Petrol sniffer

Petrol sniffer Photo: Rick Stevens

The Federal Government will get the power to force petrol stations to sell non-sniffable Opal fuel after Labor announced it would support a Greens bill aimed at tackling the scourge of petrol sniffing.

In September, a Labor-dominated Senate committee recommended the bill not proceed, citing a range of issues including a concern that some petrol stations would not be covered by the proposed change because it relied on the corporations power in the constitution.

But Indigenous Health Minister Warren Snowdon announced on Thursday that Labor would support an amended bill. Labor will amend the legislation so that it can be considered a ‘‘special measure’’ for the benefit of indigenous people, meaning the race power in the constitution would support the application of the law to petrol stations that are not corporations.

‘‘The Government believes this bill will provide the mechanism to ensure any recalcitrant operators or stores can be forced to shift to Opal for the benefit of communities across Australia,’’ Mr Snowdon said in a statement.

The sponsor of the bill, Greens Senator Rachel Siewert welcomed the government’s support.

She said the introduction of low aromatic fuel had contributed to a significant reduction in petrol sniffing, but she said outbreaks continued to occur in areas were sniffable fuel continued to be sold.

Senator Siewert said her bill was ‘‘the missing piece to finally dealing with petrol sniffing.’’
Tristan Ray, the policy and projects manager of the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service, which works with petrol sniffers, said the change was a ‘‘necessity’’.

‘‘In the communities that we work with, there’s trouble every day because of the lack of capacity to force a handful of retailers to stock Opal fuel,’’ he said.

But coalition indigenous affairs spokesman Nigel Scullion accused the Greens of striking a ‘‘grubby deal’’ to win Labor’s support. He said the coalition would not support the bill because it would not work. The coalition favours state and territory legislation instead.