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Tuesday, 4 November 2003
Page: 22003

Mr BAIRD (9:05 PM) —Recently I had the privilege of attending the Sutherland Shire Junior Football Association's annual dinner. This was a fantastic event, celebrating the most popular sport in the world. In the Sutherland shire we are more than used to hearing about the Cronulla Sharks, the local rugby league team in the National Rugby League competition.

Mr Albanese —Hear, hear!

Mr BAIRD —The shadow minister at the table approves! Soccer is huge and growing even more popular.

Mr BAIRD —South Sydney—I am very interested to hear the shadow minister at the table; we are looking forward to a more prosperous year next year. In the Sutherland Shire Junior Football Association there are over 25 soccer clubs and 1,072 teams, with over 14,000 players. In fact, it is the largest junior soccer association in Australia. Sutherland shire is also home to the Olympic Sharks—the National Soccer League champions for two of the last three seasons.

There has been a 28 per cent growth in women's teams in the Sutherland shire. In total, there are 2,500 women involved in junior soccer, with most being 11- to 14-year-old girls. There are many more facts that are quite amazing which bode well for soccer in Australia. Soccer today is the most popular sport in Australia for boys aged between five and 14. For the same age group, it is the fastest growing team sport for girls. And it is the team sport played by more men in Australia than any other sport. Yet soccer is not a sport in which we have a great record. We have produced Craig Johnston, who played for Liverpool in the 1980s, and, more recently, the likes of Harry Kewell and Mark Viduka, but we have appeared only once at the World Cup finals—an event I witnessed in 1974 in Germany. We are the reigning rugby world champions—and I am sure we still will be in a few weeks time—and the No. 1 rugby league nation in the world. With these statistics just mentioned, hopefully Australia's success in world soccer is close.

I commend the government on its continuing reform of Soccer Australia. The recent announcement of a funding package worth $15 million, which will be tied to improved management and the implementation of key recommendations of the Crawford review of soccer, is marvellous news for the sport. Whilst these reforms will be geared towards improving the world game at an elite level, they are also going to be very important at the grassroots level. Central to the Crawford review was the fact that the game of soccer had been poorly managed at a national level for a considerable period of time and desperately needed suitably qualified people to overhaul the organisation. Therefore, it is now time to provide a platform upon which a more professional board can build a thriving, financially viable game for the hundreds of thousands of participants and supporters who have pushed for the reforms. But the reforms must not stop there.

One of the greatest concerns that I share with the people in the Cook electorate is the lack of playing fields. As I mentioned in this place recently, I conducted a survey with the Kirrawee residents on the Kirrawee brick pits. I noticed that there was a public protest meeting there on the weekend. So far, over 1,200 people have signed a petition expressing concern over Macquarie Street's proposal for the Kirrawee brick pits. We believe that the Kirrawee brick pits should be converted to playing fields. These could be used by the likes of the junior soccer teams which are so desperately looking for playing fields in the area. When there are 14,000 players and a great shortage of playing fields, clearly we must look at the issue.

Sport is an integral part of growing up, and we are certainly looking forward to the next David Beckham or Ryan Giggs coming from Australia. Again, I refer to a survey recently released by the Sutherland Shire Council outlining the critical shortage of playing fields. One issue is the reluctance of Macquarie Street to look at upgrading some of the school fields and allowing some of the junior soccer teams to play on these fields on weekends. The New South Wales government needs to work in unison with the federal government on this issue. The funding announced by Senator Kemp is fantastic news for junior soccer. With cooperation from the states, our kids are going to have somewhere to play and they will have a realistic chance of representing this great nation in the soccer/football world cup.