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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4445


Senator O'CHEE(5.22 p.m.) —I speak as one of the few members of either place who actually has an interest in the operations of this for the simple reason that I may be tested from time to time.


Senator Bob Collins —For what?


Senator O'CHEE —Senator Collins, I would like to test you for a few things at times too.


Senator Bob Collins —I was told you failed the drug test. They found traces of a Mars bar in your urine sample.


Senator O'CHEE —Senator Collins, I will take the interjection. I wish I could get more Mars bars into me. I seem to be losing weight at the moment. I will offer you the suggestion later on, Senator Collins. One of the problems of any compulsory regime for drug testing is the risk that you get the test wrong. To show what happens when a test goes wrong, I want to acquaint the Senate with a case that happened to a friend of mine who was tested not by the Australian Sports Drug Agency but by a body overseas.

This friend of mind was a bobsledder who was tested at the world championships in Altenberg a couple of years ago. He had spent most of the tour travelling with me and if we were not sharing rooms, we were sharing a car, travelling together, competing together and preparing together. He was tested and came up positive on a test that said he had taken speed, uppers. If you know anything about bobsledding, you would know that it is pretty unlikely that you would want to take speed because it happens fast enough as it is.

He was the random test—they test the first five in a random test in a world championship. By the time it got to him, he did not have a choice of containers into which the sample could be put. Moreover, his sample went into a holding container which was in fact a coffee cup with a lid put on it.


Senator Panizza —I thought you were going to say a beer mug.


Senator O'CHEE —They let you take beer as a diuretic.


Senator Bob Collins —Did he test positive for caffeine?


Senator O'CHEE —No, he tested positive for speed. The consequence was that it was referred to his national organisation, which gave him a two-year ban. It took him two years to overturn the test, which was quite clearly improper. That athlete lost two of the best years of his competitive life.

Senator Cooney is a big champion of civil liberties, so he would understand what I am talking about when I say that if we do not get it right—and I think the Australian Sports Drug Agency does get it right generally—athletes will lose out.

When I go on to the start line, I do not mind if somebody is going to beat me. That is a risk you take any time you go into sport. You go in there to see whether you can beat somebody else or they can beat you; but you want to know that you are beaten fair and square. It is important for everybody that these things are right.

The cost of the Australian Sports Drug Agency is about $3½ million a year to the Commonwealth. If protracted legal disputes arose, the cost of operating the Australian Sports Drug Agency would blow out. So when the regulations were brought before the Senate committee on regulations and ordinances, I said to other honourable senators on the committee—and I note the presence of Senator Hogg here, although it was before your time, Senator—that we had to make sure this was right. I did not want to participate in the debate on the regulations, for the simple reason that I did not want to be perceived as influencing it. But I am very acutely aware of what will happen if we do not get it right.

There were 34 notifiable results from some 500 tests conducted last year. But it is clear that the incidence of drug taking among sports men and women in this country is a lot higher than that because the testing regime is aimed at the elite athlete. However, the damage that is done to your body is the same whether you are an elite athlete or a 16-year-old boy who wants to get bigger to play football.

We must not rely just on the Australian Sports Drug Agency. It is the obligation of everybody involved in sport who has a profile to go to schools and tell young children, `Don't do drugs.' Tell them it is not just about cheating. It is about seeing their gonads shrivel up and slime ooze from their eyes, ears and nose because this is what happens when the level of toxins in your system builds up so much—your body cannot handle it any more.

Drugs damage people's lives, and that is the real issue. We have to be aware of those things. If we want a clean games and clean Australian athletes, it does not start when they become elite. It starts the very first day they turn out for training and it continues from then until the day they retire from sport. Unless any other honourable senators wish to make a contribution, I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.