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Wednesday, 30 June 1999
Page: 8016


Mr BAIRD (10:02 AM) —I am pleased to rise today and also to follow the member for Hunter, Mr Fitzgibbon. It is interesting to be involved with him in various bipartisan exercises of recent days. Sport is one, tourism is another and being involved in the retail committee is certainly a challenge for both of us.

I would also like to congratulate the Minister for Sport and Tourism on her involvement in the development of this particular bill, the Australian Sports Commission Amendment Bill 1999 . Obviously, work has gone on for some time in this general area but it has taken the leadership of the minister to bring together various elements. Her own experience as an elite athlete, as a rower, has obviously shown her first hand the need to keep sport clean within Australia.

Having been involved in Sydney's Olympic bid, I am aware that the Olympics in Australia need to have an image that is free of drugs. The Sydney games provide us with the opportunity to turn around some of the perceptions that linger at the moment. I was actually in Atlanta at the time Michelle Smith-de Bruin, the Irish swimmer, managed to collect several gold medals. As has been proven in recent days, she got there purely by cheating. Everyone at the Atlanta Olympics said, `This woman must be cheating.' She improved her times over a period of one year to a level that no-one had ever seen. She was suddenly breaking world records, and people said, `This is not possible.' She did it as a cheat. She cheated other athletes: Janet Evans, the great American swimmer; and some of our own, for instance, Samantha Riley. She cheated out of medals people who had done it the honest way. They were cheated of their opportunity to get the gold and silver medals because of someone's use of drugs. This is what this bill is about: eliminating the cheats in sport so that the Olympics in Sydney can be about being `faster, higher, stronger' without drugs.

Certainly this bill is similar to the one that came through the House several weeks ago that involved Customs providing information to the Australian Sports Drug Agency. It is a bit of a pity that the two bills did not come through together.

It is very good to see the minister in the chamber and to congratulate her on her leadership in bringing this bill together. Before the last election, she brought out a policy document called A winning advantage which was about trying to eliminate, as best we could, drug cheats from the sporting arena. Minister Kelly's own background in elite sport as a rower has provided leadership within the department.

When I spoke to Bill Rowe, who is the director of the National Office of Sport and Recreation Policy, it was clear that work has been going on but that it took the leadership of this minister to bring it to a conclusion, and we appreciate that. It is good to see someone in this portfolio with experience in sport, and it is certainly unique. We have seen that, in other places, the ability to win marginal seats has been important. Minister Kelly has shown the combination of someone who not only wins marginal seats but also has a sporting background, which is somewhat radical. So well done, Minister, and well done to the department and to the people who brought this together.

Basically this bill is about the customs department, which previously had this information, sharing that information with the Sports Commission. The last bill dealt with information sharing between Customs and the ASDA. This bill deals with the Sports Commission. There are two parts to it: we want to eliminate drug cheats, but we also do not want to be in a situation where any information the customs department has is provided to everyone at will—spread around or in the media—so that people are suddenly exposed in headlines on account of information given. I am sure no-one wants that. By all means let us catch the drug cheats, but let us also protect people's privacy.

We have in this bill the requirement that only the executive director of the Sports Commission has the information on an issue and that any other group provided with that information, such as the heads of the various sporting organisations, must provide written agreement that they will release it to no-one else. By all means take action, but I think it is most important that we protect people's privacy.

We have discussed the aspect of privacy; another aspect is how it is going to work. The customs department has a list of prohibited substances, so that when products—illicit drugs, whether they be for recreational purposes or for re-sale—are brought into the country, Customs can apprehend them. Of course, there are some recreational drugs that are not on the list of sports prohibited drugs because they are not seen as impacting in a positive way on the performance of athletes. Cannabis and cocaine are certainly two that are on the Sports Commission prohibited list. There are 140 substances on this list. They are not one and the same. There are also some drugs that are sport specific. If you are a weight-lifter, the types of drugs that will enhance your performance are quite different from the drugs that will be performance enhancing to a shooter. A shooter may need relaxants to go out there and shoot accurately. So a shooter has a different requirement from a weight-lifter. That does not mean that you allow one athlete to bring a drug in and provide it to an athlete in another code.

What happens is that Customs receive this information and they apprehend someone, when it is observed that the person is bringing in illicit drugs. They take action on one level. The information is then provided to the Executive Director of the Sports Commission where it is reviewed; they look at whether the drug is on their prohibited list. The executive director himself looks at it and if it is on the prohibited list, they advise the appropriate sporting association of what has happened. It is up to that sporting group to implement anti-doping policies, so they undertake the test program, et cetera.

I think this is fantastic. It is important and it has been a long time coming. I said to Bill Rowe beforehand, `Why has it taken until 1999 to get this bill through?' His advice was that it had been thought about for some time. The impetus of having the Olympics coming to Australia, the fact that there has been a whole lot of exposure of drug cheats over recent times and the arrival of the minister to take the leadership in this area have been important; the commitment was made before the election.

This legislation is worth while. It is a significant step forward. We are not only protecting the individual's privacy—and that is important—but also identifying through Customs where there has been apprehension about the use of performance enhancing drugs. We have then been passing that information on to the appropriate agency.

Also, there is the vice versa effect. If there is a strong rumour that an individual is taking a particular drug, sporting groups and particular associations pass this information on to Customs so that they are alerted. When that individual then goes through Customs they can check whether they are bringing in drugs.

Some might think this is a little hard. I personally do not. It is about being fair. Sport is not only about `higher, faster, stronger' but also about fairness—and this goes right to the heart of it. In the administration of the sports portfolio, you can have no higher priority in entering the new millennium than that of catching drug cheats. Well done to the minister. Congratulations to the government. I commend the bill to the House.

Also, congratulations to the people who work in the Department of Sport and Tourism and in the Sports Commission. I thank them for their cooperation and for bringing the whole process together so that we can have the bill in this form. We look forward to an era which is going to do much to eliminate drug cheating in Australian sport.