Tom Maddocks, 06 January 2016

The Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion says he will ban sniffable petrol being sold in Tennant Creek, but one operator says “we should be able to sell what we want”.

Senator Scullion is set to use his legislative power to force Barkly service stations to switch to low aromatic fuel (LAF), in an effort to stamp out petrol sniffing.

The fuel, which the Government says has a minimum octane rating of 91 is designed to “discourage people from sniffing by lowering the amount of the toxic components which give people who sniff petrol a ‘high’.”

The Government says the “toxic aromatic compounds” include benzene, toluene and xylene.

Some businesses in the Barkly region already sell the customised fuel, and support the move.

But Kylie Smith, who co-manages a service station in Tennant Creek with her father, said LAF damaged petrol pumps and cars.

“It’s ridiculous. I mean we’re supposed to be a free country. We should be able to sell what we want,” she said.

“There is no doubt that the low aromatic fuel will cause damage to our pumps.

“We are going to take it on only if the Government will change our pumps.”

She said low aromatic fuel was not a panacea for petrol sniffing.

“They’re going to find something else to sniff. It might stop some people, but it’s not actually hitting the nail on the head.”

Low aromatic fuel ‘has never hurt a car’

Mr Scullion accused critics of LAF of talking “complete rubbish”.

“It’s like saying penicillin is not important. This is a time-proven product that has never hurt a car,” he said.

Mr Scullion said sniffable fuel was a “product that kills kids” and added “I’m taking that from [petrol station proprietors]. Quite happy to do that”.

He said he would be making a prohibition order to ban the sale of sniffable fuels early this year.

Operators of the Tennant Creek BP service station, Michael Dodd and his brother Richard, made the switch to BP’s Opal brand LAF some 18 months ago.

They support the town-wide switch and believe their decision has helped to curb sniffing in the region.

“I feel they [opponents to LAF] don’t have an argument. It’s for the benefit of all to do this. Introduce this system and go down this road because as we’ve seen so far we haven’t had any problems with it,” Michael Dodd said.

While Mr Dodd’s business suffered following the switch, he said the negativity surrounding LAF was unfounded.

“I think they’re making an assumption. I don’t think there’s any founded proof to state that it does affect the vehicles in a bad way. Show me one and I’ll believe them.”

Blair McFarland from the Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS) said his organisation was very supportive of the Minister’s position.

“Petrol sniffing used to be a huge problem and it does seem like in Central Australia we’ve developed a solution to it,” he said.

“The Minister calls it a magic bullet and I’d agree with him because since it’s rolled out in this region there’s been a sustained 94 per cent reduction in petrol sniffing.

“I don’t know of any other programs that have been as successful as that and we’re really happy that other parts of Australia are going to benefit from it.”

Mr McFarland said those who did not like the plan were a very small but vocal minority.

“It’s like trolls on the internet,” he said.

Mr McFarland believes the transition to low aromatic fuel will have an immediate impact

“There’s nothing more clear than the damage small children do to themselves with petrol and this is a small price to pay for saving the taxpayer the cost of looking after a generation of brain-damaged kids.”

While there are dozens of locations around Australia that sell low-aromatic fuel, the remote Queensland community of Palm Island was the first to ban the sale of regular unleaded.

The Federal Government says low aromatic unleaded fuel has “undergone independent testing to ensure that it complies with Australian Fuel Standards, the standard which has to be met by all fuels used in Australia”.

“… does not appear to pose a risk to vehicles designed for [octane level] 91 fuel nor did they see any examples of damage caused by using Opal. Although low aromatic fuel is known to effect the rubber material that is often used in fuel pumps and cause them to shrink, in the investigation [they] saw no evidence that this effect has caused a fault in vehicles. Opal may have a negative effect on the idle quality of some older vehicles with carburettors, however anecdotally this condition appears to have remedied with normal servicing and tuning.”

Extracted in full from ABC News.