Australia is fighting rampant petrol-sniffing in the Outback by extending the availability of a less harmful fuel as part of a major campaign to improve Aborigines’ health, prime minister Julia Gillard has said.
Opal, a government-subsidised petrol modified by BP Australia to remove most of the chemicals that create the euphoria that sniffers seek, has been introduced since 2006 to 108 petrol stations servicing Outback Aboriginal communities as a safer alternative to unleaded petrol.
Ms Gillard told Parliament that Opal would be rolled out to another 39 stations servicing 9,000 people across the northern Outback by 2013.
“Opal fuel has delivered a 70% reduction in petrol sniffing across communities with improved health outcomes, family function and community safety,” she said.
Ms Gillard announced the initiative as part of the government’s third annual report on what is being done to close the decade gap in life expectancy between Aborigines and other Australians by 2031.
Australia’s 500,000 Aborigines account for only 2.5% of the population and are the nation’s poorest and least healthy ethnic group.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd promised in 2008 to close the gaps between indigenous and other Australians in health, education and job opportunities when he offered Aborigines a historic apology for more than 200 years of past injustices.
Ms Gillard’s report showed minor improvements in some measures of Aboriginal disadvantage, including in the death rate of indigenous children under five years old, which remains twice that of other Australian children.