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Inhaling petrol fumes is a form of substance abuse often associated with remote and poorer parts of the world, where it causes terrible devastation in terms of health, violence, crime and the breakdown of community and family structures.
In 2005 the Australian government launched a petrol sniffing strategy that included education projects, new treatment and rehabilitation facilities and the distribution of a low aromatic petrol called Opal fuel.
Opal fuel has been available in parts of Australia since 2005. The strategy has already delivered a positive change. For example, a 93 per cent decrease in petrol sniffing was reported in one large Aboriginal local government area in the remote north-west of South Australia.
Opal fuel is a direct substitute for regular unleaded petrol. It has an octane rating of 91 and can be used in motor vehicles and boat engines without affecting their warranties. It contains little sulphur and low levels of aromatics and therefore anyone attempting to sniff it will not get the same “high” as they would from inhaling regular petrol. Opal is produced by BP at its Kwinana refinery in Western Australia. With government subsidy, it is priced at the equivalent local rate of regular unleaded petrol.
The government has committed a total of A$83.4fm over four years, commencing in November 2010, to further support the roll-out of Opal fuel wherever it would be beneficial including, most recently, the Goldfields region of Western Australia. Of this budget, A$38.5m is to expand the production, storage and distribution of the fuel in northern Australia.
However, replacing regular fuel with Opal is not mandatory and some fuel suppliers in the region are refusing to stock it. Forcing the issue may open a legal minefield, but it is difficult to see why suppliers should be allowed to undermine what seems to be a successful strategy.