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Tuesday, 7 December 2004
Page: 36


Senator CROSSIN (2:45 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister for Defence. Can the minister confirm that, in September this year, a Defence Force magistrate dismissed a drug charge against an officer after ruling that the Army's urinalysis drug testing system was unlawful? Isn't it true that the magistrate had no other option because the government had not made regulations to legally authorise officers to collect urine samples for drug-testing purposes, and to this day still has not? Can the minister indicate whether any other charges or convictions have been overturned because of the absence of regulations authorising legal random drug testing? Can the minister confirm that his former assistant minister Danna Vale promised on 17 September 2002 to introduce regulations to legally authorise random drug testing and urinalysis in the Australian Defence Force? Minister, why is the ADF still waiting for the government to make these regulations two years after they were promised?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I hope the honourable senator supports the zero tolerance policy of the ADF and that there is no hidden agenda in this Northern Territory question. Apart from that, yes, a magistrate did dismiss a case. The magistrate found that the method adopted to require the taking of these tests was, and I am paraphrasing, `inconsistent with part 8A', I think, `of the Defence Act'. It is true that Defence decided to bring in this system through command rather than through legislative prescription. Advice has been sought on the consequence of the ruling of that particular Defence Force magistrate, and the government is considering advice on this issue at the moment. Have other cases been dismissed? I am not aware of any other cases that have been dismissed. Otherwise, we will deal with the consequences of that particular finding in a way that gives the military the confidence they need to ensure that their zero tolerance drug policy, which is supported by the government, certainly supported by this side of the chamber, can be properly implemented and respected.


Senator CROSSIN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, I refer you to the October 2003 drug raid at Robertson Barracks, Darwin, where 47 personnel returned positive drug tests. Isn't it the case that, because the regulations to allow random testing in the ADF still have not been introduced two years after they were promised by the government, the 47 personnel have had their convictions overturned? Has the minister received legal advice on these 47 overturned convictions and on whether the ADF is liable for claims of unfair dismissal or compensation for these personnel?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The supplementary question does tend to confirm my suspicion that this is a question on behalf of somebody who gave a positive test. I am disappointed to hear that the Labor Party is yet again moving down this path rather than supporting—


Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I raise a point of order. My understanding of the standing orders is that it is not competent for the minister to cast an aspersion on the questioner or their motives. That is clearly what the minister was trying to do. He would also be well aware that Mr Bevis on behalf of the Labor Party put out a press release yesterday supporting a no drug tolerance position. In terms of the aspersion cast by the minister, Mr President, I ask you to call on him to withdraw it because it was clearly not in order.


The PRESIDENT —I do not believe the minister used any unparliamentary language. I remind him to return to the supplementary question.


Senator HILL —It is clear to me that the supplementary was designed to undermine the authority of command within the ADF. If that is the way the honourable senator on behalf of the Labor Party wishes to pursue her interests in question time, so be it. In my view it is not related to the issue of regulations under the Defence Act, because there are significant shortcomings within that provision that would have limited the capacity to test for the drugs in question. The military has chosen to proceed through command. There is an issue arising as a result of the Defence Force magistrate's decision. That must be considered and the next step forward determined by government, and that is what government is considering at the moment. (Time expired)