Sniffing proposal `too little, too late'

Australian - 22nd February 200
Author: Megan Saunders

JOHN Howard's intervention in the Northern Territory's petrol-sniffing crisis, in the form of a $1million commitment to diversionary programs, was too little, too late, indigenous leaders said yesterday.

While ATSIC health commissioner Marion Hansen welcomed the Prime Minister's acknowledgement of the problem, ATSIC commissioner for the Northern Territory Alison Anderson said Mr Howard was about 20 years too late.

At least $1million for each region was needed, they said.

Indigenous academic Marcia Langton said the funds would only scratch the surface, describing substance abuse as one of the biggest problems facing Aboriginal communities.

``The communities have to be extraordinarily vigilant in keeping petrol sniffing out,'' she said. ``In many of these communities they have nothing. They don't even have a basketball hoop.''

Reconciliation Australia board member Jackie Huggins said: ``It took $45million to erect a beach volleyball stadium in Sydney -- $1million is just a pittance for the healing of those lives that are suffering from the effects of petrol sniffing.''

Their comments yesterday came a day after Mr Howard revealed that the funding boost in Darwin was prompted by a series of ``moving'' articles in The Australian that had affected him deeply, including a report that between 20 and 30 children or young adults in Central Australia had become wheelchair-bound as a direct result of sniffing.

The federal Government would commit the funds over two years for initiatives to steer children away from petrol sniffing.

ATSIC chairman Geoff Clark welcomed the funding, but said indigenous communities needed to be empowered to combat the problem themselves.

``It is a little bit more than a few more extra dollars, even though they are helpful,'' he said. ``It is a whole process of authority of communities that needs to be addressed.''