Monthly Archives: February 2013

Julia Gillard, Western Sydney and the Art of the Stunt

Prime Minister Julia Gillard is heading to western Sydney. From Sunday Julia Gillard will spend almost a week in Rooty Hill, an area of western Sydney frequented by politicians, particularly during recent election campaigns. Ms Gillard will temporarily relocate to the area from the Prime Minister’s residence in Kirribilli where the aim will be to try to reach out to some of Australia’s most important voters. The move is one of the most obvious examples of a stunt that you could find. But not only that, the mini campaign smacks of desperation and the timing of the visit is incredibly poor.

The poll numbers are bad for the Australian Labor Party and even the Prime Minister’s political stocks are falling against a more positive Opposition Leader in Tony Abbott. The latest Newspoll has the ALP two-party preferred numbers at 55% to 45% in the Coalition’s favour. But it gets worse for the government, because that poll also suggests that 80% of voters have already firmly made up their minds. It would be a brave punter backing a Labor victory at the September 14 poll.

Desperate times have certainly resulted in a desperate measure when it comes to Julia Gillard’s little sojourn to the western part of Australia’s biggest city. Nothing looks more desperate than the most senior government MP spending a week in an electorally important area at any stage in the electoral cycle, let alone this far out from the poll.

The announcement of Ms Gillard’s intentions could not have come at a worse time. Just a matter of weeks ago, the PM nominated a firm date for the 2013 election. During that speech at the National Press Club, the Prime Minister remarked that her decision to call the election this early would clearly lead to a differentiation between the days where the government would be engaging in the task of governing the country and those days where it would be campaigning for re-election. Well, it is now clear that mantra has been thrown out. Next week will be a week of campaigning on the part of the Prime Minister.

Let’s be honest though – regardless of Julia Gillard’s words, we were still going to be in campaign mode. In fact, we have been in campaign mode since day one of the 43rd parliament. Most of that campaigning has been coming from the opposition, but nonetheless, the naming of the election date will only give rise to more feverish campaigning, particularly on the Labor side of politics. Both the Liberal and National Parties will continue to campaign, as they have now for over two years.

Julia Gillard’s sudden immense interest in western Sydney, if not an act of abject desperation, is a stunt. Well actually, it’s almost certainly both an act of desperation as well as a stunt, a public relations exercise – call it what you will. That is a pretty lethal combination.

It is true that all politicians engage in stunts. Politicians often take part in stunts on a daily basis. Even press conferences can be little more than stunts from time to time. The hard-hat however seems to be the prop of choice for political stunts, albeit a necessary one – most of the time.

Voters are generally very cynical about even the most tame of stunts engaged in by our elected representatives. Most of us wish they were not a feature of politics, but they are an unfortunate but necessary reality. They are aimed at the less politically attuned. Political displays are used as a subliminal tool to try to convince the unwary voter of the bona fides’ of politicians.

A stunt should look more natural to even the most discerning voter. Political grandstanding is always going to look a little ugly to the clued up elector. Subtlety is the key to faux displays of political action.  There is nothing subtle about the Prime Minister spending five days in an area across town from her residence, when we know how important western Sydney is.

A very helpful point was made on The Drum tonight. One of the guests remarked that it was odd of the PM to decide to stay in western Sydney rather than make the daily commute. The argument was that the daily drive would have shown just how difficult it is to commute between the city and the suburbs. And that is true. Infrastructure and overcrowding is a big issue in Sydney, and increasingly so in the west of the harbour city.

Some very dodgy and panicked choices have been made by the Prime Minister and Labor and they have all been painfully obvious to the electorate. A more subtle approach to western Sydney would have been appropriate, though as it is – the little campaign on the other side of town will matter very little in the bigger picture.

The Indirect Conflict to Try and Win the Electoral War

Julia Gillard has a plan for education – well sort of. The Prime Minister announced her intention at the weekend to implement a new nationwide reading program. But there’s a catch: the commonwealth government does not implement school education – the states do. And there are varying degrees of disagreement from state Liberal Premiers. The PM has been picking her battles of late, choosing to give it to the Greens and now a broader and more deliberate and utterly transparent strategy is quite clearly to take on the Liberal Premiers. It is an indirect battle in the war against the federal Liberal Party. But is it the right battle to pick? Are there other options at the disposal of the federal ALP?

