• Nigel Scullion. Indigenous Affairs Minister. (AAP)Source: AAP
Soon it will be illegal to sell sniffable unleaded fuel in Tennant Creek, the federal indigenous affairs minister says.
6 Jan 2016 - 9:54 AM  UPDATED 6 Jan 2016 - 4:05 PM

Nigel Scullion on Tuesday announced he would soon sign a prohibition order banning the sale of any sniffable fuel in the Barkly district of the Northern Territory, in a bid to fight petrol niffing.

Low-aromatic fuel (LAF) was introduced in Alice Springs 10 years ago and has greatly curtailed the problem there.

"We must protect our most vulnerable, this is a very pernicious (addiction) that is very damaging, and I'm so pleased that I no longer have to go to indigenous communities ... seeing very, very young Aboriginal people in just the worst possible circumstances, that often people just don't recover from," he said.

LAF is expensive but is being subsidised by the government because it is "fantastic", Senator Scullion said, "I've never seen a silver bullet like LAF that has been able to fix the nature of a particular substance abuse."

Petrol sniffing hasn't been a significant problem in Tennant Creek, although it does flare up occasionally, so Barkly Shire Council supports the ban, said acting chief executive Peter Holt.

When he worked in the central Australian community of Yuendumu there were regular sniffers aged "well under 10".

"We had people who had absolutely devastating burns to their body because of people smoking around people who were sniffing," he told AAP.

He said the costs to the health system of treating people affected by sniffing were enormous.

"Once people have a significant brain injury from petrol sniffing it's irreparable," Mr Holt said.

But Kylie Smith, manager of the United Tennant Creek Service Station, said she was unhappy with the forthcoming ban, and said the community was being punished due to the actions of a small minority.

"I think it's totally wrong, we're supposed to be a free country, we should be allowed to sell what we want to sell," she said.

LAF is the same price as unleaded fuel in Tennant Creek, she said, with one of the town's four service stations selling it.

But she said United would not do so until the government paid as promised for upgrades to their bowsers, which will be damaged by the drier LAF.

Senator Scullion said allegations that LAF damaged motors and engines were "complete rubbish".

"This is a time-proven product that has never hurt a car" and should be available Australia-wide, he said.