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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17272

Ms O'BYRNE (9:20 PM) —This evening I present to the House a proposal to address an impending crisis in Australian sport. Sporting bodies all over the country are facing significant difficulties, especially at the grassroots level, in finding sufficient personnel to serve as coaches for participating athletes and teams and as competition officials. It is clear that we cannot rely on the same level of commitment to these tasks as we have done in the past.

We know that the demands on the time of every Australian have increased markedly. Expansion of family and work commitments have resulted in those who have been the traditional sources of sports coaches and officials becoming unavailable for those roles for long periods of time. We know that schoolteachers are no longer able to make the same commitment to conducting school sport as they once did. Fear of litigation or insurance claims has scared other potential volunteers away. We now run the very real risk that within just a few years we will be unable to deliver to the Australian population—particularly our youth—the opportunity to participate in sport to the extent that they and we would wish.

I know that in my own electorate there has been a significant contraction in the number of teams participating in school sports rosters. Many sporting organisations have not been able to provide the opportunity for some young people to participate in their sport, simply because there were insufficient volunteers available to coach and administer extra teams. The opportunity to participate in sport, particularly at the grassroots level, is almost a fundamental right of every Australian. At the very least, it is an expectation upon which we as legislators should be able to deliver. More specifically, participation in sport is a vital cog in programs to ensure that Australians remain as fit and healthy as possible. And sport gives disadvantaged and disabled Australians a real chance to tilt the balance of life opportunity in their favour. Sport provides an opportunity at the most fundamental level to bring Australians of all backgrounds together.

One only has to look at the name list on any sporting team, elite through to junior level, to see the chance it has provided for migrant Australians and their descendants to fully participate in a key element of Australian life. The extraordinary percentage of Indigenous Australians succeeding at the highest level of Australian Rules football is testament to the benefits and opportunities which sport can provide. We also know the value of sports participation in developing social skills, self-esteem and confidence, teamwork and individual goal setting. It would be extremely disappointing if this country and its people were not able to continue to receive these benefits, as well as to bask in the glory which success in sport at the highest level has so often brought us.

If youth and grassroots sport dies we will have no base from which to throw up the champions of the future. I think that we sometimes forget that they do not just appear from nowhere. Action must be taken sooner rather than later to address the issues of recruitment, training and the retention of coaches, administrators and officials. A workable solution could be to provide young Australians with the incentive to become volunteer sports officials and coaches by offering them credits against their HECS or other course fees for doing so. Australians in their late teens and twenties have boundless energy. Often we do not harness this tremendous potential as much as we could. It often just lies dormant until the time the student graduates into the work force or his or her own business. While studying, students often have spare time which they can put back into the community. They also tend to have fewer commitments than older Australians in terms of family and work. The opportunity to put something back into the community and to gain further life skills for themselves whilst at the same time reducing their education debt seems an ideal recipe for all-round success.

I am particularly concerned about the obsession with elite performance in government funding, particularly at the federal level, and commercial sponsorship. State ministers and institutes of sport have also looked to the elite end of sport to tag their contribution. This has often meant that state and national sporting organisations were left with no alternative but to respond accordingly so as not to bite the hand that was feeding them and has left grassroots sport in this country ill-equipped for the march into the future. This has been further exacerbated by the decline in school sport.

Providing post-secondary students with HECS and other course fee relief in return for qualifying and then practising as sports coaches or officials would be a timely and immediate boost to school and grassroots sport in Australia. Simply being an effective tool in the campaign against obesity would be a complete justification for such a scheme. Grassroots, junior and school sport are desperately in need of ongoing assistance to ensure their meaningful and productive survival. University and TAFE students are in increasing need of means to reduce their debt burden. Combining the two for respective benefit to both seems a highly suitable solution to both problems.

Whilst the proposal is initially designed to ensure the ongoing survival of grassroots and junior sport, the scheme could equally be applied to other areas, such as voluntary community work and environmental programs. Volunteerism has been one of the greatest attributes of Australian society. The opportunity to introduce its worth to ongoing generations of younger Australians while at the same time assisting them in their personal advancement should not be passed up easily.