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Sports funding: Minister announces $100 million to be spent on sponsoring both elite athletes and Aussie sports. Importance of Very Fast Train

PETER THOMPSON: First there was the Federal Government's world's greatest environment statement and then the multicultural agenda statement, and now the Federal Government has announced what it calls a bold new plan for Australian sport. The Federal Minister for Sport, Senator Graham Richardson, has pledged an extra $100 million to foster Australian sports. This increases the Government's total funding allocation for sport to $230 million over the next four years. Well, Senator Richardson joins us now. Good morning, Senator. How will this money be spent?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, it will be spent trying to make our elite athletes a little bit more comfortable and a little bit more secure, giving them better facilities in which to train, giving them better coaches to train them, and then at the other end of the scale, it will be spent in making sure more school kids participate in sport, so that we've got a bigger pool of talent from which to choose our champions.

PETER THOMPSON: So it's a gold medal strategy?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, it's both. Because we're working so hard at the other end of the scale with the Aussie Sports program in particular, it helps with participation as well.

PETER THOMPSON: How will it be divided? To what extent will the money be going to kids, as distinct from those who are already great performers?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, the elite athletes will be getting $52 million over the next four years, so they're going to get a very big chunk of the money. But then again, I think as a result of the Olympics last year, that's what Australians wanted of it. But at the other end of the scale, we're going to spend double what we've been spending on Aussie Sport to try and build those kids up, make sure that more and more of them participate.

PETER THOMPSON: You're convinced that the Australian community wants the Government to spend money getting gold medals?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: There's no doubt about that. I think last year when Duncan Armstrong revealed that he'd been on the dole during the twelve months preparation before the Olympic Games, a great many Australians were horrified. I think they wanted us to do something about that. Now I don't think the package necessarily totally addresses the problem, but with co-operation from the private sector, then our champions really won't have to worry in the way they have in the past.

PETER THOMPSON: What action is the Government taking on drugs in sport?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, we're taking pretty strong action there. The new drug testing agency will be conducting 2,000 tests a year and by doing that, I think we're going to eliminate the scourge of drugs in sport because every elite athlete will know that at some stage in the next twelve months to two years, that they will be tested, but they won't know when, that's the important thing because the national sporting organisations will have no role at all in selecting which sport will be tested and when it will happen.

PETER THOMPSON: I believe that part of the announcement is that the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra won't be getting much of an upgrade in its residential programs. Why is that?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: No, it will be. I think whoever told you that is wrong. We are, as a result of yesterday, able to increase, particularly through what's called the National Sports Program, the residential facilities and the scholarships that the Institute can offer. By doing that we're going to get the national teams in for more competition, more often, and that's one of the things that the national sporting organisations were asking of us. I think the Institute has come in for a lot of unfair criticism, especially over the last twelve months, but if you go and talk to the sports, they want to be involved more with the Institute and not less.

PETER THOMPSON: If I can turn subjects somewhat, there have been plenty of announcements from the Government. I mentioned the environment and also multicultural issues, but also the Very Fast Train project got the support of the Prime Minister and yourself last week. Why is it important?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, I think it has the potential to revolutionise travel and business between Sydney and Melbourne, and obviously they're our two biggest cities. But there's a long way to go on the project. The economic feasibility is not completed. We're not even sure yet which route the builders want to take, so that we don't even know where we're going to put our environmental test. So we've got a Senate inquiry which is going to look at every issue to do with the Very Fast Train. I think that's the best way of making sure that all those with a concern will get a chance to air it and have it tested.

PETER THOMPSON: And the Government's keeping an open mind then, particularly about the environmental impact of the train?

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Well, the statement that the Prime Minister made last week included the fact that if it was to go ahead, whatever route it wanted to choose would be subject to a very strict environmental test and obviously we wouldn't be walking away from a commitment like that. It's pretty important.

PETER THOMPSON: Senator, thanks for joining us.