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Thursday, 20 September 2007
Page: 150


Ms OWENS (12:17 PM) —I rise today to draw the House’s attention to the forthcoming New South Wales Bike Week that begins on 22 September and involves over 51 events around the state of New South Wales. I should confess that I am a bit of a bike nut. I am one of those mad cyclists you see out at the crack of the dawn wearing loud lycra and riding around in packs on the streets of Western Sydney. I cannot overestimate the tremendous benefit that cycling can provide to the community. I believe that it is opportunities such as New South Wales Bike Week that open up cycling to either the old or new convert. Around four million people in New South Wales participate in active recreation, and sixth on their list of top activities is cycling. But participation decreases with age, and, while 92 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds participate in sport, by the age of 65 years and over only 60.5 per cent are participating. There is significant evidence that regular activity helps reduce the effects of ageing such as limited mobility, balance, flexibility and muscle strength. It also greatly decreases the risk of heart problems and osteoporosis.

One of the best forms of physical activity for both the young and the old is cycling. It is a sport that is enjoyed in our youth or in later years and it can be as low or high intensity as you make it. More importantly, it does not take the same toll on the joints as some higher impact sport, which I know is why so many people in their late 40s, or very late 40s in my case, take it up. But while governments grapple with the problem of childhood obesity and to and fro about more and better ways to spend more money on advertising, participation rates continue to decrease. Little is being spent at federal and state levels to provide a physical environment to increase our freedom to undertake the type of less formal physical activity that creates long-term benefit to the whole community.

A safe and convenient physical environment is essential if the great majority of our children are going to enjoy good health throughout their lives. One of the greatest joys of childhood that many in this chamber will remember is the freedom to jump on your bike and escape the confines of your immediate environment. My dad made my bicycle out of parts from the local dump, and I rode it to school when I was in the 3rd and 4th grade. In those days I rode to school on the roads. You would not do that these days, but it was easy to be fit and healthy when I was a child. Organised sport was an add-on, but we were fit because of the way we moved through our everyday lives not because of what we did on the weekends. But our children no longer have the freedom to be able to participate in physical activity in the way we did. While some of this is because we fear to let them out of our sight, there is also no longer the freedom of movement in an environment where cities have become more congested and crowded.

While much has been done to create cycle tracks, an integrated cycleway system between suburbs and major towns needs a more active approach by the federal government. Yet we in my electorate, I am reliably told, have around 30 creeks—great, green corridors that snake through our communities from Blacktown to Parramatta, to Merrylands to Castle Hill. Many of our community sporting fields, clubs and community centres back onto them, as do many of our school sports fields, because in past decades flooding made the land less valuable. These green corridors remain. Some have remnant bushland, some have great environmental value or hide our convict and Indigenous histories, while others are little more than drains. Some bits are cared for by bushcare groups and some parts have already been commandeered by mountain bike and BMX riders. Other sections, particularly the long, flat, cleared sections, already have bike paths and playgrounds provided by local councils. But as a network, a recreational and environmental network that criss-crosses at least four local councils, this great community asset has the capacity to reinvent the way we move through our community, to reconnect us to our environment and history and to provide real spaces where it is natural to move, to walk, to run, to ride, to push a pram or to walk the dog, where physical activity is a natural part of our lives, not something that we have to squeeze in in our congested cities or something that we have to pay for.

The provision of open recreational space and environmental freedom would significantly add to the long-term wellbeing of the people of Western Sydney, both in quality of life and improved life expectancy. This, of course, also has an underlying benefit to portfolio budgets, particularly the health portfolio. We can continue the game of explaining why someone else should fund it, but the reality is that, if we want to fight childhood obesity and increase physical participation and if we want to make a real impact on the prevention of disease and illness and the ever-increasing burden that that places on our health budget, then the physical environment that we live in plays a vital role. New South Wales Bike Week starts on 22 September and runs until 30 September. I congratulate the New South Wales government and local councils on the initiatives for the week.

I would like to close by wishing some of our sporting teams well. First of all, I wish the mighty Eels all the best in the semifinal against the Melbourne Storm. We do not like to see you crossing the border and going down to AFL land, but we are looking forward to you coming back victorious. Likewise, we wish the Wallabies well in the Rugby World Cup and congratulate the Matildas on their fantastic performance, particularly against the reigning world champions, Norway. Thanks to SBS for playing these games on television. We have all been rewarded by the determination and skill of the mighty Matildas.