The new nationwide program will form part of the plan to improve education results across the country. The Gonski report recommendations on school funding have also caused a battle between the state and federal governments. The review called for an extra $6.5 billion dollars to be contributed to the education budget. Of course that cannot come from the states alone – the commonwealth has to contribute a share of the funds and funding agreements at COAG are at best a long and laborious process and at worst, pointless.

It is quite a shame that there is such a war about school education. Improving literacy and numeracy should be based on expert advice and the Gonski review provided that. Competitive federalism in this area should give way to cooperative federalism. School management and oversight on the other hand is a completely different beast and providing it does not interfere with teaching and learning, is fine to be based around ideology.

Funding is a problem. There is absolutely no commonwealth money to go towards implementing the recommendations of the report. Any of it will be borrowed and that presents a budgetary dilemma. But the education of our children should be looked upon as an investment.  There are other areas in the budget which are far less important and where spending is actually wasteful. These areas of spending could and should be cut to give the required funds to education. And that is the case for the state governments too.

But back to the politics of the education funding wrangle. This battle is a purely political construct. It is an attempt by Canberra, or more accurately, the ALP in Canberra to paint the state Liberals as bad. And by doing this, the Labor Party is clearly hoping that the bad look translates to the federal Coalition by default, although it’s not exactly default as they support the status quo. It’s an attempt to vicariously land a blow, because whatever they try, Labor cannot take a trick and they are landing no blows on the political face of the opposition.

There are not many options left for the Labor Party in terms of an electoral strategy. At best they would hope to valiantly continue the electoral fight with as much vigour as they can muster. Even a significant error by the opposition would appear unlikely to lose them the election. So the ALP fighting the federal Liberal Party and the state arms is one of a very limited range of options which will be utilised by the Gillard Government between now and the election.

Regardless of whether or not a fight should be provoked by any given policy, the Gillard Government willingly pursued this particularly battle strategy, sparking this added conflict in the Gonski war for their own electoral gain.

But it will not matter at all for the election result.

The Recurring Questions About the Joint Strike Fighter

In 2002 the Howard Government made the decision to purchase up to 100 Joint Strike Fighters (JSF) from the United States of America, making it the largest single defence purchase in the history of Australia. Now, a decade on, the JSF program is struggling to deal with major flaws in capabilities and the project is at least 5 years behind schedule. And to top it all off, the original cost of the jet has gone from $40 million each to almost $130 billion dollars per aircraft.

The troubled JSF program was the subject of a Four Corners documentary on Monday night which shows that the problems surrounding the construction of the plane are continuing. When it all boils down, the same questions are being asked about the program that have been for years now. But the questions become even more relevant with every mishap and every delay in the delivery of the Joint Strike Fighter.

The overriding question is: Should we have purchased the fighter jet when we did? But the situation involving the procurement of the JSF is far more complex. Another important question is: Should we have put the purchase of new aircraft out to tender? The final very important question is: Would a tender process have improved the situation?

There is absolutely no question that the decision is a budgetary disaster, with the cost per aircraft ballooning by about $90 billion dollars. We have had to purchase 24 Super Hornets as interim aircraft while we await the delivery of the F-35. Due to domestic budgetary constraints we have delayed delivery of twelve of the aircraft, but those delays will be trumped by the design delays.

In short, the government should not have made the F-35 procurement decision when they did. The decision to purchase was made too early and, according to a former Defence official interviewed by Four Corners, based on a reportedly persuasive conversation former ADF Chief Angus Houston had with a defence official from the United States of America. The government should have waited until there was more concrete information on the aircraft. Word of mouth is not particularly strong grounds for making decisions about buying new military capabilities.

The question of a tender process is both simple and complex. It is simple in the sense that a tender process would have been the most prudent option for what was the most significant single defence purchase made by an Australian government.

