Supply reduction through low aromatic fuel (LAF) goes from strength to strength: a perspective on the LAF rollout from Central Australia
By Tristan Ray, Policy and Projects Manager, Central Australian Youth Link-Up Service (CAYLUS)
It is nearly 10 years since communities in Central Australia started using low aromatic fuel (LAF, also known as Opal). The benefits are now well recognised – the rollout of the fuel, along with complementary measures such as youth programs and the Northern Territory Volatile Substance Abuse Prevention Act, has led to great results. These include a 94 per cent reduction in petrol sniffing in Central Australia.
Prior to the introduction of LAF, for many communities in Central Australia, petrol sniffing had proved intractable.
Studies published by Darwin’s Menzies School of Health Research in 2008 and 2013 show that while the outcomes from LAF on the whole have been great, LAF is the most effective when it is used comprehensively across a region so that all supplies of standard unleaded fuel are replaced.
The research also highlights the importance of complementary measures, such as youth programs, in dealing with the underlying factors that lead to substance misuse.
This regional approach to the use of LAF is being undermined in Central Australia and other regions by retailers who refuse to switch to using LAF, a situation that has gone on for many years.
The retailers concerned give a variety of reasons for not switching; these reasons often link to the myth that LAF is somehow an inferior fuel. In some cases, retailers question the efficacy of the approach and justify their lack of cooperation on this basis.
The passage of the Low Aromatic Fuel Act 2013 – a private member’s bill tabled by the Greens – gave the Minister for Indigenous Affairs powers to effectively force retailers to sell LAF. Nigel Scullion, the current minister, has been a strong advocate of LAF use since its inception and has committed to using his powers under the Act to force retailers to change.
We are very happy to see the federal government taking the next step and holding consultations under the LAF Act in a number of locations to mandate the use of LAF.
This will not only help to deal with the current refusing outlets but will significantly strengthen the overall rollout and act as a deterrent to retailers who are thinking of switching back to standard unleaded, as some have actually done in recent years.
Does it all add up?
While the rollout of LAF and the associated complementary measures make a lot of sense as a matter of social good, they have also made a lot of sense economically. Reputable health economists Access Economics examined the cost of petrol sniffing in Central Australia and found that in 2005 the practice would lead to costs related to the health and justice systems and other areas in excess of $78 million.
When taking into account the cost of providing LAF, they found that using the fuel across the region would lead to savings in excess of $30 million per annum.
Many people sensibly ask whether the people who were previously sniffing switch to using other substances when petrol becomes hard to get. In Central Australia we haven’t seen a significant shift to other substance misuse, possibly because of the remoteness of the communities where sniffing previously happened.
Alcohol, marijuana and other drugs come to these places and bring their own harms and present their own challenges, but none of them are as easy to get as standard unleaded petrol once was, when it was available in nearly every car and all that was required was a hose to siphon it.