Australian Politicians’ Bad Behavior Leads to Push for Breathalyzer Tests

December 09, 2008 07:29 AM
by Anne Szustek
Parliament holiday party excess has spurred some politicians in the country to call for random breathalyzer checks before legislative sessions.

Australia: ‘Don’t Drink and Legislate’

Andrew Fraser, a parliamentarian for the Australian state of New South Wales, stepped down from his position as front bench for the opposition National Party after allegedly shoving fellow party member Katrina Hodgkinson in the aftermath of a New South Wales Federation Christmas party.

The jostling apparently happened when Hodgkinson tried to break up what British paper The Daily Telegraph called a “heated exchange” between Fraser and John Aquilina, a member of parliament for Australia’s ruling Labor Party.

Fraser has rejected any accusations that he was intoxicated during the altercation. But that incident, coupled with other recent incidents among Australian officials that apparently occurred while the involved parties were under the influence have given way to politicians’ calls for MPs to undergo random breathalyzer testing before being allowed to enter parliamentary sessions.

This September, Matt Brown had to step down from his position as state police minister after allegedly dancing in underpants on a couch while drunk at a party at his office in parliament.

John Kaye, an MP for Australia’s Green Party, was quoted by The Daily Telegraph as saying, “Honestly, if you are going to have breathalysers for people driving cranes, you should have breathalysers for people writing laws.” On the condition that the tests remain voluntary, House Speaker Richard Torbay said that he saw no problem with the measure.

Barry O’Farrell, the leader of the coalition opposition for the New South Wales parliament, has also voiced his support for such a measure, and consented to take the tests himself.

New South Wales Health Minister John Della Bosca has come out against the plan, saying that “random breath testing is inappropriate for certain types of workplaces,’” he was quoted as saying by The Australian. “My view is that you should always be sober, and careful and clearheaded on the job, especially in a job like parliament, [or] the judiciary.”

Background: Drug and alcohol testing for government officials

This is not the first time an Australian state has brought up a measure to institute substance testing for elected officials. In 2003, a proposal was brought in front of the parliament of Northern Territory that would see random testing for use of opiates, cannabis and amphetamines.

In the United States, mandatory drug testing for state and local politicians who showed no evidence of substance abuse problems was deemed unconstitutional under a 1997 Supreme Court ruling in Chandler v. Miller. The ruling struck down a Georgia state law requiring that those running for office submit to a urinalysis test 30 days before officially filing their candidacy.
“However well-meant, the candidate drug test Georgia has devised diminishes personal privacy for a symbol’s sake. The Fourth Amendment shields society against that state action,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Chief Justice William Rehnquist was the lone dissenter.

The U.S. Constitution has also been invoked in protest of a June 2007 suggestion made by a special panel appointed by New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to institute breathalyzer testing for on- or off-duty police officers whose gunfire results in injury or death.

“I think it’s a violation of their Fifth Amendment [rights],” Detectives’ Endowment Association Mike Palladino was quoted as saying by the New York Post. “The mere fact that an officer fires his weapon does not automatically rise to the level of reasonable suspicion.”

Italy has also seen a parliamentary bill that was to have required all deputies to undergo drug testing or have their testing refusals made public. The measure, backed by the Italian UDC Christian Democrat Party, was voted down in July 2007.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines