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Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Page: 3671

Mr CREAN (HothamMinister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government and Minister for the Arts) (20:47): I too rise to pay tribute to the tragic passing of Jim Stynes. It is ironic that three days after Australia celebrated St Patrick's Day, the celebration of the influence of Irish culture in Australia, we mourn the passing of one of its finest exports to this country. Jim Stynes was one of our most cherished and adopted sons. To Samantha, his wife, and his two children, Matisse and Tiernan, I pay my sincere condolences. They have lost a loving husband and father all too soon to tragedy in the short lifespan that he had. But what a life, what an impact and what an inspiration.

We first got to know him in this country as the lanky Irishman who first tried his luck at Aussie Rules in 1984. He was part of what was termed 'the Irish experiment' brought to Australia under a scheme initiated by Ron Barassi. He already had a natural ability. He was a standout player in Gaelic football in his home country and an All-Ireland minor medallist with Dublin. The former Dublin captain, Paul Clarke, recalls that:

I first played against him in the under 14s and even at that age he was a giant of a man.

This experiment, the Irish experiment, worked a treat. In fact, one could not have scripted it better, because he mastered our game. He was a Brownlow medallist. He won four best and fairests for his club. He played 264 games and, incredibly, a record 244 consecutive games—a benchmark I would suggest in any code of resilience. He was 10 times the Victorian State of Origin player. Whilst it was wonderful to see him play on the field, I always hated it when he was playing North Melbourne. But it was off the field where he continued his true character and his leadership, when he hung up the boots in 1998. I did come to meet him on a number of occasions through his Reach foundation. He co-founded it during his playing career but devoted himself to it, along with many other activities, on his retirement from football. Reach's programs are now run for over 60,000 young Australians every year, and two years ago the Prime Minister and I announced support for the Reach foundation to extend teacher training, to help teenagers suffering bullying, depression and substance misuse and to prevent young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders dropping out of school. It was a wonderful day. It was a game between North Melbourne and the Bulldogs and unfortunately the result was not good on that occasion either for the Kangaroos, but it was a wonderful day in terms of the cause that we were supporting. It was good to see Jim there ebullient, excited, inspirational as ever, even though he was going through his continued battle with cancer. The Prime Minister said at the time that Reach is about inspiring young people and nobody does it better than Jim Stynes. That is absolutely true.

Jim Stynes was determined to give something back to the game, to the community and to the country that he had come to love. He showed great leadership in everything that he did. He became president of the Melbourne Football Club, his own club, and he did it at a very difficult time, in 2008, when the club was broke. There were all sorts of discussions and predictions about its future. In three years he was able to reduce its debt and get its books balanced again. During that time also the club underwent some coaching crises. He saw that through as well. But at the same time as all that was happening he was fighting his own battle with cancer.

He was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame, he was Victorian of the Year three times and he also was awarded an Order of Australia. Whilst today we mourn the fact that the battle that he so bravely faced he lost, the way he fought it defined him in so many ways. It was about determination, courage, resilience and openness, fearful of nothing. As Jim's wife, Sam, said, Jim's lesson is that life is to be challenged and treasured. He met every challenge and he is treasured. His contribution will never be forgotten. I offer my sincerest condolences to Samantha and the children, Matisse and Tiernan, and the Stynes family.