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Monday, 24 June 2013
Page: 3827

Senator HUMPHRIES (Australian Capital Territory) (21:10): Tonight the Senate is asked to consider the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority Amendment Bill 2013 and it has approximately 35 minutes in which to do so. That is, to be frank, an absolute disgrace.

This is a piece of legislation that has been controversial, which has divided the sports community in Australia and which represents a significant new direction in the enforcement of policies on the use of drugs in sport. It comes in the wake of a media conference held in January this year, presided over by the sports minister, Senator Lundy. It constituted a very significant watershed on these issues within Australian sports administration. And yet we are asked to deal with the complex issues—including government and Greens amendments to this legislation—in the space of 35 minutes. That is entirely unsatisfactory, Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin.

Although it is likely that a measure of consensus will be discovered on the amendments, this is precisely the kind of debate where the Senate would have had great benefit in having an extensive discussion of the issues that are raised in these amendments. But that opportunity is being denied us because this government needs to, again, rush through this parliament a raft of changes to the laws of Australia, which leave the proper scrutiny processes of the parliament in some disarray and which may well result in the need to revisit some of these issues in the future as it is determined that the policies rolled out in such haste may not be the right ones to deal with the problem of illicit and unauthorised drugs in sport.

Australians are renowned around the world for their passion for sport—almost any sport—and their concomitant sense of fair play. As a nation we pride ourselves on the strength of our local sporting competitions and we take pride in the results of our athletes in fields of competition such as the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, test cricket, soccer world cups—in fact, almost any kind of international competition where Australia fields sports men and women.

Cheating in sport, therefore, strikes at the heart of our sense of fairness and decency, even at our national self-image. We have never accepted the principle of winning at all costs. Our national psyche is not of that kind, unlike some nations in international competition. Over the years we have established bodies to deal with such problems as soon as they have been identified by governments and we have swiftly introduced new legislation to deal with evolving issues. That is why, in March 2006, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority was established by the Howard government as a commitment to maintaining world-class standards in response to the use of drugs in sport.

The Howard government made sure that the public had complete confidence in our national sports and the authority was able to investigate and pursue those athletes who cheated. ASADA was established by the Howard government to protect Australia's sporting integrity and our national self-image for fair play through a concerted attack on doping in sport.

I think we are all conscious, as great participants or great observers of sport in this country, of changes that were happening in professional sport in particular in this country and around the world with the insidious penetration of performance-enhancing drugs and illicit drugs into the sphere of sport. But something dramatic happened earlier this year, with a nationally televised press conference on 7 February, hosted, as I said, by the Minister for Sport, about the issue of drugs in sport—I referred earlier to it being in January; of course it was in February. Minister Lundy convened a national press conference with all the major sports codes lined up next to her, plus the Australian Crime Commission, and painted a fairly dire picture of what is taking place with respect to the use of drugs in sport. That let the impression be created that there is a profound penetration by those drugs into many areas of sport, but the exercise was completed without establishing a clear picture of where precisely this problem is falling or precisely what sports, what clubs and what individuals are in the spotlight.

I accept, of course, that it is important for processes set in train by any government authority or prosecutorial agency to be able to run their course without any question of their work being interfered with by disclosure of matters which are properly kept secret until proper steps can be taken to pursue them in a court or whatever other tribunal or body such matters are determined in. But I think it is true to say that Australian sport was left in a profoundly unsettled state as a result of that exercise. Five major sporting codes lined up that day beside the minister. It was made clear that those codes did not necessarily represent the cockpit of the problem that the minister was describing, but they sat beside her nonetheless as the press conference unfolded.

At this point in time, a number of important investigations are underway. These investigations are being overseen principally by ASADA, which is pursuing those cases of drugs in sport that have been brought to the attention of that body. It is useful to bear in mind, however, what has been done before this most recent development in the drugs in sport saga. The annual report of ASADA for 2011-12 details the kind of testing which has already been going on in recent years with respect to identifying and weeding out use of drugs in sport. The annual report indicated that during 2011-12 ASADA conducted 3,996 government funded tests across 45 sports and 3,200 user pays tests for Australian sporting bodies and other organisations. There were 11,395 participants who completed an ASADA education activity. The popularity of the online education tool 'Check your substances', which enables athletes to find out whether specific medications and substances are permitted or prohibited in their sport, continued to grow, with almost 50,000 visits to the site. That is all, as far as it goes, very welcome and very positive. But, of course, the gears were shifted up in this matter with the press conference earlier this year and the question now remains of what extra penetration is taking place into Australian sport which the tests and the preventative measures I have just referred to were unable to prevent or detect.

In the estimates committee hearings conducted recently, there were extensive questions about the state of those investigations and ASADA indicated that they were unable to be helpful to the committee with respect to what is going on. I do not begrudge ASADA being tight-lipped about that. I appreciate that it is absolutely critical that anything they might be doing with respect to pursuing such people or organisations ought not to be in any way interfered with by an exercise of accountability which takes place in this Senate or in other places where proper scrutiny is conducted. But I also think it is important for the Australian government, as soon as it possibly can, within the bounds of those investigations, to restore as much confidence as it can to Australians about the shape and the nature of the threat of drugs in sport at the earliest juncture. It is obviously dangerous to have sports in this country which have been tainted, whether expressly or by implication, and to have young people who may be starting out in those sports unsure of what that means for their future participation in the sport—not knowing whether their heroes and heroines in that sport are the kinds of people being affected by these changes.

I appreciate that the government has a fine line to tread here, but I also believe that the situation today is not a positive one for Australian sport. I hope and I trust that the government has a plan to deliver the kind of certainty I have just appealed for at the point when the current crop of ASADA investigations, which are being conducted, I understand, in conjunction with the Australian Crime Commission, bear fruit—because investigations of an unspecified kind which continue for an indeterminate period into the future, never to be finally or conclusively resolved, leave huge unanswered questions over Australian sport. I am sure that Australian sports men and women, the organisations that represent them and the sports in which they compete would want that cloud to be taken away, if that were humanly possible, at the earliest juncture.

The government moved originally a bill which attracted considerable debate and concern. The bill contained measures which removed a number of the privileges and rights at law which an Australian might expect to be able to enjoy were they charged, for example, with a criminal offence in an equivalent way. I am pleased to say that, after some reaction and some negotiation, the government has decided to moderate that position. That moderation is represented in the amendments which appear before the Senate today.

On behalf of the opposition, we are still concerned about where we are left by this process. We are persuadable but not fully persuaded that we have reached the point where we have got the balance right. We are prepared to give these amendments the benefit of the doubt but we, at the same time, implore the government to: move to provide certainty for Australian sport as soon as it can; use the powers conferred on ASADA in this legislation, as tempered by the amendments, to reach conclusions as soon as it can about what is the appropriate nature of the threat of drugs in sport; and allow those sports which have regimes in place to identify and deal with cheats to get on with the business of providing their sports, without a sense of threat hanging over them because of the broad nature of the attacks that have been made on cheating in sport in this country.

I commend the government's willingness to at least consider and take on board changes to ensure that this process has not led to an unnecessarily onerous regime depriving Australians of the rights that they otherwise would expect to enjoy if they find themselves in the firing line, changes which I hope provide the necessary tools to let the government get to the bottom of these problems.

Finally, I appeal for the government to do what it can to remove this dark cloud over Australian sport so that all Australian sports men and women can know where they stand very clearly at the very earliest opportunity with respect to the sports in which they compete.