Management Plan to improve health in the Territory

In May, West Arnhem Shire Council’s Gunbalanya community passed a milestone in its campaign against the misuse of volatile substances in the area, with the gazetting of the Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA) Management Plan by the Northern Territory Government.

Located at the top of the Northern Territory, West Arnhem Shire covers almost 50,000 square kilometres and has a population of 6,500 people.

Around 1,400 of these residents are part of the Gunbalanya community, which is situated 320 kilometres east of Darwin.

The VSA Management Plan will see the use and possession of unleaded fuel other than Opal prohibited in this region subject to VSA regulation.

Other volatile substances, such as paint thinners and glue, will be required to be secured in a lockable container meeting Australian standards.

West Arnhem Shire Council Community Safety Coordinator, James Pilkington, said that the community initiated plan will help limit access to volatile substances and reduce health and social problems caused by activities such as sniffing.

“The VSA Management Plan is an important part of our overall strategy to combat substance abuse amongst a small section of the community,” he said.

Mayor Ralph F Blyth said that the plan will complement the coordinated activities of police, health workers, community leaders, and Council’s Community Safety team.

He said the plan has the broad support of the Gunbalanya community, but Council will facilitate further community discussion to ensure that all Gunbalanya residents fully understand the intent and operation of the policy.

Alcohol and Other Drug worker at the Gunbalanya Health Clinic, Leon James, said the plan will assist in addressing issues associated with what is a long term problem.

“Harm occurring to people has reduced quite significantly in other communities implementing similar measures,” he said.

“This will include community meetings to further discuss the plan in community language, as well as the provision of expert advice from fuel producers on the use and storage of Opal fuel.”

West Arnhem Shire Council already uses only diesel or Opal fuel in Council equipment within the Gunbalanya area and is committed to incorporating a similar requirement for all contractors employed by Council in the area.

Council will also erect signage throughout the management area to advise the public of the restrictions in place and penalties for breaches of the VSA Management Plan.

For further information contact Council’s Acting CEO, Greg Arnot, on 0458 520 330.