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Wednesday, 16 February 2005
Page: 18


Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY (Minister for Veterans' Affairs) (10:19 AM) —in reply—The Defence Amendment Bill 2005 is an important part of the coalition government's commitment to a more operationally ready Australian Defence Force and to ensuring that the ADF is drug free. That is what the Australian people expect, and that is what the government is certainly seeking to deliver with this legislation. I would like to thank very briefly the members for Brisbane, Hughes, McPherson and Gilmore for adding to the debate on this important amendment. I will touch on the points that they have made later.

I would like to reiterate the purpose of these amendments: to ensure that all members of the ADF, members of the Reserve on duty and defence civilians who are contractors accompanying the ADF on operations and who have agreed to be subject to Defence Force discipline can be tested at any time; to clearly detail the powers for discharge or to terminate the commission of any member testing positive; to allow for testing by any means—this power enables the Chief of the Defence Force to make a disallowable determination allowing new and accredited testing regimes to be used as they are developed; and to expand the range of drugs tested for. `Prohibited substances' instead of the term `drugs' is now used to facilitate testing beyond the range of narcotic substances and includes steroids, party drugs and other substances as determined by the Chief of the Defence Force.

I am pleased the member for Brisbane touched on the issue of privacy. The privacy principles place appropriate limits on the ability to disclose and on the use of test results. The general rule set out in information privacy principles 10.1 and 11.1 states that `an agency may only use personal information', such as the samples from or the results of a drug test, `for the particular purpose for which it obtains that information'. It may only disclose such information to the person tested and not to any other person or organisation. We certainly agree that double jeopardy should not occur and believe that the privacy principles in place will ensure that is the case.

I would like to touch on other matters that were raised in the debate. The member for Brisbane asked why the previous minister had indicated in 2002 that regulations were to be made. That is certainly the case. At the time, the government believed that that would in fact be the most effective way to proceed. However, as that was being progressed, it became evident that the service chiefs would be more constrained. It was decided to continue a command initiated process. Of course, regrettably, as we found in September last year, a magistrate indicated that that was not allowable under part A. As a result of that, the Minister for Defence, Senator Hill, moved very swiftly to ensure that these amendments were made. We have great regard for our defence forces. There is no attempt in any way to blame the Defence Force. It was believed that command-initiated was the best way to proceed and that the regulations would simply have been tinkering around with something that needed to be substantially changed. We have recognised that and done that now, so I thank the member for Brisbane for raising that issue.

The member for Brisbane raised the question of members serving overseas with other forces on exchange or similar duties and asked whether they would be liable for testing. While it has yet to be determined how members will be tested, there are several options being considered. Authorised drug testers from any service may test any ADF member, including those deployed on operations. If no authorised person is available, a testing team might be sent from Australia. A local testing contractor could be engaged, provided that the testing is conducted in accordance with Australian standards. Furthermore, arrangements could be made for the host services to conduct testing on behalf of the ADF. Again, testing would need to be in accordance with Australian standards, and testing results would need to be passed directly from the contractor to ADF. In cases where a suitable testing laboratory was not available, samples would be returned to Australia for analysis. Necessary arrangements would be made to ensure that any member who tested positive was dealt with in accordance with ADF policy and not local law. This would require strict confidentiality of test results.

The member for Brisbane also raised the question of other services in Australia, most specifically the United States Air Force. In regard to the US Air Force, we have always found that there have been no difficulties with their performance. The United States are very sensitive to the rules and regulations of the country in which they operate. The member for Brisbane would also be aware that, for joint exercises in Australia, there is a status of forces agreement, SOFA, that generally covers the range of issues which facilitate joint exercises with any ally. In closing, I again thank all of those who have contributed to this very useful debate on urinalysis testing in the Australian defence forces. I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.