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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 4112


Mr ROBB (Goldstein) (12:10): It is a great privilege for me to have this opportunity to reflect on what has been an extraordinary life, that of Jim Stynes, and to honour that life in a modest way and to express my deep regret and sympathy to his wife and family, and to his parents, who in fact reside in my electorate and whose citizenship I presided over a few years ago. Jim and his wife were there, together with other family members. That experience, along with many others I have had with Jim Stynes, was one to remember. He was that sort of fellow. He was a leader of men and women, and he had a capacity to connect with people in all sorts of walks of life. He was known in the football world for his sportsmanship and his leadership role in combating racism and encouraging players to lead by example in their off-field endeavours. He brought so much to the game. He extended the proud history of Irish immigration in Australia. The first time I met him I thought of my family, who originally came from Ireland 150 or 160 years ago. It made me think at the time of the way in which it would be difficult to uproot yourself and come to another country and to seek to make your mark.

He was a man who made an extraordinary mark. But he had difficulties when he first got here—over the first two or three years—to establish himself and combat the expectations and cynicism in a lot of quarters over whether this experiment, if you like, would work. Despite the early setbacks he persisted and became an astonishingly successful ruckman. He played 264 games, including 244 consecutively without missing a game. In that context, that is an extraordinary feat in itself. I suspect in many games he did take to the field with injuries and problems that would have certainly meant that other players would not have fronted—would not have been able to contest a full match. Yet he played and he played in the ruck, which is a very significant contact part of the game.

He became the only overseas born player to win the highest individual honour in the AFL, the Brownlow medal. He won the best and fairest award four times for Melbourne, received all sorts of other All Australian honours, representing the state in the State of Origin and was inducted into the AFL Hall of Fame. So he is man who obviously achieved such an enormous amount, yet through all of that the humility of Jim was extraordinary. He did not see that what he was doing was anything special. He had gifts—he had wonderful gifts. He made the most of those gifts, and that is all that can be asked of somebody.

My initial contact with Jim was through the Reach Foundation when I attended some of the fundraising functions and then got the opportunity to observe Jim in action. He had this extraordinary capacity to connect with young people. It is something that is hard to describe because it is an intangible, but I did have the great privilege of seeing him work with young people. He had this ability to help them confront the issues that were bedevilling them. It is true of so many problems in life, I think, that if you have the courage to confront it, it can make an enormous difference to the resolution of those problems. I am the last one to speak about that, having spent 43 years denying something. But it takes a lot for people to confront issues and Jim Stynes had this wonderful ability. He gave support and self-belief. You could see the self-esteem of some of those young people growing with his belief in them. Almost before your eyes you could see them gaining strength and courage from not just his words but his manner, his identification. He would ask the hard questions but in a way which was not passing judgment, it was in a way which would help some of these young people confront their issues.

The program he has been responsible for in Reach, I think there are now some 60,000 taking part nationally each year. It is modelled somewhat on his personal experience in Ireland with programs where young people work with other young people in camps to improve self-belief and to develop resilience and emotional awareness amongst young people. At 45, to achieve what Jim has achieved is quite remarkable in many respects. To have 60,000 young people each year taking part in these programs, these camps, is a most extraordinary thing, quite apart from what he has done with the Melbourne Football Club and the inspiration that he has been for so many millions of Australians in the way in which he has tackled issues.

He has left an indelible mark on his adopted country and quite a number of extraordinary legacies. He was a giant of a man in so many ways. Yet through all of that, you would not have found a more humble and self-effacing individual who had all the moods of all the rest of us, but overwhelmingly was a person of great character and with great concern about others. He just oozed interest in what you were doing and what you were saying. When you were talking to Jim Stynes you felt that you were the only person that was important, notwithstanding his responsibilities and notwithstanding the fact that often he might have just been out of hospital for four days, having had several cancerous growths removed. That happened so often; it was quite remarkable.

I would just say about Jim that he showed in so many stages of his life that striving and struggling to reach our own potential is ultimately what gives meaning to our lives. It is what dictates the uniqueness and the dignity of each person, and Jim's life teaches us that life is meaningful. He was a man who found great meaning in his own life. He was a man who realized that life was expecting something from him despite his circumstances. Despite the fact the he was riddled with cancer and was battling in these last three years with such an overwhelming threat to his life and all of the endless operations and chemotherapy and all of these issues, through those three years he grabbed a football club that was inexorably sliding into a dysfunctional state and turned it on its head. He resolved a $5 million debt; breathed commitment, hope and interest into a board; developed a strong and effective administration; and in so many ways very significantly turned around the fortunes of the Melbourne Football Club, which for me is something of great significance seeing that I have been barracking for them since 1957. The last time they got a flag was 1964. I have taken much greater interest had more involvement in the club over the last few years since I came back to Melbourne and assumed the parliamentary role that I have. Again, I have had the privilege in that connection with the Melbourne Football Club in the last few years to see Jim quite often and to just interact and pass the time of day and catch up with what he is doing. At no stage through all of that—and, of course, much of that has been a time when he has been very ill—would he ever reflect on his own state of health. He was always putting a brave and uncomplaining face to the world.

I want to convey my deep condolences to his wife, Sam, to his kids and to his brothers and sisters, and a special mention to his parents, who as I said earlier are in my electorate and are wonderful people. I have met them on a couple of occasions now and I would see them at the club now and again. They share, as you would expect, the same qualities of openness. They are people who are so easy to talk to and relate to and, whilst being extremely distressed and upset and sad, they must be immensely proud of their son, who has been such a wonderful example to all of us and who has already made in his short time in Australia such an extraordinary contribution—someone who has been Victorian of the Year on two occasions and Melburnian of the Year because of the community work he has conducted and his other leadership responsibilities. The Melbourne Football Club, the AFL community and Australia have lost a great son with the passing of Jim Stynes. Thank you.