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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4557

Senator O’BRIEN (9:58 PM) —I want to discuss a matter that has been before the Senate committee of which I am a member, the Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport. If I were to say that the Australian Football League did not give a damn about Tasmania, continually discriminates against the state and is a bureaucracy that puts its own interests above that code, some of those opposite might say that I was being outrageous. But, of course, I am actually quoting the president of the Hawthorn Football Club, who made just such a statement in Launceston during the half-time break of the Hawthorn-St Kilda game which was held at Aurora Stadium last Saturday.

That comment was made in the context of an announcement by Mr Kennett, the former Premier of Victoria, that the Hawthorn Football Club was prepared to commit $300,000 towards an improvement of the Aurora Stadium in the city of Launceston in northern Tasmania. The stadium proposal has received commitments of $6.5 million—$4 million from the federal government, $2 million from the Tasmanian state Labor government and half a million dollars from the Launceston City Council. There have been protracted discussions with the AFL about contributions to be made to that proposal, which is after all a proposal which enhances one of the important playing facilities that hosts games of the Australian Football League.

It is of course the case that the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs has conducted an inquiry into Tasmania’s case to host a team in the national competition. That inquiry, I might say, was opposed by Tasmanian Liberal senators. Nevertheless, the majority of the Senate supported its establishment and continuation and a report was made to the Senate.

It was interesting to note that Mr Demetriou responded to that report. The report is critical of the AFL’s assessment of its capacity to financially support a team in Western Sydney instead of a team in Tasmania in the sense that all of the evidence presented to the committee indicated that a great deal more money would be required to prop up such a team than the AFL was prepared to admit to. Mr Gillon McLachlan, the witness for the AFL, placed some figures before the committee which were almost immediately revealed as inadequate by Mr Brian Cook, the current Chief Executive of the Geelong Football Club, a very experienced administrator in the AFL who has experience in administration with the West Coast Eagles as well, among other things. He indicated that the budget that the AFL had put forward for the support of a Western Sydney team for a decade would in fact in all likelihood be exhausted within four years. That is the evidence that was presented to the committee.

Mr Demetriou sought to play to the crowd, in effect, with his rejection of the Senate committee’s findings, suggesting that we were somehow denigrating the people of Western Sydney because we found that the AFL’s case to establish a team there was weak and was unlikely to get the support of the people of Western Sydney to a sufficient extent to remove a very heavy financial obligation from the AFL in supporting such a team.

The committee, may I say, was also faced with the difficulty of getting the facts from the AFL about the real situation on the ground in Western Sydney for the AFL code. We placed some questions on notice. Among other things, we asked for a breakdown of the number of actual game participants, once Auskick participants were excluded, in the Western Sydney area. I will read from paragraphs 2.53 and 2.54 of the committee report:

The committee requested that the AFL provide statistics on participation levels in Western Sydney, the Gold Coast and Tasmania, including the proportion of participants made up of the Auskick program. Unfortunately, the AFL only provided the committee with figures for the entire NSW/ACT region, rather than Western Sydney alone. They are included in Appendix 3. These statistics are not helpful in assessing meaningful participation in the code in that area as they include far Western NSW, the Riverina, Canberra and the far South Coast of NSW, where Australian Rules football enjoys strong support and well established club competitions exist.

At paragraph 2.54, it goes on to say:

Information on the public record, attributed to the New South Wales Minister for Sport suggests that actual participation in Western Sydney is fewer than 3,000. In contrast Tasmanian participation is about 24,000 or nearly five per cent of the Tasmanian population. In the absence of more authoritative figures the committee is inclined to accept that participation in Western Sydney is, as a proportion of its population, relatively insignificant.

I find it difficult to line that passage up with the kinds of comments that Mr Demetriou made in attacking the committee’s findings, which were very well tempered by the evidence presented to it and the lack of credible evidence presented by the AFL on participation in the code. In fact, I invite anyone who is inclined to believe the AFL figures to go to the AFL New South Wales website to ascertain the number of teams that play in the general Western Sydney area in competitions from under-10s up, including right up to the seniors. Allocate an average of 40 players per team and you will not get to 3,000 players. That is using the resources of the AFL that are on the public record.

So the committee found that participation in Western Sydney is at a level consistent with the statement of the New South Wales minister for sport—who, I might add, declined to commit the New South Wales government to funding a playing facility in Western Sydney as requested by the AFL. Here we have a committee report which has been attacked by the Chief Executive of the Australian Football League, Mr Demetriou, who not only chose to not appear but, I suggest, did everything that he could to not appear—such was his lack of confidence in his ability to defend the AFL’s position on this matter.

The other matter that I wish to touch upon this evening, in the very brief time I have left, is the economic contribution that the establishment of an AFL team in Tasmania would have. Again, I want to refer to the evidence of Mr Brian Cook, the Chief Executive Officer of the Geelong Football Club. Given that Geelong is a regional area of Victoria—it is quite close to Melbourne but it is a regional economy—the committee thought that he would be able to present some cogent evidence on the matter. When he was asked about the number of seats allocated to a travelling team on an interstate trip, Mr Cook said:

The allocation between clubs is 500. On top of that, the opposition club can purchase through the ticketing agent of that particular club over and above the 500, of course. This is a real guess, but you would probably find, depending on the side going to Tasmania, anywhere between 1,000—possibly with the Kangaroos—and maybe close to 5,000 would travel over with Collingwood and the Hawthorns, perhaps more with Hawthorn now, given their presence. That would be my rough guess.

His experience indicates that that is an important contribution to our economy. (Time expired)