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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.

Surveillance Cameras, Crime, Fear, False Promises and Assumptions

It is just a matter of weeks since the rape and murder of ABC staffer Jill Meagher, the truly saddening case of a young woman going out for drinks with colleagues, never to return home to husband of 3 years, Tom Meagher again. There’s a man before the courts facing charges over the assault and death, a swift end to the most difficult of investigations for police. It was CCTV footage that helped identify the perpetrator, not in the Brunswick street, but from a local shopfront. Inevitably, such a high-profile case has provoked some discussion, mostly sober, of the appropriateness or otherwise of the increased presence of these devices in our community.

Today Opposition Leader Tony Abbott pledged to spend $50 million over 4 years, via grants to local council areas, to be used for the purchase and installation of CCTV cameras in cities across the country. This reinstates a program of the former Howard Government, not the first planned resurrection of policy from the Howard years.

Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu though, as leader of the state where Jill Meagher disappeared, beat his federal colleague off the mark, in swift response to the heinous crime. Premier Baillieu has pledged $3 million for local councils, in an identical scheme to that of the federal Opposition Leader, again for local councils to procure more security cameras for the streets of Victoria.

The whole matter raises the age-old question: at what price do we diminish liberty?

To some extent that is a false question. Security cameras do not stop people from going about legal activities in a public place. Indeed, the presence of security cameras does not even stop people doing things that are illegal.

When looking at the privacy side of the equation, things get a little more blurred. There are some surveillance cameras in very strange places, locations which tread a very fine line and can stray into the territory of absurd over-utilisation. That in itself should be the biggest worry, rather than the simple existence of prying eyes in our streets and other public locations.

In the debate over whether or not to make use of, or increase the abundance of security cameras, there’s another interesting element. Avid supporters of increasing the saturation of CCTV cameras will say that they are a very good crime prevention tool. They will try to argue that the simple presence of these facilities cuts down crime before it happens there is simply little or no evidence of this.

What they are, as the Meagher case has proved, is a vital tool, when not overused and abused, for aiding law enforcement. They can capture illegal practices and aid in the identification of offenders. Sometimes this will lead to the quick apprehension of offenders, when manned by alert staff, usually of councils. Other times, they can lead to the arrest of alleged criminals days, weeks, months or years later.

Security footage also helps build a picture of events that may have preceded a crime. Referring back to the death of Jill Meagher, this is exactly what happened. The footage formed part of the story of the last hours in the life of the Melbourne resident. That narrative is crucial for investigators in filling in the blanks in cases that are tough to solve if a sequence of events is not established quickly.

Surveillance cameras and facilities do not make communities safer as you would be made to believe. In this sense, the use of them, the simple talk of beefing up capabilities is used to appeal to an emotion. Rhetoric about CCTV footage is successfully applied, appealing to the human need to feel safe and secure in our daily lives. Human beings are susceptible to being very passive and accepting when fears we have are harnessed by politicians.

The CCTV issue is a difficult one and there are no easy answers. There seems to be a right and a wrong way for governments to go about implementing further plans for the over-watch of the streets and public facilities of our towns and cities.

The highly publicised murder of Jill Meagher will serve as a catalyst for more surveillance cameras around our country and that’s not automatically a bad thing. At the same time, our politicians have a responsibility to not make false promises which appeal to easily manipulated emotions.

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