental Health Commission to put Australia’s mental health services under the spotlight to give us insights into service gaps, where governments need to do more and where services are working well,” Mr Butler said.

“The Report Card has highlighted important areas for reform to support better outcomes for people with mental illness in areas such as employment, physical health and housing.”

“The Report Card will be produced by the Commission every year from 2012 onwards and will provide guidance to all governments.”

“The Commission’s work reminds us that meaningful and strategic progress will require partnership between consumers, carers, all governments, NGOs and mental health professionals.”

Mr Butler thanked the Commission, led by Professor Allan Fels, for its work saying the Report Card highlighted key strategic objectives to the overall improvement of the system that supports people with mental illness.

“The Report Card challenges all of us – government, services providers, professionals and the broader community – to better support those living with and recovering from mental illness to live a contributing life.”

The Report card notes the need for all governments to work together and invest in better services for people with mental illness.

“The Gillard Government’s $200 million National Partnership Agreement with the states and territories – which forms part of the national reform plan – has seen a renewed emphasis on the way mainstream services like hospitals and housing respond to the needs of people with mental illness.”

“But the Report Card says there is significant work to be done by states and territories, including to ensure people are not discharged from state-based mental health services and hospitals into homelessness.”

“The Report Card also notes that states and territories need to work on a better, more consistent approach to seclusion, restraint and involuntary treatment.”

Mr Butler said the Gillard Government’s $2.2 billion mental health reform plan was already having an impact on the ground.

“We’re seeing good progress with the rollout of headspace youth mental health services, the online mental health portal, the expansion of the Access to Allied Psychological Services program and more personal helpers and mentors.”

“But what is clear from this Report Card is that there is more road ahead of us than there is behind us and we all need to take up the challenge of working together to build a better service system – a more inclusive society – for people with mental illness.”

Menzies Health questions press coverage of petrol sniffing & roll out of Opal LAF

Further to NACCHO’s OPAL submission view copy here

By Peter d’Abbs, Menzies School of Health Research

Reproduced from the Conversation

Once again, petrol sniffing in Indigenous communities is in the headlines.

And once again, sadly, the restraint that newspapers normally exercise in reporting drug issues among non-Indigenous Australians has been thrown aside.

A July front page of The Australian showed two young Aboriginal men, both identifiable, one with a hose in his mouth siphoning petrol from a car, the other clutching a soft drink bottle apparently containing petrol.

“The scourge is back”, declared Nicolas Rothwell at the beginning of his accompanying article: “confronting the eye, disturbing the heart, exposing the failure of remote community management in the Northern Territory after five long years of intervention”.

And so on until, in a concluding paragraph, he pronounces:

All that is clear is failure: after millions of dollars, reports, studies and programs, the combined efforts of the commonwealth and NT governments to stop the plague have come to nothing.

What are we to make of this denigrating outburst, this narrative of hopelessness in which Aboriginal petrol sniffers and those aspiring to help them alike are ensnared in delusion, and in which the only one who can really see what is going on is, by implication, the omniscient journalist? What an extraordinary conceit, in several senses of the word.

Rothwell’s article and the photographs appeared the day before the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee commenced two days of hearings in Alice Springs on the Low Aromatic Fuel Bill 2012, which had earlier been introduced into the Senate as a private member’s bill by Greens Senator Rachel Siewert.

The purpose of the bill is to enable the Commonwealth to compel petrol retailers in designated areas to sell Low Aromatic Fuel instead of regular unleaded petrol. (“Low Aromatic Fuel” is the officially preferred term for what up to now has been more widely known as Opal fuel. The shift signifies a policy commitment to support a particular kind of fuel, regardless of who manufactures it, rather than the particular brand manufactured by BP.)

Most of those appearing before the hearings expressed support for the bill, as did The Australian in an editorial.

