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Tuesday, 28 May 2002
Page: 2526


Mr RANDALL (10:47 PM) — I wish to speak this evening about the Clontarf Football Academy at the Aboriginal school in Wilson, Western Australia. The vision statement is that, through the medium of football and facilities and capabilities of the Clontarf Aboriginal College, young Aboriginal men develop discipline, life skills and self-esteem that is needed to participate in a meaningful society. Gerard Neesham, the former AFL coach of the Dockers, is the coach of this Clontarf Aboriginal football team. After losing his position as the coach for the Dockers and having travelled the country looking for talent, he decided that he had met many talented young Aboriginals and so he would provide an opportunity for them to play football. But this is not just football; the task of this academy—and it has many goals—is to provide football as an incentive for young Aboriginal men to continue their education. One of their main goals is for Aboriginal boys to attend school regularly.

Gerard Neesham has attracted people to the Clontarf Aboriginal football academy who have a range of football skills. There is Ben Allen, who was a former Dockers coach, and there are a number of others who support him in this initiative. The academy started with something like 54 boys in 1998. Today, in 2002, there are 171 boys at that college. But it is not the number of boys that is important; it is the participation rate. When they first started, their participation rate was 22 per cent. Today, it is well over 66 per cent. The fact is that these boys not only go to that college to learn, and to play football, but also have been taken out of a system where there is continual miscreant behaviour and a lack of vision—vision that young boys, especially in Aboriginal communities, do not have.

One of the sad aspects of this is that Gerard Neesham, instead of spending his time coaching Aboriginal boys, has to spend much of his time raising money. He has much support in Western Australia for this initiative, but he does not have enough because of the growing numbers that I have just spoken about. The end result is that he has gone everywhere for support.

I raised this issue today with the Prime Minister and my colleagues. I have also raised this issue of funding with the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Mr Ruddock, and the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Brendan Nelson. But the shocking part about this is that ATSIC, who could quite appropriately fund this body, will not. They have approached ATSIC and they have declined to fund Gerard Neesham's program. The sad part about this is that we know that ATSIC have hundreds of millions dollars at their disposal, for many good reasons, but this is one program that has fallen through the crack. Gerard Neesham needs support in this area, and I am endeavouring to do what I can at a federal level to try to find funding for him to assist these boys in their future development and self-education so that they can gain self-esteem et cetera.

They recognise, as one of their goals, that they can play a role in the reconciliation process by becoming elite footballers. For example, Dion Woods, who is the member of the academy, has become an AFL player with the Fremantle Dockers. They also have Western Australia football league players, and many other players. It is a very successful program.

I recommend this program and I ask that agencies, including the state government, get behind Gerard Neesham and the support group at Clontarf and support this marvellous program so that young Aboriginal men can get into positive programs that will promote themselves and their community and give them future direction. Ultimately, I am endeavouring to take people there to see the good things about this program, and I hope that this will become an Australian model for Aboriginal development. (Time expired)