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Offsiders -

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Christopher Pyne interview

Broadcast: 20/05/2007

Reporter: Barrie Cassidy

Minister for Ageing Christopher Pyne talks to Offsiders about the upcoming meeting between the
Federal Government and the AFL over the AFL's drugs policies.

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: This week, the Federal Government is meeting with the AFL over its drugs
policy. The clear implication is that the Government is not entirely happy with the AFL's three
strikes policy: too lenient, not transparent enough.

Representing the Prime Minister will be the Minister for Ageing, Christopher Pyne, though in this
case, he's meeting the AFL as minister advising the Prime Minister on illicit drugs.

And he joins us now. Minister, good morning.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE, MINISTER FOR AGEING: Good morning, Barrie.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And Peter Costello burst into print this morning as well. He's critical of the
three strikes policy. What's your problem with it?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well, put it this way, Barrie, when I left home this morning my four and a half
year old and six and a half year old boys were watching the AFL website, best goals of 2006. And
Felix, the four and a half year old, he thinks Mark Ricciuto's coming to his fifth birthday party
in July. These players have a special role in our community amongst young people. There's no doubt
about that. My young sons look up to these footballers. They put them in demi-god status. So they
have a special responsibility. My concern and the Government's concern is that the AFL's drugs
policy doesn't send the right messages to those young people because it suggests that the AFL
players should be treated somehow differently to other people in the community. Now, I want to see
Andrew Demetriou... on Friday I'm going to see him with George Brandis, the Minister for Sport, and
I want him to try and explain to me how the AFL drugs policy reinforces the Federal Government's
tough-on-drugs strategy.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Well, I think we can anticipate what he'll say. He'll say that you take a
legalistic approach, they take a medical approach, they talk about intervening, about organising
counselling, about trying to change behaviour.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Well I will say to him that the Federal Government is spending tens of millions
of dollars of taxpayers' money giving very clear and precise messages to people about illegal
drugs. About cocaine and ecstasy and ice and cannabis. And the AFL has a responsibility to
reinforce that message, not to undermine it. Because by undermining it with their three strikes
policy, it actually wastes that taxpayers' money. And all taxpayers in Australia should be
concerned that the AFL has a different approach to the Commonwealth Government on this issue to do
with drugs. They have a special responsibility, whether they like it or not. AFL players who want
to be stars, they have a responsibility to send the right messages to young people. It just comes
with the territory. For that reason, the AFL's policy has to be stringent. It has to be amongst the
toughest in the community, not one of the weakest. And that's why Peter Costello has come out about
it, the Prime Minister himself has called for it to be reviewed, as has the Minister for Sport, and
as the person responsible for drugs in the Commonwealth Government, I want to talk to Andrew
Demetriou about how we might be able to change this policy and get it on the same hurdle as the
Commonwealth Government's position.

GERARD WHATELEY, ABC SPORT: Minister, I presume you're also critical of the NRL's new policy, which
is a two-strike policy, so no zero-tolerance there, and I'll also presume you're critical of every
other sporting code that doesn't enter into out-of-competition testing in the way that the NRL and
the AFL does, and I'll further presume that you're going to introduce legislation that all sporting
codes will begin this off-season testing and will adopt a zero-tolerance in line?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I think there are good aspects to the AFL's policy. One of them is the fact they
don't just test on match day, that they have an overall approach to drugs in their sport, I think
the NRL's policy is better than the AFL's policy, because at least it's only two strikes, rather
than three strikes. I think the issue to do with all the other codes, look, that's really
interesting, but the AFL and the NRL, they have a particular place in our community, like the
cricket players. Young people are looking up to AFL players in places like South Australia and
Victoria and Western Australia in a way they don't look up to almost anybody else in the sporting
world. That gives them a special place. And of course, the reason I'm commenting on the AFL is
because the AFL's policy has been very much in the news in recent months for obvious reasons.

JACQUELIN MAGNAY, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: Minister, is your position that you would like these
players to be named after testing positive to an illicit substance?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I'm not going to get into the nitty-gritty of what the Commonwealth Government
expects from the AFL. I want to sit down with Andrew Demetriou on Friday with George Brandis and
talk through why the AFL's policy, why they think the AFL's policy is a zero-tolerance approach,
because in the Commonwealth Government's view it's not a zero-tolerance approach. In the wider
community, of course, if a person was caught with an illegal drug like cocaine or ecstasy then
there would be legal ramifications for that. And for some reason the AFL think that they should
approach this differently and I want to talk to them about why I think that's probably
inappropriate. But I don't want to prejudge what Andrew Demetriou's going to tell me. I want to
give him the opportunity to take us through it and see how we can work together, because I think
it's really important and it's not an opportunity for political point-scoring, it's an opportunity
for trying to send the right, clear messages to young people about drug-taking.

ROY MASTERS, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: Minister, a left-field question, so to speak. A senior Liberal
parliamentarian has described to me the AFL commission as "a bloody trade union". Will that be
going on in your mind when you go in and speak to Demetriou and others in the AFL commission who, I
understand, do have strong Labor Party sympathies?

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: I have to say, I can hardly hear you, but I think you were saying, well the fact
that some senior Liberal described the AFL as being like a trade union influenced my view. I think
that was the general gist of the question?

BARRIE CASSIDY: That's it.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: No, that's got nothing to do with it. What's overwhelmingly in my mind is that as
a father, and as the person in the Government responsible for dealing with drugs, I am concerned
that the right messages be sent by clear role models in the community, AFL players to young people.
And I don't think the AFL policy at the moment is sending those clear messages and the Government
wants to make sure they're not undermining the investment that taxpayers are making in educating
and advertising about the dangers of illegal drugs.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Christopher Pyne, thanks for your time this morning.

CHRISTOPHER PYNE: That's a pleasure.