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Tuesday, 2 September 2014
Page: 9492

Mr VARVARIS (Barton) (21:05): I rise to commend the ongoing community initiatives of the St George Illawarra Dragons and inform the chamber of the important work that is being undertaken by sporting associations such as the Dragons in each of our electorates. I met last week with Peter Doust, CEO of the St George Illawarra Dragons, and Mark Gasnier, nephew of the legendary late Reg Gasnier and founder of the Gasnier Foundation. Our meeting came ahead of the NRL's community programs showcase here in Parliament House on Wednesday, 27 August. I know that many honourable members relished the chance to get engaged with the innovative community programs that are being run right around our country. There has always been a strong connection between sporting life and community development.

Sport is a character-building activity which instils values of sportsmanship, selflessness and teamwork. Sportspeople can become the most effective ambassadors for charitable and educational causes, as the St George Illawarra Dragons have attested. The breadth, scope and quality of the work that the St George Illawarra Dragons are doing through their community program, Dragons Community, was nothing short of breathtaking. I was interested and impressed with the great variety and comprehensiveness of programs that the Dragons undertake in our local St George community. The Dragons have an enormous commitment to the region and to the notion of partnering with existing organisations to galvanise the work they are already doing, while pioneering with new programs in the fields of resilience and education. The figures presented last week really brought home the immensity of the contribution by the Dragons community programs. In 2013 alone, they supported local charities and associations with $265,000. The Dragons supported a raft of 46 different community organisations over the past year. Under the leadership of CEO Peter Doust the Dragons have shown their commitment to the achievement of public health outcomes in the region in their work with the St George Hospital, the Mark Gasnier Foundation and the Heart Foundation.

The Dragons' programs, taken together, are focused around helping people in the local community make positive life choices. There is a strong focus on young people at formative periods of their life—from early childhood visits, to preventive bullying programs and reading tuition for vulnerable kids. The Dragons' children's anti-bullying programs, which are focused on building personal resilience, are remarkable because they focus equally on both preventing kids from engaging in bullying behaviour and helping them deal with being bullied. One great output of this program has been the rugby league themed Dusty and Friends illustrated children's books authored by the talented Sarah Tillott.

Another important component of the Dragons' work is the Graduates of League program in conjunction with the University of Wollongong. This program strengthens the connections between the St George and Illawarra areas and promotes opportunity for players to have dynamic careers after the game. It is clear that the Dragons' community initiatives reach out to individuals at every stage of life—from early childhood to children, vulnerable youth, women's and family services and 'high tea at the footy' for senior citizens.

I have been a lifelong supporter of my local team, the St George Illawarra Dragons—as was my predecessor, the Hon. Rob McClelland, and his father, the Hon. Doug McClelland, before him. May it always be said that the member for Barton maintains a strong partnership with the mighty Dragons. The Dragons as a team have been the subject of deep affection through the years and have a loyal fan base which enables them to reach out to the community at large. Their community programs and the hundreds of hours that players have spent off the field investing in the community demonstrate to other sporting bodies the often untapped potential of well-respected community figures to make a difference.

It is so often the case that voluntary associations and sporting teams such as the Dragons have so much more to teach government about effective community engagement than government has to teach these free associations. As a conservative, I am of the strong belief that the community truly flourishes on its own two feet but society is strongest when government lends its support and contribution. As Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom puts it, organisations that operate with a strong local focus foster a broad culture of responsibility, mutuality and obligation. The Dragons have done so much in encouraging this very culture in the St George region. As the federal member for Barton, I commend them and commit myself to partnering with them in the future in whatever way I can. I commend the work that the St George Illawarra Dragons' community program is doing in my electorate and call on all members to find ways to partner with sporting organisations in their groundbreaking community initiatives.