A formal tender process would have given Australia options, even if the JSF still turned out to be the most sought after option after competitive bidding. More importantly, there would have been greater oversight of the decision-making process. Competitive bidding would have also driven down cost somewhat and that would have been helpful given the cost blowout over the last decade.

But the shambles that is the F-35 purchase might not have been avoided under a competitive bidding regime. What we are dealing with is, above all, a manufacturing and design problem. There is absolutely no guarantee that competition in the bidding process would have meant the absence of flaws in the aircraft’s design. In fact, we can be certain that a bidding process would have had no impact on the design of the plane.

The distinct lack of process is striking when it comes to the Joint Strike Fighter. Even without knowing what the documentary revealed, we should acknowledge there have been problems with the procurement of the JSF. We should have started a tender process leading up to the 2002 decision which still could have been made. We would have saved some money, but could have easily encountered the same problems unless we had bought an aircraft already under production.

The funny thing is, for all the extra money and time, we should still end up with a very advanced air capability at the end of the drawn out process – providing the technology is not superseded.

Manufacturing a Half-Baked Manufacturing Policy

Another weekend, another big political announcement. The Gillard Government today unveiled what is to be their big plan, their attempt to keep manufacturing viable in Australia. The plan involves money, lots of it, and will also require legislation of a somewhat coercive nature enacted by the parliament. When it all boils down, what we are left with is an expensive set of ideas which will not have much benefit for the Australian manufacturing industry. On top of that, government interference in industry decision-making markedly increases – again for little material benefit.

The Gillard Government’s attempt to keep manufacturing jobs in Australia will cost $1 billion. To fund this new manufacturing policy, the government announced it will remove a tax concession for big businesses with a turnover of more than $20 billion, which is aimed at promoting research and development.

The government would want to be absolutely sure that removing this tax break will not hamper the research and development efforts of Australian companies. Who knows, perhaps research and development conducted in Australia might discover a way to produce Australian manufactures more cost effectively.

The move to end the tax concession is also effectively a hit on the bottom line of those companies.

Under new legislation to be introduced into the parliament, large companies with projects worth more than $500 million and business opportunities which receive $20 million in state or federal funding, will be required to give local firms the ability to bid for contracts before any off-shoring can occur. They will be required to compile Australian Industry Participation Plans. All this does is increase the length of time businesses will have to take in order to make commercial decisions.

Individual ventures which are worth $2 billion dollars or more will be required by law to employ Australian Industry Opportunity Officers. They must do this in order to receive a five percent tariff reduction on imports. Further, these businesses will need to report on their efforts twice a year. Again we have another cost to business and more red tape to negotiate.

Neither of these two initiatives place any emphasis on improving the competitiveness of Australian manufacturing. For there to be any real benefit to the whole economy, it is essential that aiming to improve the manufacturing side of the equation is not neglected by government policy. All efforts the government can make which help cut the cost of business should be explored and implemented.

The Gillard Government also plans to spend $500 million dollars of the money raised to establish ten industry precincts in manufacturing hubs around Australia, starting with Melbourne and Adelaide. This will go part of the way to improving the manufacturing industry in Australia. It will bring manufacturers closer together so that collaboration is easier. This is however just a small element in the overall policy framework required to improve the lot of manufacturing in this country of ours.

Other elements of the policy include plans to help SME’s attract business and an increased vigour in the area of venture capital which is an integral part of modern business.

Like other policies the government has announced, the manufacturing policy is an attempt to influence decision-making that only looks at half of the policy equation. It’s also a further attempt to pursue big government at the expense of smart government.

It is quite intriguing that the plan which will cost $1 billion over four years, according to government figures, may add as little as $1.6 billion dollars to industry. This is not a particularly large sum when taking into account both the cost of the new framework and the susceptibility of the industry to internal and external shocks.

A Not So Plucky Swan

Wayne Swan has had a bad year so far and so has the government he is a part of. Just one and a half months into an election year, the Treasurer in the Gillard Government looked uncharacteristically flustered, utterly chastened in Question Time today, especially after another faux pas at the despatch box in the parliament.

