By Sarah  Whyte, 20 July 2015

Petrol stations in three states are resisting increased pressure from the federal government to convert their fuel to a low-aromatic version to combat the issue of petrol sniffing, saying it is too expensive and unnecessary.

Nine petrol stations in the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia  are “causing problems” for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, according to documents from Senate Estimates.

“These retailers had been visited or contacted by departmental staff at various times throughout 2014 to encourage their participation on the programme,” the document says.

The program includes replacing regular unleaded petrol with Opal fuel, designed by BP Australia, which is a low-aromatic unleaded fuel that doesn’t create a high when sniffed.

But the retailers, including one BP service station in Adelaide River north of Katherine, are refusing to convert to the fuel, saying they have never had an issue with petrol sniffing and that government bureaucrats in Canberra just want to “tick the boxes”.

“I don’t see the reason why we have to,” said Jodie Solczaniuk, who a owns petrol station as part of the Ross River Resort, 83 kilometres east of Alice Springs. “We are not near an Aboriginal community and I’m led to believe that it’s bad for some engine types.”

Ms Solczaniuk, who received a letter from Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion urging her to convert, said if her resort was near an indigenous community, she would consider the conversion.

But it would also cost her thousands of dollars to introduce it.

“It’s old school here, we have to physically go out and fill our people’s cars or motorbikes,” she said. “We’re a small business and every bit counts.”

Another owner, Pam Forster from Uradangi Pub in the Gulf of Carpentaria in Queensland near the Northern Territory border, said she would shut down her station if the government forced her to adopt the Opal fuel.

“I’ve had lots of letters of [government] correspondence this year,” she said. “I’m being targeted because [an Indigenous] community comes through here.

“I will not change.”

A spokeswoman from a United petrol station said she had been visited by a federal government representative.

“The mechanic here thinks it’s a waste of money,” she said. “We don’t have a problem here in town with petrol sniffing.”

According to the government, the nine sites have been targeted because their stations are in regions where petrol-sniffing outbreaks occur.

The “Petrol Strategy” adopted by the federal government in 2005 has resulted in a dramatic decline petrol sniffing and has been rolled out by 150 sites in regional and remote Australia.

“Research conducted by the Menzies School of Health Research has found that in most places where the strategy has been introduced, the prevalence of petrol sniffing has dropped sharply,” said a spokesman from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The department confirmed that Mr Scullion had written to the service stations requesting their cooperation to participate in the Opal rollout, threatening that if they didn’t he could “choose options” under the Low Aromatic Fuel Act 2013.

Do you know more? Email swhyte@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Extracted in full from the Sydney Morning Herald.

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