Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

Petrol Sniffing

I want to say a few words this evening about the Senate Community Affairs References Committee report that was brought down today in this chamber-Beyond petrol sniffing: renewing hope for Indigenous communities . I understand that it will be one of the last references committee reports to be handed down, but it is one that we can learn from. I hope we can fulfil the trust of the people who made contributions to our committee and who made us feel so welcome while we were gathering evidence. I want to say a few words this evening about the group who came today to share the tabling of the report. They came under the auspices of an organisation called CAYLUS, the Central Australian Youth Link-up Service.

I was privileged to meet with the CAYLUS people in person when the committee took evidence in Alice Springs, but I had met Blair McFarland several months earlier on ABC radio. Very soon after the terms of reference for our committee were announced, ABC Central Australia conducted a phone interview with me, Mr McFarland and some other people who were interested in the issue of petrol sniffing. The impact of petrol sniffing on Indigenous communities has been an ongoing pain for the people of Central Australia. Their radio station-their ABC-took this very seriously. They decided to have an open discussion raising awareness about our committee. Mr McFarland was on the program as an expert in the field. It was a joy to hear his enthusiasm, his passion and his commitment to the issue of the pain of his community, and also his overwhelming frustration that we were unable to cut through and put an end to that pain. The CAYLUS mission statement says:

The CAYLUS mission is to address substance abuse by young people through supporting community in initiatives for young people.

The history of CAYLUS on its website goes back to the 1970s. It talks about previous activities which were operational in the area. It talks about working directly with the community to raise awareness and to help young people, and about having diversionary programs using things that can engage the community so that there is no need to sniff petrol.

CAYLUS was involved in the Healthy Aboriginal Lifestyle Team program, HALT, which ran for a period of time in the 1980s. As the CAYLUS website says, the program's model was to work with remote communities to support Aboriginal initiatives dealing with petrol abuse. It was one of the first programs to actively involve young people in Indigenous art. That model has been used elsewhere in other addiction programs.

Remember that I am talking about something that happened in the eighties. Here we are in 2006 searching for programs that can be put in place to support particularly young people who are caught up in the horrors of petrol sniffing. We had the HALT program in the 1980s. There was a lot of positive feedback about that program and, if it had been effectively funded and in place, we may have saved many young people and many lives in that period.

There was another attempt in the 1990s with a program called Petrol Link-up. It worked on similar community involvement. It worked with the introduction of the avgas program. The avgas program has provided a lot of the models on which we are basing the roll-out of Opal fuel, which is one of the great successes of recent times. The Senate Community Affairs References Committee was looking very seriously at the issue of Opal in the communities.

When our report was being handed down today we were able to look up at the public gallery and see some of the people who gave evidence to the committee and shared their lives with us while we were developing the report. That makes that very important personal link. I made a promise to them that I would name them in Hansard so that their contributions would be retained in our history. I hope I get all their names right-I am going to give it a go.

We were joined this afternoon by Ms Larissa Granites, a Warlpiri woman. She is part of the Mount Theo project, which the committee visited. It has received great public acclaim for its work, which uses the outstation model to have young people working very closely with elders. Those elders have great commitment to them and they work with them to take them away from petrol. Ms Granites was a petrol sniffer. She told us her story. She is a wonderful young woman with a delightful sense of humour, and it was a pleasure to spend time with her and to hear about what she and her community are doing to pass on about her experiences to the next generation.

Larissa was joined by her partner, Mr Louis Watson. I do not know whether it was a pleasure or not, Senator Crossin, but Louis drove us back from Mount Theo to Yuendumu late in the day. They were truly amazing roads that we went across. I was very pleased that he was driving and not me. Louis is a youth worker in his community. He has been very active in the night patrol activities that have been trialled at Yuendumu. We heard a lot about the effect of night patrols and how they keep the community safe. We think the Yuendumu patrol is one that we can learn from, and we hope that those models can be placed elsewhere. We were also very privileged to have here with us for the last couple of days Mr Lance Macdonald. He is the chairperson of the Papunya Council. He is a Loritdja man, with a great deal of personal dedication and commitment to his community. This afternoon he was doing media commentary-and it is not easy for anyone to face the media and talk about their community-and Mr Macdonald was able to talk very confidently about the hope he has for his community at Papunya, where there has been some success. There are very few, if any, sniffers in that community at the moment because of a great deal of community work, particularly using involvement in sport. We cannot allow that to fold back. Mr Macdonald, showing his personal leadership, will be working with his community so that it will not fall back into those horrors.

Ms Gwen Brown, a Warlpiri woman who is the Aboriginal Community Police Officer in her home community of Ali Curung, is a strong elder, and she also joined us in the gallery today. She works with both sets of laws-her own traditional laws and those we know with modern policing. She was the head of the night patrol in her community and she has worked extensively on the issues of domestic violence and grog related programs. Again, she is a strong woman and a strong leader in her community.

Ms Brown was joined by Ms Savannah Long, another Warlpiri elder, who is the current team leader of the Ali Curung night patrol. She and Gwen have worked very closely together for about eight years to establish this link in their community, taking back their community and making it safe so that women, young people and their men can look with hope to their futures and not be caught in that horrible spiral of fear and violence that so works against people having a sense of belonging or a future.

Mr Brett Badger is a Mount Theo youth worker. He was with us when we visited that area. His excitement and commitment were inspirational for all of us. He is very involved in the next step. You actually have young people engaged in their community, but you have to move forward and establish youth development programs as well. His master's thesis was on Opal fuel. That is the kind of personal research that we must all have, so we can develop more effectively across the whole of Indigenous communities and so we can learn, achieve and regain hope.

Mr Tristan Ray, who works with CAYLUS, has worked in community development in remote central Australian communities for seven years. He was a long-term worker at Yuendumu, and I am not even going to try to pronounce the name of the community radio station. I am sure that Senator Crossin can do it, but I am not going to try. Of course there is also Mr Blair McFarland, whose commitment and passion must be the model for all of us to continue working in this field. He has worked in the area for over 20 years and has a wealth of personal experience, knowledge of models, respect from the Indigenous communities and dedication to continue the work. As we all said, as we present this report today, we hope this will be the last report on petrol sniffing in this place. I think that the experience we now have should be able to give us hope for the future and, beyond petrol sniffing, to renew hope for Indigenous communities.

20 June, 2006