As several submissions make clear, however, the reason why Low Aromatic Fuel should be mandated is not because everything that has gone before has failed, as Rothwell claims, but rather because the rollout of Opal fuel to date has been successful in reducing petrol sniffing, and because these successes continue to be undermined by the refusal of some outlets to stock the fuel, and by the reluctance of the Rudd and Gillard governments to compel them to do so.

In 2005 and again in 2008, Gillian Shaw and I were engaged by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing to assess the prevalence of petrol sniffing in Indigenous communities prior to and following the introduction of Opal fuel.

In our initial study we gathered data from 74 communities; the 2008 study examined trends in 20 of these communities located in NT, WA, SA and Queensland. In 17 of the 20 we found a decline in petrol sniffing, attributable at least in part to the introduction of Low Aromatic Fuel.

Overall, the number of current sniffers in the 20 communities fell by 70% from 622 to 187. Because individual communities are identified, the reports themselves have not been released. An executive summary of the 2008 report is, however, here.

We are now engaged in a further follow-up survey of petrol sniffing patterns in 40 Indigenous communities for DoHA. While not at liberty to disclose results to date, we can say they do not support the catastrophic picture conjured by Rothwell. In particular, the community he singled out for attention, Yirrkala in north-eastern Arnhem Land, where petrol sniffing is indeed a serious problem at present, is by no means typical of communities in the NT or elsewhere.

In 2009, the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs conducted an inquiry into petrol sniffing in central Australia, in which it recommended that in the event of continuing resistance by individual retailers to stock Low Aromatic Fuel, the Commonwealth should legislate to compel them to do so or, failing that, state and territory governments take similar steps.

In the following year, DoHA commissioned the South Australian Centre for Economic Studies to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of mandating supply in designated areas. The authors of the study concluded that over 25 years the benefits of mandating the fuel would exceed costs by $780 million.

Despite these arguments, the Commonwealth Government has continued to baulk at mandating Low Aromatic Fuel, although it has substantially increased budgetary commitments to the rollout of Opal and to other measures under an eight-point plan to combat petrol sniffing.

Whether these latest moves will shift the government’s stance remains to be seen. Even if they do, two notes of caution should be sounded.

First, and this should go without saying, supply reduction is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the prevention of volatile substance misuse; measures to reduce demand are also needed.

Second, most of the discussions about mandating Low Aromatic Fuel have focused on isolated roadhouses in central Australia. In several communities where petrol sniffing continues to cause problems, however, the source of petrol is not a remote roadhouse, but a nearby town, such as Katherine or Nhulunbuy. These towns have several outlets, and the social, economic and political dynamics implicated in any move to mandate Low Aromatic Fuel are considerably more complex. Legislating in these settings will need to be accompanied by sound community engagement if they are not to generate the kinds of resentment and resistance that, if nothing else, frighten politicians.

In the meantime, is it too much to ask that journalists who report petrol sniffing in Aboriginal communities respect some of the conventions of privacy, use of evidence and balance that we take for granted when other people’s social problems are being aired?

Peter d’Abbs receives funding from Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing.

The Conversation

NACCHO NEWS:Labor coughs up $1m to combat petrol sniffing

Labor coughs up $1m to combat petrol sniffing

Also see

 THE Gillard government has responded to concerns over petrol sniffing in remote Aboriginal communities by spending nearly $1 million on new diversionary programs and youth workers in high-risk areas.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Warren Snowdon yesterday told The Weekend Australian the money would go towards programs targeting petrol sniffers and those abusing other substances in areas such as Katherine in the Northern Territory, the Kimberley in Western Australia, and Cape York in Queensland.

In Katherine, the site of a relatively large outbreak of petrol sniffing earlier this year, $123,200 has been allocated for the local Aboriginal health service to employ a “volatile-substance supply reduction worker” to lobby retailers to reduce access to sniffable petrol, paints and deodorants.

Mr Snowdon also increased pressure on the Western Australian, South Australian and Queensland governments for a faster response to calls for Northern Territory-style laws that would allow them to ban sniffable fuel in Aboriginal communities.

