I also rise to take note of the response Senator Santoro gave to us this afternoon on the question about petrol sniffing. I agree totally with one of the comments that Senator Santoro made, and that was his opening comment that the issue around petrol sniffing is a complex one . There is no doubt about that. Along with Senator Crossin, I want to-as I am sure we all do-send my deepest thoughts and sympathy to the community of Oenpelli as they struggle with the loss of two more of their children to the scourge of petrol sniffing, and also the prospective loss of other kids facing this horror.
However, I want to continue with comments we have made before in this place. I see that Senator Siewert, who has also spoken on this issue, is in the chamber. It is now six months after the extensive inquiry we had into the issue of petrol sniffing where we were able to receive evidence from so many people who acknowledged how bad the problem was, acknowledged the complex reasons behind the problem and also shared that there were ways forward. One of the many ways forward was the access to Opal fuel. It is particularly frustrating that we cannot get a clear answer.
The minister today tells us that some Opal fuel has been rolled out to the community. We have other information that that is not widespread and that the major suppliers of fuel in the community are not Opal exclusive. That is such a simple issue in regard to what we were able to find out about how petrol sniffing affects communities. We know that where there is access to petrol, for a whole range of reasons to do with community development and community opportunities, people will turn to petrol sniffing-not just Indigenous people. This is not just an issue that has an impact on Indigenous people, but today, particularly in the community of Oenpelli, there are a number of young Indigenous people who are suffering from the end result of the ineffective process of engaging people not only locally and federally but also, most importantly, individually in families to work together to address the range of complaints.
What we have is uncertainty even though six months ago representatives from the federal government, from the Territory government and from a range of local communities could spell out really clearly what needed to occur. What was needed was to make sure that Opal fuel was available in communities and to make sure there was a widespread personalised education program about options and about what people could do to regain hope in their communities, not just for the young people involved but also for the people who supply and sell fuel so that they could see that they had a particular role to play.
Increasingly we found similar shared experiences. People were repeating the same questions but they also knew the answers. What we did not have was action. We heard from the department, FaCSIA at the time, and OIPC that there was a plan in place that was going to be implemented immediately but also with a long rollout time to ensure that, while there would not be an immediate solution, they knew what had to happen. There was a sense of confidence that, whilst these issues about the impact of fuel, a relatively cheap substance which people could take to remove themselves emotionally from whatever was troubling them, have been discussed for so long-in fact we had people going back 20 and 30 years-people understood the problem.
What I am offended by is that we only ever seem to see the headlines; we only ever seem to get responses or action when there is a tragedy. The fact that some young people have died has actually refocused the attention of the community on the issue. We should not need those tragedies. We should be able to take the recommendations of our committee report. We should be able to take the goodwill, intelligence and knowledge of a range of people who came and gave evidence to that committee and we should be able to take the clear understanding of what needs to happen and make it happen. Instead we hear again of tragedy, when we should be hearing of successes where communities have taken the opportunity to improve what is going on and ensure their kids are not dying. That should be our expectation.
I would hope that when the minister comes back to the chamber with the extended information that he has promised today, we will be able to get some confirmation of exactly what the response of the department is going to be. I do not want to come back when we meet again in February to hear more stories about communities where, during the wet season when there was no other activity, when there was no community involvement, more kids have died.
05 December, 2006