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Monday, 29 May 2000
Page: 16443

Mr McMULLAN (5:12 PM) —I want to express my very profound concern about a short-sighted, selfish and insensitive decision made by the Australian Cricket Board which has had disastrous consequences for the sport of cricket and for young people in Canberra, Queanbeyan and the surrounding region. The decision of the Australian Cricket Board to eject the Canberra Comets from the Mercantile Mutual Cup is a backward step taken by an organisation which is—in the majority but not unanimously—focused on the interests of the various state constituent elements rather than on the interests of the sport. I also want to reject the gratuitously offensive comments by the Chief Executive of the Australian Cricket Board explaining why this awful decision is good for the ACT, as was reported in the Canberra Times of 16 May.

It is a serious blow to the sport of cricket, to those involved voluntarily in its administration, to those who play it and to the young people who have succeeded so well for three years playing in the team. But, more particularly, it is a serious blow to every young person from Canberra, Queanbeyan and the region who seriously aspires to play cricket at an international level. There is no way this decision can be explained as being good for Australian cricket. It is a decision that Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia representatives thought might be good for their sectional interests, the interests of their state—getting a bigger share of the money, getting a bigger share of the international sporting events—but it cannot be good for Australian cricket to reduce the chances of a significant proportion of young Australians, in this region about 500,000 people, making it less likely that anybody of talent will turn that talent to cricket. It is a legitimate interest of those of us in this federal parliament, not just because I represent 50 per cent of the people of the ACT, not just because I should in one sense declare an interest and not just because I am Vice-President of the Cricket Association—

Mr Bruce Scott —You have to declare that.

Mr McMULLAN —No, it is not a pecuniary interest; I do not have to declare it. Nevertheless, I declare it. Cricket is a legitimate interest because there is a lot of taxpayers' money involved. The federal government has made a correct decision to put money into the refurbishment of Manuka Oval, one of the reasons being the participation in first-class or representative level cricket at that ground. That money will, at least in part, not be put to its maximum advantage. But my interest is most particularly because the success of Australian cricket is driven not by that brains trust sitting on the board but by the taxpayer funded Australian Cricket Academy in Adelaide. When people come from overseas to learn the lesson and ask, `Why is Australian cricket doing so well?' you do not see them going back to their country saying, `Let's set up a board run by little people protecting their fiefdoms.' They say, `Let's set up a cricket academy like that in Adelaide.' I have never seen anyone leave Australia saying, `I know why Australian cricket is so successful.' We have two delegates from each state turning up on the board arguing their self-interest instead of the national interest about cricket. It is an old-fashioned, particularly disconcerting structure and, as Rod Tucker, a Tasmanian who was the captain of the Canberra Comets last season, said, they have been `shunted out of the competition by the smaller states who were protecting their own allocation of national and international level matches'.

I come from Western Australia originally, and I know the battle that Western Australia had to get into the Sheffield Shield because the other states said, `We don't want the competition.' It is not so much the competition of the quality of play but the competition for the amount of money that is distributed. It is even more so now that there is a lot of money flowing in through television rights. That money is distributed amongst the six states, and they do not want to see it divided up. It was not being divided equally. The ACT was getting nothing like an equal share compared with, for example, a state of equivalent size. As I said, this region has 500,000 people. That is more than Tasmania. We were not getting anything like the same amount of money, but no-one was complaining. No-one was even saying that we should. We do not get a vote. Our taxes go to fund the Australian Cricket Academy, but we are supposed to have all the taxation and no representation, not even any chance to participate.

Malcolm Speed had the gall to say that they had made the decision because they thought it was good for Canberra. Not one person on that board even contemplated the possibility that it could be good for Canberra, and it is obviously not true. Malcolm Speed is not responsible for this decision. My understanding is that he does not even support this decision, so I feel sympathy for him. He is locked into advocating a position with which he does not agree. Nevertheless, it is very hard to put up with someone saying, `This is good for you.' The fact is that nobody in this area can participate at first-class level or representative level without going to some other state to do so and that fewer young Australians will have a chance to participate at representative level. They say that it is going to make Canberra a `development region', a `feeder region' for the states. I am sure the states think that is terrific, but the problem is that it is crushing development. In the three years since we have had the Comets in the Mercantile Mutual Cup, there has been a 60 per cent increase in the number of junior cricket teams in the ACT. There has also been a significant increase in grade competition as players vie for a spot in the Comets team, as people have come from interstate and it has lifted the whole quality of the competition.

It is not the other cricketers who do not want the competition. A survey of all Australian first-class cricketers found 75 per cent in favour of the Comets. It is not the cricketers. It is not that Canberra people did not support it. Average attendance at Mercantile Mutual matches in Canberra has consistently been higher than attendance at those in Hobart and equal or similar to those in Adelaide and Melbourne. Canberra has shown in other sports that in a short period it can establish teams that are competitive at a state or national competition level. Of course, most recently it has been the Brumbies. In five years, they were the best team in Australia and the only Australian team ever to get into the final. They have done it twice. To my chagrin, I sat there in the cold and saw them lose on Saturday, but they played terrifically and I was proud of them.

Let me quote something David Campese said about the Brumbies before that game. It is very relevant to this point. He was talking about how proud he would be if they won. He said:

But the Brumbies made their impact on the national capital long before this. Regardless of Super 12 title wins or how many Wallabies they get into the Test team this year, players in Canberra at last have a possible career path. I stayed in Queanbeyan for as long as I could but eventually I had to move to Sydney ... The upcoming stars of the ACT no longer have to worry about shifting north ... They just have to break into the Brumbies and, after tonight, there will be an extra incentive.

The reason taxpayers' money is, and should be, put into sport development is not so that people who are already playing get big salaries, though I do not resent it, but so every young Australian has a chance to turn their talent into international performance. Everybody should have that chance. We cannot make it equal. There are other things going on socioeconomically and geographically that mean it cannot be totally equal, but the Australian Cricket Board should not make a decision consciously designed to remove the opportunity for some young people, to depress the level of cricket activity, to reduce the level of cricket competition and to say to young people, `If you've got talent, go and play baseball. If you've got talent, go and play tennis. If you've got talent, go and play golf.' Why would the Cricket Board do that? It is the pursuit of selfish, self-centred self-interest by a small group of people representing the states. I do not hold the delegates responsible—some of them I know; they are very decent people—but they have been sent with a brief that is untenable. It is defending narrow self-interest, attacking the national interest of the sport and denying taxpayers in this region a reasonable return for their substantial investment. (Time expired)