A holistic approach to petrol sniffing
Both previous reports by the Community Affairs committee have emphasised
the importance of a holistic approach to petrol sniffing that includes a
comprehensive low aromatic fuel strategy, the sustained commitment to, and
funding of, a range of community-based diversionary and development programs in
Indigenous communities, effective policing strategies, and complementary health
Concerns were raised by Mr Brian Gleeson about whether the current bill
is a stand-alone measure or part of a 'multi-faceted approach to addressing
petrol sniffing'. Mr Gleeson stated 'that effective efforts to address
substance abuse must deal with both supply and demand issues with a heavy focus
on investing in preventative measures'.
The committee acknowledges that Senator Siewert has said that the bill
needs to be part of a suite of measures, and that her second reading speech
stated that low aromatic fuel is:
a vital element of a broader strategy — a comprehensive
response which addresses the underlying causes of petrol sniffing, including a
combination of supply, demand and harm minimisation measures. Such a response
must include community management plans; youth services; effective and
culturally sensitive policing; treatment and rehab services and information
services. Many of these components already exist and are quite successful — but
the missing piece of the puzzle is the power to regulate fuel.
The committee notes below some of the elements of a comprehensive
approach that were presented in evidence at the hearings into the bill, as well
as some of the concerns that were raised about these complementary strategies.
Complementary health care strategies
Early childhood development
The nature of early childhood development was raised as a crucial
indicator of future susceptibility to addiction in teenage children. Dr Boffa
noted that several
major studies have linked addiction, mental health problems and chronic disease
to adverse outcomes in early childhood, particularly up to the age of three.
Dr Boffa said that good support programs for parents with young children
'can make a big difference even in quite alienating, adverse social
environments', but these programs are 'not being implemented'. Yet, according
to Dr Boffa, the implementation of early childhood support programs now could
help prevent a generation of young people susceptible to addiction in a decade.
Primary healthcare addiction
Concerns were raised by Ms Ah Chee and Dr Boffa about the fragmentation
of primary healthcare service delivery with respect to substance abuse. Dr
Boffa said that the current level of funding was not necessarily the issue, but
suggested instead that the problem lay with securing agreement on a service
model that incorporated a permanent addiction service within each primary
We think the treatment of addictions needs to be a core part
of primary healthcare service delivery across the board. Every health service
has to have the capacity to treat young people and adults that are addicted to
any substance. And it is the same treatment approach. Irrespective of the
substance, it is those three streams of care that Donna [Ah Chee] mentioned
earlier. Pharmacotherapies, psychotherapy—often cognitive behaviour therapy—and
social support and advocacy are what you need to do, whether the addiction is paint,
petrol, alcohol or marijuana, and I do not think we are very good at that. We
fund separate programs for each drug, and then, even within those separate
programs, the doctor is sitting over here in the clinic, there are other staff
over there dealing with petrol and there are a few other people coming in to
deal with some other drug. There are multiple providers, and it is a privatised
The money is there to do much, much better. If we funded
according to need and we agreed on a service model, there is enough money now
in the Northern Territory to make sure that every primary healthcare service
has a permanent addiction service, and it is one of our bugbears that it has
taken so long.
Drug and Alcohol programs
Ongoing funding for effective complementary healthcare programs means
that experienced people and programs are already on the ground ready to respond
quickly when outbreaks of petrol sniffing occur, thereby minimising the scale
of the sniffing outbreak.
Makin' Tracks run by the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee
(NIDAC) was a mobile drug and alcohol program that covered a large area of
South, Central and Western Australia with a particular focus on rural and
remote communities. Makin' Tracks ran from 1999 until 30 June 2012 and
employed two 'highly skilled Aboriginal drug and alcohol workers' that both had
a masters in Indigenous health. However, NIDAC had to terminate both workers
because they did not succeed in the latest funding round.
Mental health funding
Dr Brett Cowling noted several challenges relating to primary health
care in the Ngaanyatjarra lands including the geographical size of the area and
its remoteness, the absence of tri-state agreements to deal with large patient
flows from WA to the NT, and the paucity of funding for mental health support
and suicide prevention.
Dr Cowling confirmed the evidence received from other groups such as NPY
Women's Council that the majority of mental health clients in the Ngaanyatjarra
lands would have had contact with some form of volatile substance.
Dedicated resources for youth case management and family engagement that
target the core issues underlying petrol sniffing are an important complement
to the low aromatic fuel strategy. Ms Williamson expressed the view that
intensive work with an identified core group is an ideal addition to youth
However, funding provision varies and case management is funded in the NT and
SA, but not in WA.
Youth diversionary programs based on sport and recreation and arts
programs are available in the NT, SA and WA. Funding for the programs in the
different states and territories comes from different bodies including DoHA, the
AGD, and FaHCSIA.
Outbreaks of petrol sniffing were said to be more likely to occur in
communities with low levels of youth support and services.
Short-term funding from the AGD currently allows CAYLUS to coordinate the
provision of a youth worker as an emergency response to a petrol sniffing
Having a team of local Indigenous youth workers in each community is a
good long term goal. This has occurred at Mount Theo over a long period of
time, while at Titjikala Ms Lisa Sharman has recently become a youth team
leader after five years as a youth worker. There are distinct advantages to
having a team, particularly one that includes some members from outside the
community, because a team can operate more effectively across a number of
families and across various cultural protocols.
The Youth in Communities funding provided by FaHCSIA does not cover a
number of regions in the Central Desert and Barkly Shires. Mr McFarland noted
that there seems to be a disconnect between the 'commitment to youth service
provision and the petrol sniffing strategies zone', and that perhaps the zoning
concept needed revisiting if it imposed limits on which Shires could gain
access to youth services.
Partnerships between stakeholders
Mr Scott Wilson noted the importance of cooperation between the
Commonwealth and states because of the differences in responsibilities. He
pointed out, however, that the states have responsibility for the delivery of
many programs and services, and emphasised the importance of developing good
stakeholder partnerships on the ground and that NIDAC would 'encourage working
partnerships between community based patrols, law enforcement, and drug and
alcohol treatment services' across all jurisdictions.
Senator Claire Moore
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