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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11376

Ms MARINO (10:00 AM) —I rise today to support the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority Amendment Bill 2009, which seeks to amend the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority Act 2006, the ASADA Act, to reflect new structural and governance arrangements for the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority. This bill implements recommendations of an independent review of ASADA, commissioned by the Department of Health and Ageing in 2008. The review found that the current structure was impacting on the ability of ASADA to operate at its optimum capacity. The review also found that ASADA’s governance structure did not clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the ASADA chair, who was also the head of the agency and of the ASADA members.

A number of recommendations and proposed legislative changes were made by the review to ensure ASADA operates solely as an agency under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. This will include an advisory group with a separate chief executive responsible for reporting directly to the minister. In line with the recommendations of the review, this bill will create a new ASADA chief executive officer position and a new advisory group to provide advice to the new ASADA CEO on sports doping, will establish a new Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel and alter the way the National Anti-Doping Scheme can be amended by the new CEO.

The creation of a new CEO position and a new advisory group is being proposed to clearly define the roles and responsibilities within ASADA. The CEO position will be responsible for directing ASADA in carrying out functions prescribed under the ASADA Act, including financial responsibilities normally expected of a CEO under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 and the Public Service Act.

The new advisory group created under this legislation will be just that: one with advisory functions. Members of the group will be appointed by the Minister for Sport and will have specialist skills in areas including education and training, sports medicine, sports law, ethics and investigations. It should be noted that members of the new advisory group will not be eligible for appointment to the CEO position.

The new Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel being created by this bill will replace the current Anti-Doping Rule Violation Committee. The new panel will have responsibility for making decisions in relation to anti-doping rule violations and provide recommendations on further action to the ASADA CEO and staff. The panel will consist of members with specialist skills, such as sports law, medicine and pharmacology. In a move to avoid any perception of conflict, the ASADA CEO, staff and members of the new advisory group will be ineligible to sit on the new board.

The third major part of this legislation is an alteration in the way the National Anti-Doping scheme can be amended by the new CEO. The National Anti-Doping scheme ensures Australia remains compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code. When changes are made to the World Anti-Doping Code, the scheme is amended to reflect these changes. Under the current arrangements, ASADA can only change the scheme as a whole by way of a written instrument. Under the new arrangements, the CEO will still make changes via a written instrument, but the bill will include additional matters on which the CEO can make changes. These allow for changing sections of the scheme as opposed to changing the scheme as a whole.

The coalition supports the intent of the bill. We need to ensure that Australia’s anti-doping efforts are operating to their maximum capacity. The former coalition government improved Australia’s anti-doping efforts by establishing ASADA in 2006 and giving it strong powers to investigate and present cases as well as exchanging information with other enforcement agencies. ASADA was given the power to investigate suspected anti-doping rule violations, make recommendations on its findings and present cases against alleged offenders at sporting tribunals. In 2007-08, the former coalition government provided an additional $2.24 million to ASADA for enhanced investigation of alleged doping violations and the subsequent preparation and submission of briefs in relation to individual cases, bringing the total funding to $12.9 million. ASADA now conducts approximately 4,200 government funded tests each year.

The former government also took a tough stance on illicit drugs in sport, which began in 1997 with the $1.6 billion National Illicit Drug Strategy, known as the ‘Tough on Drugs’ campaign. We launched the Stamp Out Doping hotline in March 2006 so that people could report information about possible doping in sport. We also established the Register of Findings in March 2006, which makes public the names of athletes who have committed a violation. The initiation of the Athletes Whereabouts Information Register was also implemented in March 2006 to further facilitate ASADA’s no-advance-notice testing program so that athletes could be located at any time and be tested.

The policies of the former coalition government ensured that ASADA developed a strong international reputation as a world leader in best practice anti-doping regulations. The use of drugs in sport is a widespread problem in Australia and worldwide. The Australian Prescriber in an issue of their publication said:

As sport becomes more competitive some people are tempted to cheat to improve their chances of winning. People who cheat by abusing medicines may be banned from sport if they are caught. They are also risking their health. Some athletes have died because they abused medicines.

Unfortunately, we hear about and see in the media well-known sports stars who are caught up in drug issues, be they performance-enhancing drugs or social drugs. I was really concerned to read an article by Sean Parnell in the Australian dated 13 March, 2008, which stated that a survey conducted by Curtin University showed that ‘up to 30 per cent of Australia’s top athletes believe they could get away with using performance-enhancing drugs if they wanted to’. The article also referred to ‘the rationale for ASADA’s tough stance on drugs, including its work with Customs, targeted testing and long-term storage of samples’. What I did note in the article, however, was the quote that ‘higher level athletes endorsed tougher penalties for doping, with 72 per cent of Olympic and world championship advocating a life ban for a second offence’.

We all know that sport is part of our Australian identity and culture. Australians love sport. Just look at the numbers who regularly attend and participate in AFL, netball—like my colleague Mr Irons—soccer, Rugby League and Rugby Union, cricket, the Olympics and golf. The list is extensive and the numbers of us who watch and participate on a regular basis is also extensive. But I believe Australians also support the notion of a fair go, the level playing field.