This week Mr Swan has copped it from both sides of politics, after late last week revealing that the Minerals Resource Rent Tax has raised just $126 million so far which is just a fraction of the full-year estimate of $2 billion. The opposition has chided the Gillard’s man in Treasury for getting the numbers so wrong and now members of his own caucus are openly pushing for an amendment to the tax. There is no doubt that political damage has been suffered.

Polls show that the tax is popular, so if the government chose to amend the profits-based tax it is unlikely to result in the loss of any political skin. An ugly battle with the mining companies would eventuate though

The problem would not be so terrible had the figures just been ordinary. The political damage has been compounded because the MRRT was supposed to fund a number of initiatives proposed by the government. Now, that revenue has to come from elsewhere and there is just no money to be found in the budget.

The mining tax problem gave rise to claims of another possible tax problem, but the confusion and uncertainty appears to be all the making of a Treasurer stung by the last couple of weeks in politics. Asked if the government would increase the personal income tax rate, Swan initially refused to rule it out on breakfast radio and this provided more than enough fodder for the opposition. Later in the day, the matter was cleared up, but the verbal diarrhoea had already done its damage.

The Coalition should however tread very carefully around the matter of tax increases. Perhaps they should not even bring it  up. There is a tax on the cards unless the Coalition ditch their expensive paid parental leave scheme or radically amend it before the election.

But Wayne Swan’s day did not end there. In Question Time the Treasurer miscommunicated the unemployment rate, falsely stating that it was 5.1% when it is in fact standing at 5.4%.

Such a mistake is relatively common in politics. But when a simple error like that comes on top of a couples of weeks of political hell, a small problem is easily magnified. And he was not helped by the lethargic performance he gave in correcting the record. He was not his usual overly confident, often cocky self. He looked downtrodden.

There have been calls for Wayne Swan to resign. This will not happen and it should not happen. Neither a resignation or a sacking would help the situation for the government, which has already subjected the voting public to enough confusion in the six weeks or so since the start of the year. A new face in the Treasury portfolio would not make a difference.

Anything the government does wrong now just feeds into the narrative of a government in chaos, hurtling toward an electoral drubbing. The best thing that they can do is try to appear as stable as possible and that will be very difficult, nigh on impossible.

Obama’s ‘Shopping List’

US President Barack Obama has delivered his fifth State of the Union address on Capitol Hill. As is custom, nay, the whole point of the speech – the President talked of the current state of affairs in the United States of America, focusing mainly on the economic position of the nation. There was a brief glance at America’s role in foreign affairs and diplomacy, in terms of Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran. And then Mr Obama laid out the plans and aspirations he has for his second and final term as President of the United States. The hour-long speech was replete with promises, some within reach and many others not even close to attainable.

The speech was much along the lines of that which he delivered in his second innauguration address on the hill. Again his words were based on hope and optimism, but the themes was far less muted than they were a little over four years ago before he became President. Aside from some specifics on the economy, gun control and climate change were key issues which Obama focused on. Again same-sex marriage rated a mention, albeit a not overly explicit one.

On the ABC24’s flagship current affairs program, The Drum there was a discussion and dissection of the speech, what it meant, what was in it and what parts of its’ contents will prove achievable for a President with nothing to lose. Most of that discussion had the realities of the situation in mind. It was abundantly clear to all panellists how difficult it would be for Obama to achieve much of the agenda set out today.

Jonathan Green, one of the guests on the show, described Obama’s list of policy goals as a “shopping list”. This is both an ill-fitting metaphor and an apt one for the policy agenda outlined by President Obama in the State of the Union address.

A shopping list is usually a list of things that you will buy and that are readily available on any given day. You go to the shops and they are there and you can usually afford them. They are within reach of everyone. Most of the items on Obama’s shopping list will simply prove to be well and truly out of reach.

There has been some reform on gun control in the form of executive orders, but more significant reform which requires legislative approval will likely prove impossible. Meaningful action on climate change and same-sex marriage will likely suffer the same fate. It is however a positive step that the conversation on both issues has recommenced after being neglected during the election campaign of 2012.

In a sense, the issues outlined by Barack Obama do constitute a metaphorical shopping list. Some of the prescriptions raised by Obama are entirely necessary, like staples on a shopping list. There needs to be action on climate change and gun control and immigration law changes to name but a few topics raised.

