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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3664

Ms KATE ELLIS (AdelaideMinister for Employment Participation and Minister for Early Childhood and Childcare) (20:18): I rise to also add my remarks on the passing of Jim Stynes today and to state to the House that it was with so much sadness as well as shock that I heard the news this morning. It was with sadness because today was the day that Australia lost a true champion both on and off the field, someone whose contributions will continue to be felt for many years to come. But I have to admit I was also a little bit shocked when I heard the news, which is in some ways ridiculous, because we had all heard the diagnosis; we all knew the situation that Jim Stynes was facing. But there was the fact that anyone who has seen how inspiring Jim has been throughout this struggle, anyone who has seen just how strong a man he was in so many ways, could be forgiven for thinking that if there was anyone who was going to come out by pulling out an absolute miracle, then Jim Stynes it would have been. Yet of course, here we are today marking his passing.

I would like to take the opportunity on behalf of not just myself but also the fine folk of the electorate of Adelaide to extend my condolences. As you would know, we are not known for being Melbourne supporters but we are known for being AFL tragics. There is no question that Jim Stynes was an absolute giant of the game. We know that he won the Brownlow Medal in 1991 and that he holds the AFL record for the most consecutive games played—244 games without missing a beat. His contribution to the game has been great in so many ways including post retirement when he became the club president of Melbourne in 2007 and publicly stated that his goal was to boost membership, to attract young people to the club and to ensure that it stayed strong for many years to come.

He was an absolute champion of Australian Rules Football but, in speaking on this condolence motion, I think it is necessary to focus on the achievements of Jim Stynes off the field as well as on. If one fact illustrates how impressive a man he was then perhaps it is that he was not once, but twice, named Victorian of the Year in both 2001 and 2003. Further, in 2007, he was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for his work with youth and for his contribution to Australian football.

I consider myself very lucky because I had the chance to meet and briefly work with Jim Stynes in my capacity as sports minister when I would see him at many different sporting events. Jim always met people with a smile and always had a relaxed and fun-loving nature. I also met him through my time as youth minister when I had a chance to see, first hand, the truly amazing work of the Reach foundation. For those of us who may not be familiar with it, the Reach foundation state that they believe every young person should have the support and the self-belief that they need in order to fulfil their full potential. They help young people get to this point through running school and community based programs designed to promote strength, mental health and resilience.

I had the opportunity to visit when Jim was there and see the work that they were doing with young people. One thing that really struck me about Jim that I would like to share with the House today is the fact that, as is so often the case when you are talking about true champions, they actually think that what they are doing is entirely normal and it comes completely natural to them. I had the chance to see a room full of kids who many people would have looked at and said, 'These are severely troubled, at-risk kids, who have some pretty serious issues in their life.' A lot of people would have talked about the negatives of those kids, about the risks and the damage that they could do to our community. But I saw Jim Stynes sit down—as if the most natural thing in the world was to sit down—and have a face-to-face conversation about his life, his experiences and how he could relate to what these kids were going through. I got to see, first hand, the defences come down and people instantly felt comfortable around this true Australian champion who was taking the time to reach out and share some of his experiences with young Australians who needed it the most. That was a pretty special experience for me.

One of the things that I think is really important about the Reach foundation is that they know that it is about empowering young people. It is a program set up for young people but, importantly, they know that the most powerful way of doing that is by delivering it through young people. Rather than having Jim or a whole host of adults stand up and lecture or tell their stores, they empower young people to relate with other young people to help build a generation that is resilient, a generation that can discuss their experiences. With many of the things that they face today, which mine and other generations did not face in the same way, they sat down and talked about their experiences with bullying and with some of the hardships of life. The work of the Reach foundation and the work of Jim has done countless good for so many people in our society. I do note that Don McLardy the Reach foundation chairman said today:

Our job at Reach will be to continue the important work Jim started, to carry the values forward he believed in, and make sure we never lose sight of the Reach spirit that we all understand and believe in.

If that is true then that is a pretty impressive legacy, a legacy that this man is going to leave behind for tens of thousands of adoring football fans who will remember all of their favourite highlights, but also for tens of thousands of young Australians—and who knows how many more to come—who will be touched by the fact that he had the passion and he had the commitment for this particular course.

I also want to give my condolences to Jim's immediate family: to his wife, Samantha, and his two children—his daughter, Matisse, and his son, Tiernan. None of us can know what it is they are going through today, but some of us can relate to it. If I could pass one thing on, I would say to his two children: I had the experience of losing my father to cancer when he too was just 45. One thing I wish somebody could have assured me of at the time was that those memories will never fade, that the pride you have in such a remarkable father will never ever go away and that the bonds will never be broken. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.