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Thursday, 11 March 2004
Page: 21371


Senator LUNDY (12:46 PM) —I rise today to support in principle the Australian Sports Drug Agency Amendment Bill 2004, which outlines a number of changes to the Australian Sports Drug Agency Act 1990. In essence, these amendments to the existing bill are necessary to enable the Australian Sports Drug Agency to comply with provisions required to fully implement the world antidoping code. Labor is and always has been a strong advocate of the fight against doping in sport and understands the integral role that the Australian Sports Drug Agency plays in eliminating the use of performance enhancing drugs in sports, both within Australia and internationally.

The establishment of ASDA by the Labor government in 1990 is indisputably one of Australia's proudest achievements in sports policy. The initiative and foresight shown by Labor through the creation of ASDA at a time when no other country had come up with a solution to the rise in performance enhancing drugs placed Australia at the forefront of the doping battle. Since this time, as the complexity of drug use in sport has escalated, it has become apparent that a coordinated worldwide effort to eliminate the inconsistencies of doping policies that applied across sports and countries was essential to stem the rising tide of doping abuse.

In 1998, after the scandal of a drug riddled Tour de France, a world conference was called to address the issue of doping in sport. From this conference the concept of a world antidoping agency grew and subsequently, in 1999, WADA was established as an independent, nongovernment organisation. WADA's aim is to foster a worldwide doping free culture in sport by combining the resources of sport and government. Its charter is to enhance, supplement and coordinate existing efforts to educate athletes about the harms of doping, to reinforce the ideal of fair play and to sanction those who cheat themselves and their sport. A key element for real success in a worldwide fight against the use of performance enhancing drugs in sport was the necessity to have a standardised set of doping rules and regulations that applied to all sports across all countries. As a result the world antidoping code was developed.

The Copenhagen World Conference on Doping in Sport held last year provided the first opportunity for countries to sign up in support of the world antidoping code. On many occasions Labor has strongly urged the Howard government to take a genuine stand against drugs in sport. Adopting the WADA code was seen as an integral step in bringing an end to the use of drugs in sport. In a move that was loudly applauded by Labor, Australia was one of the first countries in the world to sign up in support of the WADA code. Adoption of the WADA code represents a historic achievement for those concerned with doping in sport. With governments and sports organisations playing an active and crucial role in supporting and promoting the code, we are much closer to achieving our goal of doping free sport. Accepting and, more importantly, abiding by the code creates transparency and accountability. Under the code, the actions—or inactions, as the case may be—of all will be known and closely monitored. If adhered to and used properly, the code is an important step forward in the fight against doping. It marks a point of no return.

The year 2004 is a crucial year for the fight against doping in sport. This year is the year that the world antidoping code will be implemented by sports organisations prior to the Athens Olympic Games. For the first time, athletes will compete at the Olympics knowing that they are competing on a level playing field, at least when it comes to doping guidelines. The code will ensure that the rules and regulations governing antidoping will be the same across all sports and all countries for this competition. Governments will soon follow the example being set this year by the sports movement and will implement the code in their countries prior to the Winter Olympic Games in Italy in 2006.

Regardless of whether one agrees with the contents, the code will be the standard for all antidoping regulations not only as the norm which should be complied with but also as a standard of quality. For too long there have been incomprehensible variations in application of the code between sports and within sports at different levels of competition. One of the major inconsistencies is that up until now each sport has been allowed to develop its own list of banned substances. One of the major concerns raised by some sporting bodies who initially spoke out against the code was a uniform banned substances list. Cricket, for example, argued that some drugs which should be banned as performance enhancing in the sport of archery should be allowed in cricket because they do not really aid a cricketer's performance. One would have to ask why, if performance is not enhanced, a player would be taking the drug at all. There are provisions made for the use of drugs required to treat genuine medical conditions so, if a drug is not used for therapeutic reasons, then why use it at all? The reality is that a performance enhancing drug is a performance enhancing drug regardless of what sport you play, and a banned substances list that applies to all sports is a fair and equitable list.

Similarly, sports have in the past been allowed to impose their own sanctions for drug use infractions. This has led to almost inexplicable variations in sanctions both across and within most sports. As an example, in the case of two failure to comply incidents a weight-lifter received a three-year ban while a rugby league player was not sanctioned for a similar offence. These examples clearly show the need for greater consistency in the guidelines that determine doping infractions across all sports, as well as for uniformity across sports for sanctions handed down.

