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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 471

Senator O'CHEE —My question is addressed to the Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories. I was glad to hear his complimentary comments about the Commonwealth Games team. Is the minister aware, however, of the decision by Mr Paul Coffa to quit as coach of the Australian weightlifting team because of the failure of the federal government to provide adequate assistance to his athletes? Is the minister aware that many of our elite athletes in low profile sports such as weightlifting do not enjoy the lucrative sponsorship benefits of athletes in other sports such as swimming and athletics and that, according to sports agent Mr Max Markson on the Today program this morning, they never will? Can the minister advise how much money has been made available by the federal government to the Australian Weightlifting Federation in the last two years compared with other sports? Does the minister intend to allow a situation to exist where the benefits of Australia's long-awaited world class standing in weightlifting are going to be lost because our best and brightest athletes will be forced to live overseas to make ends meet? (Time expired)

Senator FAULKNER —I certainly have read a couple of articles in the newspapers this morning which indicate that Mr Coffa has decided to take up a position as a sports director of another nation. I congratulate him on his decision to take up that particular appointment. That is a matter entirely for Mr Coffa.

  I can say as far as our support for the sport of weightlifting is concerned that federal funding for the sport has doubled this year. In 1993-94 the federal government provided $219,000 for the sport of weightlifting. In 1994-95 the federal government will provide some $440,000 for that particular sport, comprising the $219,000 plus the extra funding that is coming as a result of this government's Olympic athlete program, which I announced in the last federal budget. I believe that any reasonable person would say that this is a very significant contribution to the sport of weightlifting—and a very appropriate one. On top of that, we also provided funding to the Australian Weightlifting Federation—I think to the tune of about $120,000—so that the federation could host the world championships.

  The honourable senator has to consider the level of participation in the sport of weightlifting in Australia when he makes comparisons between the sport of weightlifting and other sports. In fact—we have to be quite honest about this—the sport of weightlifting is a low participation sport. I am sure the honourable senator is well aware of that. There are not that many registered weightlifters in Australia. In fact, as far as I know, in Australia there are about 213 senior men and about a dozen senior women who are registered weightlifters. When we look at the level of funding and compare sports such as weightlifting with other sports, we have to look at the number of participants involved in those sports.

  I think that this federal government has an outstanding record in terms of the level of support it provides not only to the sport of weightlifting but to other sports as well. We put our money where our mouth is in the last budget by appropriating an amount of $135 million for Olympic sports in the lead-up to the year 2000 Sydney Olympics. That will have benefits for us in Atlanta; it will have benefits at the next Commonwealth Games, in Malaysia; and, I believe, it will mean that we will have a tremendous result from our elite athletes in the Sydney 2000 Olympics. We have put our money where our mouth is and given a record amount of support to the sport of weightlifting—in excess of $140 million in sports funding. (Time expired)

Senator O'CHEE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister might be interested to know that Mr Coffa thought that the financial support he would get from Nauru was a hell of a lot better than the financial support he would get from the federal government. Before the minister answers my supplementary question he might want to consider that. I want to know, if the minister is so assured that the funding he is giving to weightlifting is going to pay real dividends and is the right thing to do, whether the minister will give an undertaking right here and now to have an urgent meeting with Mr Coffa when the weightlifting team comes back to see if this dispute is resolved. Or is the minister just going to stand up here and give us lots and lots of hot air and let the benefits of our weightlifting success go right out the door and go overseas?

Senator FAULKNER —I have indicated that the level of support for weightlifting has more than doubled this year. That is an indication of this government's commitment not only to weightlifting, but also, through the Australian Sports Commission, to other Olympic sports under our Olympic athlete program. I think that the record of this government is outstanding—we can see the results in Victoria, Canada—in the level of our support to elite sport in this country. We have an outstanding record as far as our level of support for sport is concerned—nearly $150 million in this financial year compared to $14.5 million from the pathetic mob opposite when it was last in government. Our record is outstanding and the Australian people know it.