I wish to speak about the recent findings of the Australian Crime Commission outlining the concerning presence of performance-enhancing drugs in our sporting codes and the alleged influence of organised crime. I do not want to doubt the findings and the great work of the Australian Crime Commission, as extensive research has gone into the report that was announced via a government-led press conference with the heads of the major sporting codes. However, I question the judgement of the commonwealth government for the announcement and its timing.
This very issue was raised by the Hon. Alexander Downer in his piece in The Advertiser on 18 February. In the article the Hon. Mr Downer highlights that the government’s announcement that the use of performance-enhancing drugs and the resultant influence of organised crime was rife was not solely heard by a domestic audience, which the commonwealth clearly had overlooked. As a result Australia’s stellar international sporting reputation has been irrevocably tarnished.
This revelation, enhanced by ministers Lundy and Clare’s witch hunt-style rhetoric, has led to alarming and almost celebrity headlines in the British press. The government’s rhetoric, coupled with the Crime Commission’s inability to comment on the specifics of its investigation, has caused alarmism and assumptions in the absence of fact and information, the consequence of which is that suddenly all players and all sporting clubs are now under suspicion.
The vast majority of our athletes and sporting clubs, especially those of a community nature, have a right to be seriously outraged by the government’s rhetoric, and deservedly so. As the Hon. Mr Downer has said, it is nothing short of incompetence for the government to put all of our sportsmen and women under a cloud of suspicion, and term what should have been a concerning report worthy of serious investigation into a reckless and gratuitous publicity stunt to distract the public from the festering sore that is the Gillard government.
The Hon. Jeff Kennett has also made comments critical of the commonwealth’s actions. The seriousness of the situation is such that any further investigation or prosecution is now at risk due to the publicity generated. It now gives all established syndicates and guilty parties the opportunity to cover their tracks. This is not how criminal investigations work, so why would the commonwealth go about it this way?
The question then remains: is this a criminal investigation? If the situation is dire enough to warrant a press conference with Australia’s top sports administrators, one would assume it is. Given the commonwealth’s rhetoric, one would assume it is. As the Hon. Mr Downer points out, if drugs and organised crime in sport are so rife, why are the South Australian police authorities not flat out on this investigation?
Finally, the recklessness of the government’s actions has concerned the sponsors of Australian sport. We have seen two sponsors of NRL teams reviewing their deals with the respective clubs. Renault admitted that they had second thoughts about their deal with the Port Adelaide Football Club following the press conference, not to mention how concerned Essendon Football Club’s sponsors would be at the moment.
This saga is a classic example of the consequences when government overreaches and when ministers begin to believe that they are crusaders rather than administrators and legislators. The chief executives of Australia’s major sporting bodies make decisions in the best interest of their given codes. Drugs and organised crime are not a good image for their respective sports; accordingly, they will work hard to stamp them out.
Similarly, much of the time, the possession, consumption and trafficking of these substances are crimes, and therefore the nation’s collective police forces, as well as the Australian Crime Commission, should also be investigating and apprehending the perpetrators. As for the ministers, I fail to see how grandstanding at a press conference with a holier-than-thou attitude about catching alleged criminals in sport is within their job descriptions.