So far, the South Australian, Queensland and Northern Territory governments have expressed interest in considering a national approach to the problem.

The federal government’s response to petrol sniffing comes after The Australian revealed this week concerns about a re-emergence of the problem in remote Aboriginal communities.

The Gillard government has been under pressure to enact legislation to allow it to force retailers to sell non-sniffable Opal fuel, following reports that several who have refused to stock it had been a source for petrol sniffers from nearby communities.

Julia Gillard acknowledged the issue on Wednesday during a nationally televised news conference with premiers after the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra.

“We think petrol sniffing is a big problem and incredibly destructive problem,” the Prime Minister said. “Opal fuel does make a difference.”


NACCHO Aboriginal Health response to current petrol sniffing debate-roll out of Opal Low aromatic fuel

Submission to the Inquiry into the Low Aromatic Fuel Bill 2012

Key Recommendations

 1. The voluntary roll out of Low Aromatic Fuel (LAF) commonly known as Opal has been effective in reducing the incidence of petrol sniffing.

 However, like many voluntary codes the time has now come to create legislative frameworks in order to;

  • Ensure the few remaining  non-LAF outlets in strategically important zones assume responsibility to  maximise effectiveness.
  • Ensure authorities have  capacity to act should retailers in these strategically important zones  relegate their responsibility.

2. The proposed legislative powers would play an important symbolic role and provide a strong incentive to retailers take up use of LAF voluntarily.

3. We feel the proposed bill draws a good balance between the rights and interests of the various stakeholders that are involved and provides a way to break the current deadlock in relation to Opal roll-out in some regions.

4. There are a number of factors that maintain the issue of “petrol sniffing” in these communities (and drug addiction in all communities) and this legislation should be part of a suite of coherent policy’ and programs to address the health and social issues faced by these populations.

This is a brief submission from the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO). We are the national peak Aboriginal health body representing over 150+ Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services operating throughout Australia. NACHOS work is focussed on:

  • Promoting, developing and expanding the provision of health and well being services through local ACCHSs/AMSs
  • Liaison with organisations and Governments within both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community on health and wellbeing policy and planning issues
  • Representation and advocacy relating to health service delivery, health information, research, public health, health financing, health programs, etc.
  • Fostering cooperative partnerships and working relationships with agencies that respect Aboriginal community control and holistic concepts of health and well being.

In the line of this work, NACCHO and our member services have been heavily involved in efforts to prevent, treat and minimise harm related to petrol sniffing and other inhalant misuse.

Volatile Substance Misuse (VSM) is an issue that affects individuals and families from all walks of life in towns and cities across the country. VSM was particularly prevalent in the Central Australian Cross-border region prior to the roll-out of Opal Low Aromatic Fuel in 2005/06 and remains an issue of concern in this region.

Many of our member organisations in other regions continue to provide clinical and social support to families and individuals that are affected by VSM. In particular in recent months our member organisations in the Katherine region have been involved in efforts to counter solvent abuse in Katherine, Barunga, Jilkmingan and other communities in this region.

The roll of Opal/LAF

 LAF has clearly played an important role in reducing the prevalence and harms associated with petrol sniffing in regions where it has been used. The reduction in prevalence has been greatest in the Central Australian region where the coverage has been most comprehensive [1], though LAF use across all sites has led to an estimated 70% reduction in sniffing in target communities [2]. LAF has been particularly effective in locations where it has been introduced as a part of a range of strategies that: counter VSM, provide access to medical support, treatment and rehab and engage users in education, community programs and work.

To date the roll-out of Opal has been entirely voluntary, over a hundred retailers now stock the fuel in place of standard unleaded. These retailers include remote community shops, retailers and roadhouses located in high-risk zones as well as fuel outlets in larger townships like Alice Springs. While stocking LAF doesn’t cost retailers in terms of additional time or money the good work of these outlets should be acknowledged, their decision to stock the fuel has led to a significant reduction in prevalence of sniffing, bringing benefits to individuals and families who were affected by sniffing as well as to the wider community.

