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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1791

Mr ALEXANDER (8:01 PM) —In a few short generations our nation has gone from being one of the fittest to one of the fattest. Over 18 per cent of Australians—that is over four million of us—already suffer from largely preventable chronic diseases associated with smoking, obesity and alcohol abuse. According to a study by the ABS, more than half of Australian adults are either overweight or obese—that is 62 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women. In just 15 years the proportion of obese men more than doubled from nine per cent to 19 per cent, while the proportion of obese women increased from 10 per cent to 17 per cent.

One of the many concerns with this trend is that overweight or obese people are increasingly seeing themselves as having an acceptable weight—I include myself as one of those people. It is estimated that every month an extra 10,000 Australians become overweight or obese. Obesity takes away our quality of life, it ruins our health, it damages our friendships and our families and eventually it takes our lives. This debate is overdue and should be continued in community halls, in workplaces, in classrooms and, yes, in pubs and clubs throughout the country.

I believe there is a very strong link between our burgeoning waistlines and our decreased participation in sport. Exercise, the playing of sport, is the single best thing you can do for your physical health, your mental health and your social health. Obesity is the result of the diet-exercise equation gone horribly wrong. While exercise is the major component in prevention, diet is the major component of a cure.

The Australia I grew up in played sports. Much of our heritage has been formed through our feats on sporting fields and courts throughout the world. Any success that we had in international sports competitions was a direct result of our love for participation in sport, where the really keen ones would try to emulate their heroes in competition. But over recent times we as a nation, like others in this building, have lost our way.

We have recently witnessed our country’s failed world cup bid. Like most other MPs I supported the idea of this bid, as the promotion of any sport at the highest level can hopefully lead to a positive impact on our impressionable and increasingly unfit youth. But then it was announced that we spent $45 million to win only one vote. As if that was not bad enough, the administration of this bid was so poor that over $11 million was unaccounted for. Regardless, it is the focus of this money that is the question today. It was not so long ago that this government announced its war on obesity, yet $45 million was spent on a promise to build stadiums to promote spectatorism, not participation. More money was spent on this one bid for a tournament, which included wining and dining and marketing for FIFA executives, than the government spends in a whole year on the Active After-school Communities Program—an initiative brought in by the Howard government to specifically provide inactive students with opportunities to access a sporting program. My sport, tennis, has suffered the same syndrome. Once our major tennis stadiums were centres of participation. Now they are just stages to watch.

These are just a few examples of why I must speak against point (3) of this motion, which praises this government’s work in investing in preventative health programs. Last year’s Crawford report, The future of sport in Australia, was overbalanced towards improving the funding and performances of several at the elite level, rather than showing a clear understanding of the importance of promoting participation across the board. History shows us that the Australian way of producing champions is through broad based participation, not through the selection of a few to be specifically trained in a sport. What possible benefit could such a policy have on national health?

To achieve real results on this issue will require a wide-scale program of investment and consolidation of private-public partnerships. The government will need to be proactive in the support it lends to the health and fitness industry to be able to provide all Australians the opportunity to exercise and participate in sports. A very easy solution to this is the allocation of 99-year leases, which are absolutely essential to justify the commitment of capital necessary for the development of such facilities. This is common in the UK. As I referred to in my maiden speech, at the heart of the very reason why I am here in parliament today is the absolute frustration I experienced at being unable to develop sports clubs in Australia because long-term leases are simply not available. In my previous role as a sports club developer, I needed a specific act of the South Australian parliament to attain a 50-year lease for the development of the historic Memorial Drive Tennis Club. The fact that this took over seven years is a shining example of the lack of support we give to the preventative medicine industry. As policy makers we must open the doors to the development of multisports activity facilities so that every member of our community can be given the opportunity to know the joy and benefits of playing sports, experience the health improvements of keeping fit, the vitality and the friends that are won, making all those who participate winners.

The cost of such a policy direction pales into insignificance compared to the savings. According to a study by the Medical Journal of Australia, overweight and obese Australian adults cost the Australian economy $21 billion in direct care and direct non-healthcare costs plus an additional $35.6 billion in government subsidies. Aside from exercise, diet is a vital component in this problem. Recently I visited Epping Boys High School in my electorate for their speech night. I was amazed at the low levels of obesity amongst the students. The principal, Peter Garrard, informed me that this was because of a dedicated healthy-eating plan in the school canteen. The boys also excelled in sports. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Even a case of moderate obesity can reduce life expectancy by around three years and there are also documented links between carrying excess weight and poor mental health in middle aged Australians.

This motion somewhat ironically refers to obesity as a growing problem in Australia. When linked with the predicted impacts on our aging population, this threatens to be one of our greatest national concerns. As policymakers we must commit significant focus towards addressing the inequity between participation and inactivity. Investment must be encouraged to provide opportunities to participate in active pastimes and sports. This participation should be the major driver in preventive medicine to create a healthy and more vital Australia and to eliminate obesity.