Screaming halt to crucial work

SURELY it would be reasonable to expect that a former policeman would have enough understanding of the importance of process to make a good fist of appointments to tribunals while in action as a federal minister.

But at the height of the most public scrutiny of sports doping in Australia, Sports Minister Peter Dutton seems to have left the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency without a workable review panel to progress its work.

The Anti-Doping Rule Violation Panel is set up under the ASADA Act to work a bit like a magistrates court in a committal hearing to establish whether there are sufficient grounds to pursue a case against someone accused of a sports doping offence. Without it acting, an investigation treads water.

It appears that while only three members are needed to actually consider a matter, the panel must have at least four currently appointed to it to validly function.

A couple of weeks ago it appeared to have seven, according to the government appointments website, but four of them have since disappeared from the list, presumably because their terms expired.

What is extraordinary is that despite Prime Minister Abbott's apparent desire to make ASADA and its processes more efficient by the appointment of former federal judge Garry Downes to hurry things along, some of its most crucial work has come to a screaming halt because of ministerial oversight.

We can imagine that the government is a bit wary about routinely reappointing existing members to boards, tribunals and the like - after all, many of them would have been ensconced in those roles by the now federal opposition during their six years on the government benches.

But here we are talking about a highly specialist panel comprised of sports law, sports medicine and law enforcement experts.

Surely there can't be too many political operatives among a group like that, nor should a government be looking for any to replace them.

Then there was the option to simply extend the terms of the panel members for a short period to get through this vitally important time in the management of some of the highest-profile doping matters yet considered.

But minister Dutton either was not made aware of the problem or, if he was, did not think it of sufficient importance to do anything about it with any urgency.

Now with a swag of public holidays approaching, the chances of the panel getting back to work relatively quickly seem dim.

It wouldn't be the first time that minister Dutton has had a problem with his numbers.

When he tried to swap federal electorates in 2009 to a much safer seat, he lost out in the preselection process despite having some very high-profile support from within the party for the move.

As of last night, the Australian Government Board's website still indicated that the panel had only three members, although it is understood that a former high- profile sports administrator has been approved as a fourth member at least.

Those who blame ASADA for this latest mess are pointing the finger in the wrong direction.

At a time when the anti-doping watchdog needs more resourcing and support, it has been hampered by at best ministerial indifference.

ASADA, sport and the Australian public deserve better.

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