While the roll out of Opal has been a clear success we must be constantly on our guard with respect to sniffing. In Central Australia and other locations there are ongoing outbreaks of sniffing of petrol and other products. The nature of sniffing is that such outbreaks can quickly spread. Petrol sniffing has been a pervasive, persistent problem in Central Australia and other regions, we need to remain alert to the possibility that prevalence could increase again, hence ensure preventative interventions are in place.

In the top end of the NT the LAF roll out is less comprehensive. In recent months the Katherine region Sunrise Health Service, Wurli Wurlinjang Health Serviceand Kalano Health Service along with community leaders and other agencies from Katherine and Mataranka have been calling for LAF to be implemented in these sites. Bringing Opal to Katherine and Mataranka would reduce risk and prevalence of sniffing both in these townships and in nearby communities. Community advocates have been calling for LAF to be introduced in these towns for a number of years and there is a level of frustration at the lack of progress [3].

We understand that one reason given for this slow progress is the lack of a storage point for Opal in Darwin, but that government representatives have offered to arrange alternative means of supply while this is resolved and that retailers after several years of discussions are yet to take this up. Meanwhile prevalence of sniffing has been high in recent months placing a burden on families, community leaders and health and justice services in the region.

 The need for legislation

 NACCHO supports the Low Aromatic Fuels Bill 2012 . Use of Opal clearly leads to improved health and wellbeing in affected towns and communities where petrol sniffing has been an issue. These benefits are greatest in sites where the roll-out of the fuel is most comprehensive.

Currently, the key driver of sniffing continuing in some communities, (access) rests in the hands of nearby roadhouse owners and retailers, some of whom are refusing to stock the fuel. Given the strong evidence that Opal works well and the critical state of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health in Australia, with our Close the Gap activities, it is not acceptable or consistent in a policy context, to leave this crucial decision to whim of local roadhouse owners.

When Low-Sulphur Diesel was introduced nationally in Australia in order meet international environmental standards (a measure which is associated with damage to seals in older engines[4]) there was no question of leaving the decision as to whether to use the fuel up to individual retailers. The introduction of the fuel was mandatory and this was done for the public good. In the same way we think it is very reasonable to force retailers to use Opal Fuel if their decision not to stock the fuel is causing harm in nearby communities.

We feel the Low Aromatic Fuel Bill 2012 draws a good balance between the rights and interests of the stakeholders that are involved. It provides an important way forward in the sites where the roll out of Opal has stalled. It supports the majority of retailers who are responsibly stocking the fuel, by ensuring that other retailers also stock the fuel.  The bill also provides a transparent public process under which the interests of all stakeholders can be considered.

While it is encouraging that retailers in towns like Alice Springs voluntarily stock the fuel, it must be noted that this has been inconsistent at times as staff in these outlets have changed over and these outlets have considered dropping use of the fuel. The Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS) describe this situation as being like a ‘house of cards’, where if one retailer makes the decision to stop stocking the fuel it is likely that the others will also cease.

The proposed legislation provides a mechanism to act, should retailers who currently stock the fuel decide to renege in the future.

In Katherine and Mataranka where people have been pushing for Opal introduction for a number of years, the proposed legislation would provide a way forward if ultimately the retailers continue to refuse to stock the fuel. It also provides additional incentive for these retailers to come onto the scheme voluntarily.

In conclusion NACCHO supports the proposed bill be adopted as legislation by the current government.  It is widely acknowledged from a public health and public good perspective, that existence of LAF mandating legislation is necessary and the current debate should really only be centred around the technicalities of how to achieve this. NACCHO propose that rather than looking for flaws in the proposed legislation and process that the Australian government and other stakeholders look for solutions to work together, so that mandating capacity can be developed as soon as possible, and this major public health issue addressed.

[1] [1] Peter d’Abbs and Gillian Shaw 2008, Executive summary of the Evaluation of the Impact of Opal Fuel, Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing , Canberra

[2] Ibid