The specific purposes of the WADA code are: first, to protect the athlete's fundamental right to participate in doping-free sport and thus promote health, fairness and equality for athletes worldwide and, second, to ensure harmonised, coordinated and effective antidoping programs at the international and national level with regard to detection, deterrence and prevention of doping. Implementing and following the WADA code's comprehensive set of doping rules and guidelines will greatly assist in limiting some of the inequities that currently exist in sport. While Labor supports the amendments to the ASDA Act before us today, it is on the basis that these changes must be made to ensure that the ASDA is WADA code compliant prior to the commencement of the Athens Olympics.

There are, however, a number of issues of concern. One of the key concerns is a relaxation in regulations that relate to privacy. A mainstay of the WADA code is transparency and sharing of information. In essence, the WADA code allows for the naming of athletes found guilty of doping offences, and further allows for that information to be accessed via a centralised doping register warehouse. While the naming of drug cheats is not an issue—the aim is to deter athletes from using performance enhancing drugs—the relaxation of the guidelines that determine when an athlete is considered to have tested positive is a major concern. Under current ASDA guidelines an athlete is not considered positive and cannot be named to a relevant sporting body until such time as both an A and B sample have tested positive and the competitor has had the opportunity to make a written submission to ASDA.

Implementation of the new WADA code guidelines will mean that disclosure is required immediately upon the A sample revealing a positive test result and ASDA being satisfied that there is no therapeutic approval and that the relevant international standard for testing has been complied with. There is also the requirement to make a public disclosure of information relating to entries on a register, in effect, to release the name of an athlete who tests positive. This represents a substantial dilution of the protection afforded to competitors who are under suspicion but whose status has yet to be determined through B sample testing and hearing processes, and also places a degree of discretionary decision making regarding disclosure on the testing agency.

The public exposure of a bona fide drug cheat is a move welcomed by all. Perhaps the prospect of permanently tainting one's character will be enough to make an athlete think twice before using banned substances. The concern is that relaxing a number of current protective measures potentially increases the chances of publicly naming an innocent party, and the labelling of an innocent party as a drug cheat is another matter altogether. Currently there are very few courses of action available to an athlete who finds themselves in such a situation to clear their name. Athletes may make an appeal to the Privacy Commissioner or launch a Federal Court case, but for many these avenues are not seen as genuine alternatives.

Regardless of the options available, even in the event of an athlete being totally cleared of any wrongdoing, there is no question that no matter what the issue some of the mud always sticks. It is for this reason that Labor believe it is important to pay particular care to the issue of disclosure of infractions. We have been advised by the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts that the conditions under which an organisation—in this case ASDA—can release information regarding a doping infringement are covered by the ASDA regulations. These regulations are currently being redrafted in order to bring them into line with administrative changes required by the implementation of the WADA code. Labor have lodged an expression of interest in the progress of this redrafting and will continue to closely monitor this process to ensure the rights of all concerned are upheld.

Another area of concern is that of drug testing and research. The WADA code will serve as a fundamental tool in the fight against doping; however, the fact that the code exists will not by itself reduce doping. Doping will not be reduced alone by rules, by strong declarations or by sanctions on paper. Using the code to set rigorous rules to make a strong stand and to impose tough but fair sanctions will only go part of the way to solving the problem. It will be the actions in the fields of testing and research that will genuinely determine the effectiveness of the fight against doping in sport. It is that moment when we finally cross the line where the chance of being caught is a much greater deterrent than the threat of a sanction that the fight will begin to favour the just, rather than the cheats. Athletes from all sports must know that the chances of being tested and caught are much greater than the chances of avoiding detection.

Staying ahead in the testing game means staying ahead in research. Every day there is evidence of new previously undetected drugs coming to light—THG, EPO, HGH or genetic modification; the list seems endless. It is only through continued support of research that these doping methods will be uncovered and tests for their detection developed. Until recently Australia was the world leader in antidoping research. Inexplicably, however, in recent years the Howard government has chosen to enforce a ban on some of this world-leading research, which has effectively relegated Australia to a position of disciple rather than messiah.

Research and testing must be supported as integral parts of the world antidoping program. The passing of the WADA code has allowed for a worldwide giant leap forward in harmonising efforts across all sports and countries to eliminate doping in sport. Its genuine success, however, rests on the ability of organisations to develop effective detection tests for the myriad of banned substances that riddle sport. The WADA code is like a new Porsche. The specifications are great, it looks good on the outside, and if driven properly it should perform magnificently. Like every high-performance vehicle, it must be handled with care, due consideration and skill.

The WADA code alone cannot make the change. The true success of the code will be ultimately determined by the sports organisations and governing bodies whose duty it is to embrace and enforce the principles of the code. Labor supports WADA and the WADA code. Labor also supports the Australian Sports Drug Agency and its role in promoting the code and leading the fight against doping in sport. As I said at the beginning of my speech, Labor supports this bill.