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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7350

Senator LUNDY (7:43 PM) —Far from backing Australia's sporting ability, the coalition government has for some years been backing away from community based sport and participation programs. Now the Howard government has effectively killed off Active Australia, the highly successful division within the Australian Sports Commission tasked with helping Australians, especially school aged children, to become more physically active and healthy. This disturbing fact was gleaned at Senate estimates hearings in November.

Active Australia was initiated at the end of the last Labor government, following the reorganisation of the Australian Sports Commission. This restructure divided the Sports Commission into three primary divisions: (1) the AIS, focusing on elite sport; (2) the Sports Development and Policy Division, which included Active Australia; and (3) the Sport and Business Services Division. A participation division was initiated to develop, co-ordinate and fund programs designed specifically to encourage a greater level of participation in sporting and recreational activities. To achieve this goal the participation strategy was developed and subsequently promoted under the banner of Active Australia.

Active Australia was charged with working with national sporting organisations or NSOs, state government departments, schools and community groups to promote healthy lifestyles through physical activity. Within a year of its conception, the Sports Commission was proudly boasting that Active Australia had developed a national participation strategy and, for the very first time, reached agreement with the three tiers of government, as well as government and non-government sporting organisations, on a national approach to physical activity in Australia.

Importantly, Active Australia worked very hard with ATSIC to combine Indigenous sports programs under one umbrella, and that year at Atlanta our first Indigenous athlete won an Olympic gold medal. At the time, the incoming Howard government was proud to talk up the success of Active Australia. The Sports Commission too was glowing in its commitment to Active Australia. The commission's 1996--97 annual report boasted about how Active Australia has taken a leading role. The report stated:

The Active Australia program represents a shared commitment by government and non-government groups in the sport, community recreation, outdoor recreation, fitness and health sectors to promote physical activity ...

Several years ago the Sports Commission produced a document called Beyond 2000. This report stated that Active Australia has been internationally acclaimed by UNESCO and the International Olympic Commission, that over 27 countries have adopted key elements of Active's strategies, and that the World Health Organisation identified Active Australia as an exemplar national model for sport and physical activity development. Significantly, in Beyond 2000, the board of the Sports Commission recommended that the Sports Commission `should assume national management and coordination of Active Australia and ensure that it is adequately resourced'. The basis for this recommendation was:

Australia is facing a situation of crisis in community participation in sport and physical activity and, as a result, in personal fitness and health.

Beyond 2000 goes on to state that the aim of substantially resourcing and managing Active Australia is:

... increasing the adult participation rate in community sport by 10% by 2004. This is likely to save some $400-$500 million per annum off the national health bill.

That is the history of Active Australia. It was initiated to boost physical activity participation in Australia. It was recognised worldwide as a landmark strategy. It was identified by the World Health Organisation as an exemplar model. Also, the Sports Commission claimed only a few years ago that Active was a key component in addressing the `crisis in community participation'. What is more, the commission told the government that an effective Active Australia would reduce the health budget by hundreds of millions of dollars.

So you can imagine my disappointment when I was told at Senate estimates on 20 November that the commission is walking away from Active Australia. First up, the name `Active Australia' has gone. It has now been consolidated into Ausport. The reason, according to the Minister for the Arts and Sport, Mr Rod Kemp—

Senator Eggleston —It's Senator Kemp.

Senator LUNDY —Senator Rod Kemp, I should say—is that there is some `confusion' about what Active Australia does. I would say to Senator Kemp that the World Health Organisation, the IOC, UNESCO and about 30 other countries do not seem to be confused about Active Australia; they reckon it was a world-class participation policy. After six years, we all know what Active did: it promoted healthy and active lifestyles for all Australians.

Senator Kemp told estimates that the government wanted to rebadge Active Australia to better reflect what the AIS and Sports Commission do. Senator Kemp is saying that this is no longer a role that the coalition wants the Sports Commission to play. The government's view—and one that appears to be wholeheartedly backed by the Sports Commission board—is that Active Australia and the promotion of healthy physical activities is something for the state and territory governments to look after.

Do not be tricked into thinking that the targeted sports program is a suitable replacement for Active Australia. This policy objective of increasing membership of organised sporting clubs by one million is no substitute for dedicated participation programs like Active Australia. Simply increasing the number of Australians who are financial members of an organised sporting club does not address the nation's long--term health problems and the dramatic rise in sedentary behaviour among young people. It merely creates a simplistic, quantitative mechanism to justify redirecting money from Active Australia and giving more to the national sporting organisations. For instance, the coalition's policy of increasing club membership does not take into account what is called `churn' in other industries—that is, someone leaves one club and joins another. I am sure it will clock up as a statistic as far as the targeted sports policy is concerned, but really it is just one person transferring membership from one club to another.

I believe it is up to the Australian Sports Commission—certainly it is up to its board—to play a leadership role in promoting and increasing participation in all forms of sport and physical activity. I wanted to use this opportunity to express my grave concern and disappointment that the Howard government and the board of the Australian Sports Commission are walking away from what was a fine program, established under Labor, called Active Australia.