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Wednesday, 16 February 2005
Page: 14

Mrs MAY (10:04 AM) —The Defence Amendment Bill 2005 before the House today will amend part VIIIA of the Defence Act 1903 to provide a more comprehensive regime for the drug testing of members of the Australian Defence Force. It will overcome current limitations in part VIIIA and is considered essential to the operational effectiveness of the Australian Defence Force.

The principal purpose of the bill will be to expand the range of drugs that may be tested for beyond those narcotic substances currently provided for under part VIIIA; broaden the circumstances when testing could be required beyond those related to combat and combat related duties; make provision for testing by means other than urinalysis, as new tests and new drugs are developed; clarify the power to terminate after return of a confirmed positive test result and the power to take other administration action; and enable details of the drug testing regime to be set out in Defence instructions, issued under section IXA of the act, to allow for flexibility in the regime's administration and enable it to keep pace with modern developments in drugs and drug testing.

I fully support this bill and its overall aim to enhance the operational effectiveness of the ADF. There is no doubt in my mind that our ADF is one of the best in the world. They have clearly demonstrated their operational readiness in recent times with their activities in East Timor, in Iraq and, of course, most recently, in those countries affected by natural disasters, such as Indonesia.

The stories we have heard of how our Defence personnel have assisted in the aftermath of the tsunami have been nothing short of inspirational. Many personnel gave up time with their families over the Christmas period to assist with the enormous task of helping to clean up, stabilise and rebuild places like Banda Aceh. They are to be highly commended for this work. Of course, our troops in Iraq will never be forgotten for the role they are playing to ensure democracy in that country.

Many of the roles we ask our defence forces to undertake are dangerous and not without risk, but I think all Australians can be assured that our troops are combat focused, well equipped and trained, and ready to meet any operational need that may eventuate. The ADF are respected by the international community and, indeed, our own Australian community, and we can all be very proud of the record of the ADF through numerous conflicts and peacekeeping operations over many years.

It is because of this great record that the bill before the House today is important. It is essential that the image of the Australian Defence Force be maintained and not tarnished by any acts of individuals. Members of the ADF must maintain personal standards above that of the general community—they are scrutinised more closely—and those standards must include not using a prohibited substance.

There is no doubt that use of a prohibited substance has adverse consequences for morale, discipline and public confidence in the Australian Defence Force and poses a significant risk to the operational effectiveness of the ADF through the potential to reduce performance, impair health and increase security risks.

The development of an effective testing regime of ADF members for prohibited substances will, I believe, act as a strong deterrent to prohibited substance abuse, including the misuse of prescription drugs. But this will be a challenge. In order to meet this challenge, this bill extends the scope of the current drug-testing regime of the ADF.

Overall, the ADF has a relatively low usage of prohibited drugs. From February to September last year, 7,637 ADF personnel were tested and only 110 returned confirmed positive test results, representing only 1.44 per cent of those tested. These figures certainly attest to the low incidence of prohibited substance abuse in the ADF. It means the Australian community can be assured that the majority of our service personnel are in top physical condition and are combat ready.

Some on the other side might raise issues about privacy, or indeed wrongful or unfair dismissal, if an ADF person is found to return a positive test for a banned substance. However, the policy committee on defence and veterans' affairs has been assured that the legislation does not abrogate the right for a member of the ADF to pursue an action for wrongful or unfair dismissal if there is merit to do so.

This is an important piece of legislation. It is important for all ADF personnel and it is important for the wider community. The legislation is an insurance policy that strengthens the ability of our Defence Force to meet any operational need in the future; it sends a clear message to anyone involved in taking prohibited drugs in the Australian Defence Force that their actions will not be tolerated. I commend the bill to the House.