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Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 18

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (1:44 PM) —Like Senator Ferguson, I rise to support the Defence Amendment Bill 2005, which will amend the Defence Act to provide a more comprehensive regime for drug testing members of the Australian Defence Force. It will overcome a number of limitations that currently exist and is considered essential to the operational effectiveness of the ADF. The opposition supports this legislation, and I listened with interest to what Senator Bishop had to say. I agree with Senator Ferguson: I thought Senator Bishop was a little churlish in his comments about members of this government and the Prime Minister. Senator Bishop, that particular page of your speech may be amended. Perhaps a little word to your speech writer might be appropriate under the circumstances, because I know that you take your responsibilities very seriously and that you like to be photographed with our ADF personnel at any opportunity that arises. There are a number of people in the ADF who regard you with some affection as an authority, especially the veteran community, so I am generous to you and I expect you to be generous back.

I pick up on one of the things that Senator Ferguson said. He said that he was unsure as to whether Senator Bartlett and the Democrats were going to support this legislation. I understand, from what I heard from Senator Bartlett’s contribution, that the Democrats will be supporting this legislation.

Senator Ferguson —Well, some of them.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —They may have some amendments, Senator Ferguson. I thought that you would like to know that before you leave the chamber. The principal purpose of this bill is to expand the range of drugs that may be tested for, far beyond the narcotic substances currently provided for under the legislation. It will broaden the circumstances where testing could be required, beyond those related to combat and combat related duties—that makes sense. It makes provision for the testing by means other than urine testing, as new tests and new drugs are developed—that also makes sense; it is commonsense. It will clarify the power to terminate employment after the return of a confirmed positive test result and clarify the power to take other administrative action and will enable details of the drug-testing regime to be set out in defence instructions issued under the act, to apply flexibility in the regimes of administration and enable it to keep pace with modern developments in drugs and drug testing.

As Senator Ferguson made clear, there is a very determined public and government expectation that the Australian Defence Force should be combat focused, well equipped and ready to meet any operational need that may eventuate at very short notice. We have only had to observe what that requirement is with the response to the Bali bombing, the problems in the Solomon Islands just 24 hours prior to Christmas, and the Boxing Day tsunami. There is not time to do anything but respond, and respond in the most effective way, and of course the ADF have done that. They have also had more longer term activities in East Timor, Iraq and the countries affected by the recent natural disasters, which have clearly shown that the ADF is a very effective and efficient force that has won respect amongst not only those of us who have perhaps had the opportunity to observe the ADF in action but all their fellow Australians. When the opportunity arises to hear what our allies and others think of the ADF, an extremely high view is taken of the Australian Defence Force wherever they may operate.

We currently have about 2,500 personnel deployed in operations around the globe. A group of 450 Darwin soldiers will make up the Al Muthanna task force, which will be deployed in southern Iraq to provide support to the operation of the Japanese Iraq reconstruction support group as they undertake essential humanitarian, engineering and rebuilding tasks. The task force will also provide training to the Al Muthanna provincial security force. I cannot think of any better occupation for Australian troops in Iraq and perhaps anywhere in the world than to be protecting a very strong strategic regional ally, namely Japan, which is doing essential humanitarian work in Iraq. Protecting those essential humanitarian workers and troops is probably the most important role that Australian troops could possibly play. I thoroughly support the government’s decision to do that. It was a very difficult decision, but it is a response that recognises our continuing commitment to the rebuilding of Iraq and acknowledges the extremely important relationship that Australia has with Japan, which is Australia’s most important trade partner. Without that trade relationship, built over the last 40 or so years, many Australians would not have a job and we certainly would not have the standard of living that we currently enjoy.

The other point about the deployment is that the Iraqi military forces must step up to the plate themselves, but they can step up to the plate and take responsibility for Iraq only if they are appropriately trained. It is a pleasure to see that Australian troops will be taking on that role in Iraq. The army training teams have done it in the past in other places, and they are doing it already in Iraq. To take on the responsibility to train local Iraqis in the Al Muthanna region in southern Iraq is again a very worthwhile task.