We are all aware of the health benefits of sport: families simply sharing the day together with their children, the social interaction, a way of building friendships and, hopefully, improving skills and physical fitness along the way. It is also a wonderful way for children to just have fun together. Sport can also assist in reducing antisocial behaviour. We know of these benefits. The value of sport in regional communities, though, cannot be underestimated. It is often the glue that brings communities together and holds them together. Sporting clubs also provide a sense of belonging for young people with problem backgrounds or those who are facing major challenges in their lives. They often find very genuine and caring mentors around sporting clubs.

We need to also give as much confidence as possible to the parents of children that their children are safe pursuing the sport of their choice both when they are young and in their community club or their sporting environment and throughout their time in their chosen sport or sports. We also know the value that sport and regular physical activity have and how highly valued they are by both parents and children, but we need to encourage safe, healthy options and, for career athletes, an illicit-drug-free environment. Drugs, as we know, put lives at risk and threaten something that is often overlooked by those who engage: it threatens the quality of life both during and after the sport itself. I note that the World Anti-Doping Code includes such substances as anabolic steroids, various growth hormones, diuretics and masking agents, stimulants, narcotics and other drugs.

Athletes will face tougher penalties, with all of the nation’s 91 sporting organisations signing up to the World Anti-Doping Agency code effective from 1 January. This international code, which is a prerequisite for Olympic participation, will double the ban from sport to four years for athletes caught intentionally doping. Importantly for coaching and sporting support and assistance personnel, anyone involved in administering prohibited substances or athletes who fail a second doping test can now receive a lifetime ban. Athletes will also be tested for illicit drugs as well as performance-enhancing drugs on match day and will have to nominate a time period for random drug testing each day. I note that John Fahey, the President of the World Anti-Doping Agency, has said that ‘Australia sets a strong example in the battle against drugs in sport’. He also said:

The information provided to ASADA by Customs and the Australian Federal Police allows a far greater likelihood of catching cheats than simply testing …

I note the health and wellbeing of AFL players is a priority in the code’s illicit drug policy and on their website. Mr Irons would agree with that. AFL Players Association President Joel Bowden said:

“AFL players are, no doubt, among the most highly-tested athletes in the world,”

…            …            …

“Not only do we have testing for performance-enhancing drugs with matchday in-competition testing, we also have out-of-competition testing with the illicit drug policy.

“It is, no doubt, the most strenuous testing policy in Australia and to have such a [large] group of players volunteer for this shows that not only are they concerned about the image of the game—

that wonderful game of AFL—

but also about the health and welfare of their fellow players.”

“Illicit drugs are an issue in society and they can be a problem if you don’t get on top of a bad decision or a poor choice in your life and make some improvements to that behaviour.”

Bowden said the strategy, which was formulated in consultation with respected medical practitioners and health professionals, had been effective in helping to improve player behaviour and education since its implementation.

“I support the AFL’s illicit drugs policy because fundamentally it’s based on the best medical advice,” he said.

“We’ve had the illicit drug policy in now for a number of years and we’ve seen that it’s changing the behaviour of our players and we’re having less numbers of positives including the fact that we’re having more tests.

“So the medical experts have agreed that this is the best policy and we’re sticking by it.

“The key benefit of the policy is [to] the health and welfare of our players.

A priority, Mr Irons.

That is paramount in any decision that we’ve made in coming to [the introduction] of an illicit drugs policy.

“We volunteered for the policy a number of years ago and we feel that there are wide-reaching benefits across our group. We acknowledge that illicit drugs are an issue in society, we know this and we want to combat it by saying no to illicit drugs.

“We’ve put the policy in place to make a firm stand that AFL players say no to illicit drugs.”

And I encourage them in that. With my personal significant interest in the AFL I encourage all players, coaches, trainers and personnel at every level of not only AFL but every sport to consider the health and welfare of players of all ages as their No. 1 priority as part of their duty of care. Often, our elite sports men and women have a limited time and opportunity at the peak level. There is much life after sport. There are many years of living beyond this highly competitive stage of your career or life. The longer term health and wellbeing of players should also be priorities for all involved, including the athletes themselves, who should take personal responsibility for the choices they make.

Educating young athletes about the risks of drug use needs to become an integral part of each sporting code’s standard procedure. Several agencies at various levels of government are engaged directly in this issue, but at a local level in my electorate of Forrest there are a number of groups actively encouraging the public to say no to drugs. In a very simple way a local group of residents continually promote a ‘say no to drugs, say yes to life’ message through a series of informative booklets. The booklets are aimed at young people and teenagers. This group has a shared focus with the National Drug Strategy to minimise drug use through education targeted at the ages young people are statistically likely to be exposed to drugs. I am extremely supportive of the work and efforts in this field of this and other groups in my electorate. Given the continuing very serious issue of illicit drugs in sport and in society, the coalition endorses the restructure and governance arrangements for ASADA, and therefore supports this legislation.