Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 7 March 2005
Page: 7

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (12:59 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

The Coalition government is committed to developing a more combat focussed, better equipped, and more mobile and operationally ready Australian Defence Force. There is a clear public and government expectation that the Australian Defence Force should be drug free. Misuse of drugs poses a significant risk to the operational effectiveness of the Australian Defence Force because of the potential consequences if, for example, a Defence Force member under the influence of drugs were to be in a safety or operationally critical area. Involvement with drugs has the potential to reduce performance, impair health and increase security risks. It also has adverse consequences for morale, discipline and public confidence in the Australian Defence Force.

The creation of a strong and effective drug testing regime for Australian Defence Force members will act as a strong deterrent to prohibited substance use or misuse of prescription drugs. In order to meet this challenge, the Government considers that change is needed to extend the scope of the current legislative drug testing regime for the Australian Defence Force.

The original purpose of Part VIIIA of the Defence Act 1903, the principal Act relating to the administration of the Australian Defence Force, was to allow urinalysis testing of Australian Defence Force members in a limited range of circumstances. These provisions were developed in the early 1990’s at a time when drug testing was in its infancy. They reflect a conservative approach that is now seen to be overly prescriptive and inflexible. In particular, Part VIIIA currently only permits members on combat or combat related duties to be tested and testing is confined to particular narcotic substances. It does not allow testing for steroids, benzodiazepines and other non-narcotic drugs. Further, where members test positive, only limited administrative action can be taken.

These limitations under the legislative drug testing regime were a major reason why a command initiated program of drug testing was implemented. This program was used for drug testing until September last year, when a Defence Force Magistrate finding was made that there is no scope for such testing outside Part VIIIA of the Defence Act. The command initiated program has therefore been temporarily suspended whilst changes to Part VIIIA have been pursued to ensure that the legislation better reflects Defence Force policy regarding drug use.

The purpose of this Bill is therefore to amend Part VIIIA of the Defence Act, to provide a more comprehensive prohibited substance testing regime. I turn now to the key features of the Bill.

The proposed amendments to Part VIIIA of the Defence Act will expand the range of drugs that may be tested for beyond narcotic substances. Testing will now also include steroids and other prohibited substances as determined by the Chief of the Defence Force, including the group commonly called ‘party drugs’.

These amendments will broaden the circumstances when testing of Defence Force members could be required beyond those circumstances where members are on combat and combat related duties to include all members of the Australian Defence Force and defence civilians who accompany members overseas (but only where those defence civilians have consented to being subject to military discipline).

The Bill makes provision for testing by means other than urinalysis and will allow new tests to be incorporated into the testing regime by means of a determination by the Chief of the Defence Force as these tests are developed and gain Australian accreditation. It will also enable details of the drug testing regime to be set out in Defence Instructions issued under section 9A of the Defence Act to provide for flexibility in the testing regime’s administration and enable it to keep pace with modern developments in drugs and drug testing.

The amendments will clarify the power to take action to terminate or discharge a member of the Australian Defence Force or take other administrative action where a member returns a confirmed positive test result. These changes do not affect the requirement to ensure that tests be conducted in circumstances affording reasonable privacy to the person being tested, nor do they abrogate the opportunity for a person to show cause where that person has returned a confirmed positive test result.

This Bill further makes provision for incorporation into Defence Instructions of any instrument in force from time to time and allows the power to issue Defence Instructions to be delegated. Finally, the Bill allows functions under Part VIIIA relating to the testing for prohibited substances to be delegated to senior officers of the Australian Defence Force.

Drug testing is a sensitive and topical issue. These amendments to Part VIIIA of the Defence Act aim to deter the illegal use or misuse of prohibited substances. The amendments are an indication of this Government’s commitment to the safety of our Defence members and ensuring that Australia has a Defence Force that is both efficient and operationally effective in its capacity to defend Australia and its national interests. They are part of a larger strategy to address these issues. For example, the ‘ADF Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Service’ provides education, training, resources and advice to Defence Force members and commanders regarding issues relating to alcohol, tobacco and other drug awareness. This service was introduced in May 2002 as part of the ‘ADF Mental Health Strategy’. Australian Defence Force members are provided with annual information sessions regarding both alcohol and drug policy and testing programs. These sessions support the information sessions provided during initial training of all new recruits.

The success of this strategy is evident from the relatively low use of prohibited drugs found under the suspended command initiated drug testing program. This success is compared against the statistics available relating to the use of prohibited drugs in the general population. From February to September last year, 7637 members were tested, and only 110 of those tested returned confirmed positive test results. This represents only 1.44% of those members tested. In comparison, a Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing survey (2000) reported that 23% of Australians over 14 years of age had used prohibited drugs in the preceding 12 months.

I conclude by saying that there are currently 52 000 permanent members in the Australian Defence Force and 20 000 Reserve members, some of whom are deployed from the Solomon Islands to Iraq and many deployed to places in between. These members serve with professionalism and courage. The measures in this Bill will assist our Defence Force members in furthering their high standards and professionalism.