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Tuesday, 28 September 1999
Page: 10827

Mr LLOYD (10:35 PM) —I am pleased to follow on after the words from the member for Sydney, because I rise tonight to express my concerns about media reports that the National Rugby League have confirmed that foundation Rugby League clubs South Sydney and North Sydney will not qualify for next year's 14-team premiership. If these reports are true, this will further alienate thousands of traditional rugby league supporters—the men, women and children who have supported these two Rugby League clubs for many years. The real tragedy of this decision—if it is to be confirmed—is that the general public, the people who support rugby league, have had no say in the decisions. The decisions have been taken by the faceless men of the NRL board, with no input from the rugby league supporting public.

Most honourable members would be aware of the much publicised move by North Sydney to my electorate on the Central Coast of New South Wales, a decision that was supported and encouraged by the NRL, a decision that was difficult for the North Sydney club to take, but a decision that was warmly welcomed by the thousands of rugby league fans on the Central Coast. This decision was meant to be the rebirth of the North Sydney Bears. It was a decision that was influenced greatly by the building of the Grahame Park Multipurpose Stadium, a magnificent facility which will provide seating for up to 30,000 people, which is almost complete and will be in use before the end of this year and which I am proud to say was only made a reality by the provision of $12 million from the Howard government with a matching grant of $12 million provided by the New South Wales government—a huge amount of funding for a sporting facility in anybody's language.

There were many months of hard negotiations with the federal government and cabinet to ensure that the $12 million was allocated to Grahame Park. There is obviously a great deal of competition and need throughout Australia for the provision of sporting facilities, and Grahame Park was only one of a number of many outstanding applications. I know that one of the deciding factors in allocating the money to Grahame Park was that it would enable the North Sydney Bears to relocate to the Central Coast, to give the Central Coast its own identity—its own rugby league team in the Sydney competition. If the NRL are now going to walk away from this magnificent facility, it will be not only a tragedy for the Central Coast but a slap in the face for the faith of both the federal and New South Wales governments in Rugby League in New South Wales. One would think that it would be a very long time before either the federal government or any state government would consider contributing that sort of money again to a facility to be used for rugby league.

If the NRL does proceed with the scrapping of South Sydney and North Sydney, it will alienate hundreds of thousands of people. I know in my own area of the Central Coast there is a population of 300,000, a population that was looking forward to having a first grade rugby league team. Hopefully that will still happen in the form of the North Sydney Bears or, at the very least, an amalgamated team of North Sydney and Manly.

There is one last opportunity for rugby league supporters from both Souths and Norths to show their anger and their frustration at the possible decision that has been taken by the NRL. A march will start at 9.30 on Sunday, 10 October at Redfern Oval and there will be a rally taking place at the Sydney Town Hall at 11 a.m. Also on that Sunday I understand that the rally will proceed through the city of Sydney. This will be the last opportunity that South Sydney and North Sydney rugby league fans will have to show their support for their clubs and to show the NRL that what rugby league is all about is people, not corporate boards and not making huge profits out of rugby league.

If the NRL does not play first grade rugby league at Grahame Park, Grahame Park will still be a magnificent attribute to the city of Gosford. I know there are many other sports that are very keen to adopt Grahame Park. I understand that first grade soccer clubs are looking at Grahame Park. I know that baseball will be played at Grahame Park. Cultural events will also be held there. I understand that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra will be playing there. The very first event at Grahame Park will be the annual carols by candlelight festivities in December. Also, next year the Pacific island nations rugby union tournament will be played at Grahame Park. So whether or not the NRL games are played there, Grahame Park stadium will be a great success and will be a great asset to the city of Gosford. I am proud to have been able to play my part in making it a reality.

It would be sad if one of the few ovals which meets the NRL requirements and standards was rejected by the National Rugby League. Certainly the people of the Central Coast will not forgive the NRL if in fact this is the case.