Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 16 February 2005
Page: 11

Mrs VALE (9:52 AM) —I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the Defence Amendment Bill 2005, which I believe demonstrates the Howard government's commitment to developing a more combat-focused, better-equipped, more mobile and operationally ready Australian Defence Force. The purpose of this bill is to amend part VIIIA of the Defence Act to provide a comprehensive prohibited substance testing regime. I acknowledge the support of the opposition in the progress of this bill. The Australian Defence Force has zero tolerance to the abuse or misuse of drugs. Such use can affect morale, discipline and public confidence, and it poses a risk to the operational effectiveness of the Australian Defence Force through the potential to reduce performance, impair health and increase security risks.

The creation of an effective prohibited substance testing regime is intended to act as a strong deterrent to prohibited substance abuse, including the misuse of prescription or over-the-counter drugs. Problematic substance use, whether alcohol, tobacco or illicit drugs, is an issue for the entire community, and the Australian Defence Force is not immune from this. In fact, given the nature of the Australian Defence Force population—mostly young people who are living away from home—you might be mistaken in thinking that the organisation could be considered more likely to experience these problems than the general community.

As a result, the Australian Defence Force has been very active in addressing these issues through the establishment of the Australian Defence Force Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Service. This service was introduced in May 2002 and it is a major initiative within the mental health strategy that provides the Australian Defence Force with a multilevel response to problematic substance use. It is evidence based, consistent with the National Drug Strategy and informs and supports the Australian Defence Force's administrative response to problematic substance abuse. The Australian Defence Force Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Service provides education, training, resources and advice to Australian Defence Force members and commanders regarding issues relating to alcohol, tobacco and prohibited substance use. This includes annual information sessions regarding both alcohol and drug policy and testing programs.

Therefore, despite its population, the Australian Defence Force has relatively low usage of prohibited drugs in comparison with the use of prohibited drugs in the general population. From February to September last year, 7,637 members were tested. Only 110 of those tested returned confirmed positive test results, representing only 1.44 per cent of those members tested. In comparison, a Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing survey in 2000 reported that 23 per cent of Australians over 14 years of age had used prohibited drugs in the preceding 12 months.

On 13 September 2004, a Defence Force magistrate acquitted an officer on the basis that a command given to submit to a drug test was not a lawful command. The Defence Force magistrate held that part VIIIA of the Defence Act 1903 is an exclusive code for urinalysis testing. As a consequence, in the view of the Defence Force magistrate there was no scope for command-initiated urinalysis drug testing and this type of drug testing was suspended. To clarify any uncertainty and to provide for changes in drug-testing methods, drug-use patterns and Australian Defence Force structures over the past 10 years, Defence is seeking an amendment to part VIIIA of the Defence Act. Once part VIIIA of the Defence Act is amended, drug testing can recommence, with Australian Defence Force personnel able to be tested anywhere, at any time, for any prohibited substance.

However, let it be clear that Defence does not believe that the Defence Force magistrate's finding invalidates any discharge action already taken as a result of the command-initiated testing. So a summary of the problems with the current legislation that need to be rectified includes: (1) testing is limited to members in combat or combat-related activities; (2) testing is limited to narcotic substances as defined in the Customs Act; (3) testing is confined to urinalysis testing only; and (4) in some circumstances there is some doubt as to the ability of the Australian Defence Force to terminate the services of a member testing positive.

Therefore, the principal purpose of the amendments to part VIIIA of the Defence Act will be to broaden the circumstances where testing of Defence Force members could be required. This would allow all members of the Australian Defence Force, members of the Reserve on duty and defence civilians—that is, contractors accompanying the Australian Defence Force on operations who agree to be subject to Defence Force discipline—to be tested at any time.

The amendment will clarify the power to take action to discharge or terminate the service of any member or to take other administrative action after return of a confirmed positive result. The amendment also makes provision for testing by any means. This allows the Chief of the Defence Force to make a determination allowing new and accredited testing regimes to be used as they are developed. This will provide flexibility in the testing regimes administration and enable it to keep pace with modern developments in drug testing.

The bill expands the range of drugs tested. `Prohibited substances' is now the term used instead of `drugs'. This will allow a wider scope to test beyond narcotic substances and to include steroids, party drugs and other substances as determined by the Chief of the Defence Force. And, finally, this bill makes provisions that allows functions under part VIIIA relating to the testing for prohibited substances to be delegated to senior offices of the Australian Defence Force.

Privacy protection for persons being drug tested is also a priority. Under the proposed new section 95 of the Defence Act, testing must be conducted in circumstances affording the persons being tested reasonable privacy. Dealings with the test results are covered by the privacy principles under the Privacy Act 1988. Breaches of the privacy principles could result in disciplinary or administrative action being taken against individual Australian Defence Force or Australian Public Service members.

The privacy principles require Defence to ensure that the collection of personal information does not unreasonably intrude upon the person being tested. These principles also include a requirement for Defence to disclose to persons from whom personal information is being collected any intention to pass that information to third persons, before collecting the information. With regard to Reserve personnel—and I note that this was raised by the opposition—Defence has no intention of providing the results of drug tests to the civilian employers of the Reserve members.

Defence instructions will be issued in relation to drug-testing procedures, including the protection of personal information. Proposed section 109(1)(h) of the Defence Act provides for Defence instructions to be made in relation to `the confidentiality of prohibited substance test results'. Noncompliance with Defence instructions may result in disciplinary action or other sanctions being taken against persons who breach the confidentiality requirements.

Defence members serving overseas or with other forces on exchange or similar duties will be liable for testing. While it is yet to be determined how members will be tested, there are several options available. These include that authorised drug testers from any service may test any Australian Defence Force member, including those deployed on operation. If no authorised person is available, a testing team could be sent from Australia.

Another alternative would be that a local testing contactor be engaged, provided that the testing is conducted in accordance with Australian standards, or arrangements could be made for the host service to conduct testing on behalf of the Australian Defence Force. Testing would need to be in accordance with Australian standards and testing results would need to be passed directly from the contractor, or the host service, to an Australian Defence Force authority. In cases where a suitable testing laboratory is not available, samples will be returned to Australia for analysis.

Also, necessary arrangements will be made to ensure that any member who tests positive is dealt with in accordance with Australian Defence Force policy and not local law. This will require strict confidentiality of test results. If required, arrangements may be put in place to test members from other countries serving in the Australian Defence Force. In such instances, testing results would be processed in accordance with the wishes of the member's parent service.

Drug use and testing are sensitive and topical issues. The main aim of the amendments for the Defence Act that I have discussed is to deter illegal use of prohibited substances within the Australian Defence Force. The amendments are also an indication of this government's commitment to ensuring that Australia has a defence force that is efficient and effective in its capacity to defend Australia and its national interests.

An important part in all this, though, is that there is a clear public and government expectation that the Australian Defence Force should be drug free. Misuse of drugs poses a significant risk to the operational effectiveness of the Australian Defence Force and has the potential for dire consequences.

I will conclude by saying Australia's 52,000 permanent Defence Force personnel and 20,000 Reserve personnel serve around the world with great professionalism, distinction and courage. They serve and protect Australia's national interests while also representing the greatest democracy in the world. Indeed, they are the pride of the nation, and we celebrate their commitment, their integrity and their dedication on behalf of the rest of us.