Many of the items on Obama’s shopping list were what you would term ‘luxury items’. This is true in a metaphorical sense anyway. They are such because they will prove unobtainable. These are items that are of course desirable – ones which you really want, but which are, for some reason, almost unobtainable.

How many items can President Obama tick off the list? In reality he faces a tough battle with Republicans on the hill in just about every major policy area.

Travel Ban Might be Just the Ticket

A Coalition meeting was today told by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott that overseas travel is a no-no from now until the election. It is an interesting strategy and could tell us more about the political situation in Canberra than we think. It could also be just as much the case that the move is a prudent strategy in terms of connecting with the Australian electorate.

In announcing the overseas travel ban to his colleagues, Mr Abbott cited the possibility of an election at any time as reason enough to prevent his MP’s from  journeying around the world. Of course Prime Minister Gillard has already announced that the election will be on September 14, which leaves plenty of time for travel between now and polling day. So  it does appear a little odd, the alternative Prime Minister putting a stop to the jet-setting travel habits’ of MP’s.

But stranger things have happened. A Rudd return might actually have slightly more chance than Buckley’s. Kevin Rudd has ramped up the PR assault over the early part of 2013 and that has escalated spectacularly over the last 24 hours. Of course the chances are still remote, but it’s politics and a lot of intriguing things have happened over the last 5 years.

If there were to be a second stint from Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, Labor would want to make a quick transition from a Rudd return to a federal election. If a Prime Ministerial switch were to happen, calling an election would likely be an immediate move. In that event, the Coalition would want to have all MP’s ready and available to hit the campaign trail from the moment the election is called.

The move also has a not insignificant subtext. N0 overseas travel also implies a focus on promoting domestic policy concerns rather than “learning” about obscure nations that mean little to nothing for us in a diplomatic and political sense. Also, international travel is far from necessary for all MP’s. Indeed, most MP’s do not need to engage in travel.

Blocking overseas travel may be a prudent move, not just in terms of electoral readiness, but in terms of cutting down the potential for a public relations disaster which might annoy the public. The general public is at the very least suspicious, even downright against politicians embarking on ridiculously blatant junkets and so-called “study tours” overseas.

Okay, banning travel for a short period of time is probably not a massive vote winner, but it is a sensible move that might translate into some votes on election day.

A limited group of Liberal and National Party MP’s should however be exempt from any travel ban. Those in mind are the Opposition Leader himself, his deputy Julie Bishop who also happens to be Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, any other MP with a shadow portfolio which has an overseas focus, and parliamentarians on committees which require travel that would be in the national interest.

Restrictions on these representatives should still exist, but some reasonable leeway given.

In fact, while they are at it, the Coalition should plan to introduce tougher restrictions on MP travel. But of course they will not. The travel bug is a virulent thing. Politicians are struck down by it constantly. In many cases they could avoid the illness by not exposing themselves to so many perks. But why would they want to change that? The consequence is that they will continue to be infected.

We now see the underlying intent to focus on domestic issues. The next step is to put the policy meat on the bone. This should be a gradual thing as we move toward September.

That will be easier communicate with politicians’ feet firmly planted on Australian soil.

Zero Dark Thirty: Some Thoughts

I went to see Zero Dark Thirty on the weekend. For those unacquainted, and there’s probably few in that category who read this blog – Zero Dark Thirty is a movie that tells the story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, including the daring and surgical strike perpetrated by Navy SEALs  which ultimately killed the world’s most wanted terrorist. As always you have expectations of a movie based on both how interested you are to see the film and the opinions’ of other people who have seen the movie before you.

I have an amateur interest in all things military, including hardware and historical operations – a little strange for someone who likes peace a lot. I have described myself before, in conflict studies parlance as a dove with hawkish tendencies. I do however believe that a damn good reason needs to exist in order to justify acting in a hawkish manner.

So of course, given my interest in military missions , Zero Dark Thirty was a movie that I was really keen to see. Of course, I leave out value judgements here about the rights and wrongs of the mission and its aims which were and are contentious. The release of the movie has indeed sparked a little debate about the raid in Pakistan too.

