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Too chicken to realise Opalís a gem

By Graham Ring - posted Friday, 7 April 2006

It’s quiz time girls and boys. Do you support Proposition One: “Yes, I would like to pay less tax, particularly if this means that the dreadful scourge of petrol sniffing in remote Indigenous communities might be eliminated.”

Or is your preference for Proposition Two: “Yes, I would like to pay less tax, and frankly the instrument has not been invented which could measure the staggering level of indifference I have to any associated consequences.”

If you agree with Proposition One - or for that matter, Proposition Two - then you ought to jump on the Opal bandwagon.


If you reckon you don’t want to pay less tax, then you are a fibber and you must go to bed tonight without any tea, and miss out on your piano lesson next Tuesday. You may also get a pimple on your tongue.

Last week in Sydney, the Opal Alliance released a detailed cost-benefit analysis prepared by Access Economics. The writing is now on the wall in letters 10ft tall. Quite simply, the case for a comprehensive roll-out of Opal is absolutely compelling.

Each day that drifts past without decisive action being taken potentially costs the taxpayer money, and certainly visits further misery on Indigenous families.

The report says that for a further $1.5 million annually, the federal government could roll out Opal right across the problem zones of central Australia, where petrol sniffing costs the community nearly $79 million a year. The comprehensive roll out of Opal fuel will save the community around $27 million every year. Since much of this money comes out of the Canberra coffers, it’s just possible that our benevolent governors could be persuaded to return some of these savings to us in tax cuts.

BP brews the Opal juice with only 5 per cent of the aromatics that give sniffers their high, rather than the 25 per cent found in standard unleaded petrol. This renders the fuel “unsniffable”, and that counts for a lot if your family and community is devastated by the effects of children inhaling toxic chemicals.

Tony Abbott, the warm fuzzy Minister for Health and Ageing said in September last year that there was a “crisis of authority” in communities that allowed their children to sniff petrol. “Why don’t communities take it into their own hands to do what they can to stop their young people engaging in this self-destructive behaviour?” he asked rhetorically. The minister concluded that communities had to “understand that, in the end it is to a great extent up to them”.


The 2004 “Comgas Evaluation” report that his own department commissioned told a different story. The evaluation team spoke to night patrols - where community members display the courage required to take petrol off the sniffers.

“We talk to them, tell them it will kill them. They might stop then.”

The team also documented the widespread practice of taking children “out bush” and teaching them to hunt, fish and live off the land using traps and snares. It’s hard to imagine more potent examples of communities “doing what they can to end this self-destructive behaviour”.

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First published in issue 101 of the National Indigenous Times on March 23, 2006.

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About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

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