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Monday, 12 September 2011
Page: 9817


Mr RIPOLL ( Oxley ) ( 20: 24 ): At the outset of my contribution I want to make a few things clear. One is my great support for football in Queensland. It is a great code and a great sport. Soccer—football—has one of the highest participation rates of any sport in Australia if not the world. Particularly for young players, juniors and kids it is a big part of their sporting life and upbringing. It was for me as a youngster and it was for my kids when they were a bit younger as well. In fact, I think it even goes deeper. On any weekend you can go out and see countless numbers of fields being used by young people playing football—soccer to the uninitiated—and it is truly a great code. Like all great codes, of course, it has associations at state and federal levels. It is made up of a range of people—mostly parents and volunteers—who put in an enormous effort, their own time, resources and money, ensuring the code succeeds and delivers on its charter. There are also paid people in associations, chief executive officers and other people, with different responsibilities and different roles.

I am a big supporter and I brought this forward because of that and because of my concern for a number of years that there are some issues in that Football Queensland has a special exemption on competition from the ACCC, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Football Queensland Ltd is an Australian public company. It is limited by guarantee and is responsible for the administration of football in Queensland, including the collection of national fees on behalf of the Football Federation of Australia. It covers all of Queensland. It is in nine regions, which is great, right up and down the state from the most remote areas to the metropolitan areas around Brisbane. Again, we all support that. We think it is a great thing. There are approximately 340 clubs. It is quite big. There are 66,000 players participating in Football Queensland, so it is a big code and I am a big supporter. I have got many local clubs myself.

Of note, interestingly—and I will come back to this—from 2008 to 2010, the total number of players has actually gone down. I do not have an explanation for that. It has only gone down a little but still it is an issue and something that we ought to look more closely at. We all support young people, seniors and female players being involved in the sport.

Football Queensland lodged notification on 28 April 2008 asking the ACCC for a special Football Queensland teamwear program. The ACCC gave a special exemption to Football Queensland from prosecution, so it would not need to abide by the normal laws and regulations that other codes, businesses or anyone else in the community have to on the basis that it would do a number of things. In particular, Football Queensland's teamwear program was likely to—and this is what Football Queensland said—generate some benefit through ensuring a minimum quality standard for teamwear products. This is commendable, as it should. It would generate revenue through suppliers paying the FQ licence fee, fees and royalties and so forth. The extent of damage this would do in terms of the extra costs built in for football players would be outweighed by the public benefit. They said they would do that as well. Licence fees payable, while they are a public detriment, would be passed through to clubs and would be minimal. Football Queensland said that no clubs had complained about the apparel costs when they increased.

In March 2010, the ACCC received a complaint regarding the teamwear program and has been pursuing a number of issues with Football Queensland. That there had only been one complaint, Football Queensland stated at the time that that justified the program and there was nothing wrong with it. Unfortunately, a number of people disagree. I am one of those people who have written to the ACCC and have been following this up. I believe that the teamwear program damages the code. It damages the code by increasing the cost to players, and perhaps one reason—there may be others; I do not have any evidence of this—why numbers have been steadily falling since 2008 is cost.

It is expensive to play; I think we all agree on that. In the end, we all agree that we want to make it affordable for young players. We want to make it affordable for families and that, where special exemption is granted from the ACCC, it meets the objectives. The whole point is you get an exemption based on a number of objectives.

Football Queensland did a survey requested by the ACCC and only five submissions were returned: three from existing licensees who supported the program, as you would expect because they are in the program, but only two from associated clubs who did not like the program. They thought it would be better to levy the players directly and it would be cheaper for them. There is certainly plenty of evidence that that would be the case. The board concluded from the lack of response that there was a general satisfaction with existing arrangements. I would actually say that rather than satisfaction there was perhaps disinterest or a view that their views may or may not have counted. Again, I do not have evidence of that but you cannot have it both ways. You cannot say that it is because of one thing unless you can confirm it. So I am not prepared to say why that is the case.

But of real interest and of real significance is that the ACCC has now given a draft notification in respect of Football Queensland's exemption to revoke that exemption. There is a fairly hefty document, and this has been the subject of a couple of years of review by the ACCC, which actually says that Football Queensland has failed on the counts that it is meant to meet. Football Queensland, by having its third line forcing conduct, actually distorted demand and supply and made equipment more expensive. It actually did not improve quality but diminished quality, and did not follow through on its claim that it would ensure quality by perhaps going out to the market and testing it. Rather it said that it was the end user who would test that quality and give feedback through to Football Queensland. That has not happened. It has created a number of distortions in the way that the licensing takes place. And it created a false market. Football Queensland's view is that the market is not unique or special in any particular way. Others would disagree. But most importantly it is the ACCC that disagrees rather than me. Football Queensland submits that the teamwear program delivers public benefits, including ensuring a minimum standard of quality, timely supply of teamwear, apparel and equipment, the promotion of the game image, the promotion of the FQ brand and the generation of income for Football Queensland. It certainly generates income for Football Queensland; that no-one argues. But on all the other counts it actually fails. The ACCC agrees that it does not meet its objectives.

The reason it has taken so long—it has taken two years—is because the ACCC did rightly give Football Queensland time to respond. When Football Queensland was granted a special exemption from prosecution, the idea was that it would, like any other organisation having been granted an exemption, come back with a follow-through on that exemption—an explanation and evidence based on what Football Queensland had said it would do. Football Queensland did not do that and to date has still not done that. There is now a process in place to revoke that special exemption.

When I first spoke about this in parliament—and I am not the first member of parliament to speak about this, either, or the first person from the community to have a view on this—I did say that I was disappointed. I am disappointed because I think that Football Queensland, like any other peak body, has a special responsibility, a special role in our community. They have a special responsibility not to me, but to the players, to the teams, and to the clubs. It is price sensitive and we have to do everything we can to ensure that we deliver value, quality, minimum standards and all the rest of it. If you are going to claim to do that, then do it. That is all; just do it. Do what you are claiming to do; don't do the opposite. That has been the case, and now it is up to Football Queensland to prove to the ACCC that their exemption should not be revoked because right now that is what is happening. The ACCC has said it is going to revoke their special exemption from prosecution because in the way they are operating this program they are not meeting any of their objectives. That is the concern for me.

I think there is an opportunity here because Football Queensland is made up of good people, and a good board. I think it is just a matter of them actually getting their house in order, getting their ducks in a row, and getting on with the job of what they are meant to do on two fronts. One is in addressing the ACCC concerns so they do not have their exemption revoked. I do not want that to happen unless it is the best thing for the code. I should not be the arbiter or the judge of these things. When people read the document by the ACCC they will understand the extent to which Football Queensland has failed the code, failed the clubs and failed the players.