Of course I was also interested to see if what I had heard people saying about the film was true from my viewing of it. I had heard, overall that it was a good film and you would expect that anyway from someone of the directing calibre of Kathryn Bigelow. Kathryn Bigelow is the woman who brought us The Hurt Locker, a gritty no-nonsense portrayal of the lives’ of bomb technicians in Iraq.

The movie was filmed in a very raw manner like The Hurt Locker. There was no colour and nor should there be in a film of the nature of Zero Dark Thirty. It was also very matter-of-fact, again something you would attribute to a well-made film about a subject that needs to be dealt with seriously and with no undue emotions.

Around the time of the release of this movie, debate started to spring up on the internet about the use of torture in the film. I was curious to see whether the movie, through its portrayal of torture techniques, had glorified torture as some writers have claimed in the time since the movie premiered. The glorification of violence is something often attributed to films so you initially consider the possibility that it might actually be so. And then you think how sanitised the world has become. We could not possibly cope with material like violence in a serious and adult manner, like some would have you believe.

Frankly, the claims about the glorification of torture in the movie are absolute nonsense. There is no gratuitous use of violence. The torture scenes are present in the film, but they are dealt with in a manner befitting the reality of interrogation techniques used by the US Government at the time. Nobody in my group of friends who saw the film was anything other than taken aback, even disturbed by the brutal honesty.

For what it’s worth, I thought the film was executed quite well as a whole project. It was a bit disjointed, lunging from episode to episode in the saga that was the hunt for Bin Laden, but overall it told the story with very little BS. There was, of course some artistic license used in the creation of the film, but I felt this was unnecessary and eroded a little too much of the authenticity of the film and its subject.

Oh, and the cinema could have turned the volume down quite significantly.

Pretending Not to Fail at Asylum Seeker Policy

Prime Minister Julia Gillard spent some time with our friends across the Tasman over the weekend. The Prime Minister met with her New Zealand counterpart John Key in Queenstown for the annual Australia-New Zealand Leaders’ meeting. Among other things, the meeting triggered a warning to phone companies to bring down roaming charges or face regulations and also a $3 million pledge to try to develop a vaccine for rheumatic fever.

But it is the asylum seeker and refugee conundrum which will always garner the most attention in the media and tend to dominate talks with other nations in our region. And of course this trip was no exception.

Both the Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers’ managed to reach a new deal with regard to refugees. It was agreed between the two leaders that New Zealand will accept and resettle 150 refugees from Australia. The agreement, commencing in January 2014 will see the transfer of genuine refugees from the Australian mainland and also the offshore immigration facilities on Nauru and Manus Island.

On the face of it, the deal looks pretty ordinary, but at least like an attempt to deal with the movement of asylum seekers in the region. But it is not even close to a deal that understands the policy problem facing governments in the Asia-Pacific.

The deal fails in two key areas. First, it is an attempt to appear to be trying to do something in terms of the domestic policy situation surrounding refugee policy which is a fraught area for government. Second, it appears to be an attempt to deal with the regional nature of the asylum seeker equation which is a traditionally much more difficult part of the “solution” to reach agreement on.

Australia agreeing to send 150 refugees to New Zealand gives the appearance of acting on the domestic implications of irregular people movements. But in reality the deal will do nothing of the sort. It will not cut down the overcrowding of detention centres in Australia and our offshore facilities. The number, 150, is simply too low for that aim to ever be achieved.

Voters will know that it is the performance of a political illusion. It is an attempt to appeal to the irrational fear of outsiders that a number of our politicians seem all too willing to gently prompt with their often deliberate choice of language when describing maritime arrivals. Politicians care far too much about the votes in being tough on asylum seekers. In fact they should not be tough at all – there is no crime involved, so no punishment is required.

The pact reached at the weekend also fails the regional test. The deal, involving the transfer of genuine refugees from Australia to New Zealand is given the veneer of a regional solution, but it is nothing of the sort. In fact, the only thing remotely regional about the policy is that it involves more than one country in our region.