The most recent deployment of Australian troops has been to assist the humanitarian efforts in rebuilding areas affected by the Boxing Day tsunami. Operation Sumatra Assist has seen around 1,000 ADF personnel deployed to the Indonesian region, with equipment such as Hercules aircraft, Iroquois helicopters and the HMAS Kanimbla also being utilised. ADF medicos, engineers and logistics personnel are all playing an important part in helping to rebuild these areas tragically devastated by the tsunami. The task in which the ADF personnel are involved is almost complete. They have done a fantastic job, as always. Part of the professionalism that is required and expected of these personnel is that they should not be subjected to drug and alcohol abuse, and that is the whole basis of why this legislation is being introduced.

I might take the opportunity, as many arguments have been examined as to why the legislation is essential, to discuss further a couple of other operations around the globe where Australians are operational—in the Pacific and the Middle East. Operation Anode continues in the Solomon Islands, with 114 ADF personnel and 94 Australian Federal Police officers providing assistance to the Solomon Islands police force. We saw the response of the ADF some time before Christmas and 18 hours after the brutal murder of one of our Australian Federal Police members in the Solomons. We had a company of infantrymen from Townsville who were on the ground and very effectively doing the job that was expected of them. Also we have 920 personnel already deployed in Iraq, with Operation Catalyst, which includes a number of responsibilities such as responsibility for maritime interceptions, military support and protection of Australian officials, which is so essential for us to help in the rebuilding of Iraq.

Personnel are also deployed across the Middle East as part of Operation Slipper and the coalition against terrorism. In Afghanistan we have a small role to play in terms of troops of the ground but the P3C Orions and Hercules aircraft also operate in support of the continuation of the war against terror in Afghanistan. There are also 100 ADF personnel serving in East Timor under Operation Spire, whose primary role is a support company comprising an engineering troop support section and a maintenance section. There are probably at least another 100 Australian personnel serving around the globe in the command headquarters operation in Tampa, Florida, and with a number of UN deployments in the Middle East and elsewhere. It is a very big effort. As I said, there is a very clear public understanding and commitment that these ADF personnel are drug free and are going to behave in a way that is not subject to the pressures and uncertainties that drug abuse obviously brings.

It is essential that the image of the Australian Defence Force is maintained and not tarnished by the acts of individuals. Accordingly, members must maintain personal standards that are clearly above those of the general community. This includes not using prohibited substances. Obviously the use of prohibited substances has an adverse consequence for morale, discipline and public confidence in the Australian Defence Force and poses a significant risk to the operational effectiveness of the ADF through a potential reduction of performance, the impairment of health and, of course, an increased security risk.

The creation of an effective prohibited substance regime for Australian Defence Force members is intended to act as a strong deterrent to prohibit substance use, including the misuse of prescription drugs. It is a much wider regime now. The changes will allow much greater flexibility and a much more appropriate response to the misuse of all drugs, including the misuse of prescription drugs. In order to meet this challenge, change is needed to extend the scope of the current drug-testing regime for the ADF.

The ADF has probably always been conscious of drug and alcohol abuse. The Australian Defence Force alcohol, tobacco and other drug service provides education, training, resources and advice to ADF members and commanders regarding issues relating to alcohol, tobacco and prohibited substance use. This service was introduced in May 2002 as part of the Australian Defence Force mental health strategy. Australian Defence Force members receive annual information sessions regarding alcohol and drug policy and testing programs which support the information sessions provided during initial training.

The Australian Defence Force has a relatively low usage of prohibited drugs at this time, as was indicated by the results of the currently suspended command initiated random drug-testing program, in comparison with the use of prohibited drugs in the general population. Senator Ferguson said that from February to September last year 7,637 ADF members were tested and only 110 of those tested returned a positive test result, which represents only 1.44 per cent of members tested. That is a very low level of positive results. It goes without saying that ADF members understand the very unique and important position and role that they have and that they do not go around abusing the opportunities that might make other members of the population more susceptible and less responsible. In comparison, a Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care survey in 2000 reported that 23 per cent of Australians over 14 years of age had used prohibited drugs in the preceding 12 months. Prohibited substance testing will continue once the bill is passed and the defence instruction is finalised and the testing teams are updated or fully trained as required.

I would like to take the opportunity, in line with the opposition and, looking through the smoke of Senator Bartlett’s contribution, the support of the Democrats as well, to support the bill. It took a little time to work out whether Senator Bartlett supported the legislation but I am pleased that the Democrats do support it. I have pleasure in supporting this comprehensive regime for the testing of prohibited drugs in the Australian Defence Force.

Debate interrupted.