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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2282

Dr CHARLESWORTH —Is the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism aware of possible consequences for Australian sport and sports people from the $2m damages awarded to a New South Wales school football player? Has the Minister taken any action, or is any proposed, to protect sports and players?

Mr JOHN BROWN —I thank the honourable member for his question not only because he is one of Australia's great elite sportsmen, but also because of his continuing interest in sport for children, and particularly the safety factors involved. I am sure that all members of this House will share my sorrow at the fact that a young lad from the south coast of New South Wales became a paraplegic through playing football at school, with all the consequent horror that that involved for his family, and the possible damage it may cause to the future of children playing sport in schools.

There are two issues to be addressed. The first is the obvious need for safety in sports. I am pleased to inform the House that, as some honourable members will already know, the Australian Sports Commission, with the support of this Government, has instituted a program of modified sport with simplified rules in schools across Australia. I am pleased to note that every State government has co-operated in this regard so that now the Aussie Sports program is played by 50,000 school children in 1,200 primary schools. It involves simplified rules with an emphasis on safety, and the production of skills that will help children in their later sporting lives to achieve safety in sport. More importantly, it is a program aimed at having children get enjoyment from sport, whether or not they are skilled. I think that is something that all honourable members will be pleased about. That program will shortly go into secondary schools. Of course, there is an even greater need when children are bigger to make sure that safety factors are well and truly looked after. I add that the Sports Commission is also involving itself through its allied sports research program in specific examples of safety in sport. Research has just been completed into scrummaging techniques and injuries that are likely to be sustained in rugby league or rugby union. The results are now available to both sports and have been widely distributed.

I suppose that the more important issue, the one that was taken up by the media in rather lurid terms, was the size of the award and the possible consequences for the future of sport in schools. It is quite obvious that the cost of this huge award is basically borne by the taxpayer through social security and the Government's medical insurance. I happen to believe that it is time that there was involvement by the private sector, particularly by parents, in the insurance of children at school, particularly in sport. The Sports Commission has been in touch with insurers and we have already put together a scheme that will enable a very easy co-operation between governments, private insurance companies and parents in providing insurance for children at school. So, all in all, while it has been a gloomy day, as a fit young person became a paraplegic as a result of playing football at school, in the long run maybe some good will come from it. Parents, school teachers and coaches, particularly, will become aware of the inherent dangers in body contact sports, particularly for young persons. I hope that this leads to a greater emphasis by a great number of people in the community on the great value of Aussie Sports and the fact that it involves great safety measures.