With the deal there will be no increase in the number of genuine refugees that New Zealand takes in on an annual basis. The 150 refugees that New Zealand will accept from 2014 will be a part of their annual intake of 750. That adds nothing to the regional quota and will still see a large number of boats arriving in Australia.

A significant addition to the refugee intake in the region is what is needed. And with a number of countries in Asia not signatories to the Refugee Convention, it is discussion to get those countries onboard, and a deal with New Zealand on a quota increase which is required to do anything significant about people movement in the region. Of course Australia has recently decided to increase its humanitarian quota, but the election result will likely see it return to the previous number.

But the regional part of the policy discussion is not the only important and meaningful part of the puzzle. Even those politicians with a keen interest in the regional dynamics of the discussion are missing the point. Far too often the regional options are discussed at the expense of the international. Refugee policy is an international problem because conflict is an international problem across all regions of the world.

The agreement contains two false attempts at pursuing refugee policy in a meaningful way, both domestically and regionally. Couple that with an international failure to acknowledge and deal with the movement of people in the early stages and you can be sure we will continue to see large numbers of asylum seekers making the dangerous journey to Australia by sea.

Our National Cultural Pastime Is Not So Clean After All

A very worrying report by the Australian Crime Commission was released today. The document details extensive doping in Australian sport and comes after a year-long investigation by the ACC. The investigation found that not only is doping and other illicit drug use prevalent in Australian sport, but that it has been in some cases, allegedly aided and abetted by team officials. Perhaps the most worrying part is that criminal networks are actively pushing the importation of the illegal substances. Further, it is also alleged in the report that new drugs, not yet approved for human consumption, also form a part of the problem.

No longer as Australians can we say that we are a clean nation when it comes to doping in sport. It appears that as a nation we have buried our collective heads in the sand, not wanting to believe that our sporting heroes could possibly be engaged in the consumption of illegal substances. There have of course been a number of what appeared at the time to be rather isolated incidents to date.

Now, however, we know that the taking of illicit substances is a much bigger problem. We just do not know which individuals, which teams and which sports will be the most heavily impacted by today’s disturbing revelations.

What makes today’s very public pronouncement so problematic, aside from the abuse of illegal substances, is that sport is so entrenched in Australian culture. Our sports’ heroes are treated as godlike by an adoring public. Sport is the most attended, most watched cultural event on the Australian calendar.  Surely some of that deification, that praise and worshiping will subside, at least until we discover exactly which sports are the main culprits. That may translate into lower attendances at sporting events too.

Our political leaders involved in sport and in crime prevention joined together today with the heads of some of the major sporting codes in Australia to show a united front. It was a show of force to publicly say that the status quo cannot continue – that something substantial has to be done to tackle the use of illicit substances and prevent widespread doping.

When considering the fact that there is a concern about the use of drugs not yet deemed fit for human consumption, and to some extent those already on the banned substances list – a beefing up of Customs’ examination of cargo is a good start, but by no means a panacea.Getting them approved for usage or put on the banned substances list for sports is also of the utmost importance. But cracking down on this area of drug use will probably prove the hardest task of all, aside from the government doing what it can to prevent the dissemination of these substances.

Naivety must not be tolerated as an excuse by athletes, for doping especially, but even more so for recreational drugs. In terms of the former, athletes are constantly warned to check if a particular drug is on the banned substances list. They are told if they are in any doubt about using a drug, then they should not use that particular product.

The revelations today point to that fact that drug testing may not be as widespread as we were made to believe. Or perhaps that it needs to be more widespread. Sure, testing will not be able to identify all performance enhancing substances, especially in the case of new drugs not yet available in the legal market, but there’s clearly shortfalls here and that is a shame. A big part of improving the testing regime will be trying to keep up on the testing front, with the array of substances available in the market, legally or otherwise. Perhaps a nationally aligned regime of testing and penalties across all professional sports is required.

Obviously drug use in sport will always be a problem, regardless of the amount of resources devoted to trying to stamp it out. But all that can be done simply has to be tried to minimise the damage done to what is truly a national cultural pastime – enjoying sport.

%d bloggers like this: