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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 6568

Senator CASH (Western Australia) (19:01): As the coalition spokesperson for the status of women, I rise tonight to speak on the great achievement of Australian female tennis player Samantha Stosur, who beat 13-time grand slam winner Serena Williams to win the US Open a little over a week ago in New York. The win was Stosur's first grand slam win and the first by an Australian woman in 31 years. It is not since former world No. 1 Evonne Goolagong Cawley was successful at Wimbledon in 1980 that an Australian woman has risen to the level that Samantha has now risen to.

It was an extraordinarily hard-fought and supremely well-deserved win for Ms Stosur. She now follows in the footsteps of not just Ms Goolagong Cawley but former world No.1 tennis player Margaret Court. Mrs Court won a record 24 grand slam titles over the course of her career, was just the second woman to win all four titles in the same year and is still considered as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, female tennis players of all time. The fact that Mrs Court lives in Western Australia and is married to a former president of the Liberal Party does not go astray in Liberal Party circles.

Mrs Court welcomed Ms Stosur's win and phoned her in New York to congratulate her. Ms Goolagong Cawley said of the breakthrough win that it would give Ms Stosur a great deal of confidence going into her next few tournaments. Ms Stosur's win has been a long time in the making. She has overcome serious physical hurdles, as well as psychological ones, and has proven herself to be a champion in every sense of the word.

The 27-year-old Queenslander began tennis lessons when she was just eight and, after joining the Australian Institute of Sport's tennis program in 2001, she won the US Open doubles with Lisa Raymond and the mixed doubles at the Australian Open with Scott Draper in 2005. The following year Stosur reached the fourth round of the Australian Open and became world No. 1 in the doubles.

After a long struggle with worsening fatigue, Stosur was diagnosed with Lyme disease in 2007. Her return to tennis in the following year is testament to her work ethic, her fitness, her courage, her persistence and her strength of character. These same characteristics helped Stosur in her win against Serena Williams in New York. In the face of what some have said was an ungracious opponent and on the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, Stosur kept her head, kept her cool, maintained her composure and won her first grand slam title in but two sets.

Although her grace, strength, on-court movement and craftsmanship last week made the US Open win look as though it was always hers, Stosur's rise to the top of the game has not been a quick one. Nor has it been a glamorous one. It has, however, been a very important one.

For the future female grand slam champions who are all lacing their shoes and picking up their racquets to go to lessons on Saturday mornings, for the future female Olympians who are only just now mastering their basic swimming strokes, for the future Australian Diamonds netballers who are racing home from school to practise putting up shots in the backyard and for all those little girls and young women who are just having a go, Stosur is, without a doubt, an inspiration. She can be held up as an example of what you can do with quiet hard work and sheer dedication to your craft.

Samantha Stosur has earned the respect of her peers: male and female, overseas and in Australia, past and present. She is a positive role model, too, for 15-year-old Ashleigh Barty, winner of the Wimbledon junior title this year. She will also inspire up-and-coming players Olivia Rogowska and Sally Peers.

It is vitally important, as we see rates of obesity rising in our communities, as we learn that the current crop of children may well be outlived by their parents, as we watch girls as young as eight years of age struggle with self-esteem issues and eating disorders and as we watch our girls idolise women in highly sexually charged music videos, or models, or pageant queens or other women whose worth is judged on their looks, that we encourage them to turn to women of substance and good character to model themselves on.

Many of these women can be found on our tennis courts and netball courts, in our gymnastics arenas and swimming pools—women like Bianca Giteau, also 27. Bianca was born in Dowerin and called Bianca Franklin before she married Matt Giteau. The talented former vice-captain of WA netball team West Coast Fever was spotted playing at a local carnival and, by the time she was 15 years old, she was representing Western Australia in netball.

At age 19, she was awarded an Australian Institute of Sport scholarship and moved to Canberra to train at the institute. She represented Australia in the under-21 squad and toured England and, in 2003, won an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ComĀ­mission award for Western Australian Young Achiever of the year. Giteau has served the community through her involvement with the David Wirrpanda Foundation.

The Australian netball team, the Diamonds, led by Captain Natalie von Bertouch and Coach Norma Plummer, this year won the World Championships in Singapore. In my patron electorate of Brand in Western Australia, we have women like Jody Henry, who represented Australia as a sprinter at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Jody provides a positive example to young women living in the Brand electorate of a strong and healthy young woman working hard to pursue her own goals and dreams. And a group of Western Australian women can even lay claim to having one of the state's best Australian Rules Football team. Up until June this year, the St Mary's Anglican Girls School football team had had just two goals kicked against it.

Sport is integral to life for so many Australians, whether that means playing for a social team on a weeknight, ferrying children to and from training sessions during the week, playing pennant tennis or golf on a weekday morning, cheering on a niece or nephew at their footy match on the weekend or going to watch a game of AFL. As women's sport continues to battle for greater television and radio coverage, for greater recognition in the broader community and for a greater share of sponsorships and the benefits that come with them, it is vitally important that we as parliamentarians and representatives of our electorates continue to recognise and promote female sportspeople for their dedication and their talent and as positive, healthy and constructive role models for our girls and young women to look to. There is obviously a relationship between the coverage women's sport receives in the media, the level of sponsorship it gets and participation levels among young women, who will inevitably gain enthusiasm for their sport from seeing high-achieving women in the field represented in the media.

I once again congratulate Samantha Stosur on her breakthrough win in the US Open and for the tenacity, quiet endeavour and strength she has displayed in working to become world class in her profession. It is reported that in 1997 as a 13-year-old Stosur told her parents that she would not go to school until she had watched every point of Patrick Rafter's first US Open win. I have no doubt that there are many young women who watched Samantha's win with the same degree of intensity and interest, and I am sure that they will derive the same level of inspiration from her win as she did from his. Hopefully, Samantha's win will further raise the profile of women's tennis and women's sport more generally in Australia.