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Tuesday, 15 September 2015
Page: 6885


Senator JOHNSTON (Western Australia) (19:45): Tonight I rise to pay tribute to AFL CEO Mr Gillon McLachlan and his commissioners for the outstanding work they do in administering our most successful and truly national game.

As a senator for Western Australia, I am delighted by the prospect of a Derby Grand Final in Melbourne, hopefully, at the beginning of October. I am wearing my colours proudly tonight and I hope our team at the West Coast Eagles are working hard for what is, hopefully, two more winning games of football in this final series. But, as we all know, a part of our great game is that anything can happen on the day in terms of winning or losing.

The AFL administration has been through a tough couple of years, and throughout it all they have met every challenge to protect the integrity of the game to ensure its enjoyment by millions of Australians across our great country. Footy is part of the Australian way of life. It is often joked in politics that you cannot hold an election at the end of September because interfering with the viewing of the football finals is practically sacrilegious in our country. Despite our broad and varied sporting interests, there is none more entrenched in Australian culture and our way of life than the great Australian game. It is a game designed by Australians for Australians. It is fast paced, entertaining, a close, skilful contest and, above all else, a joy to watch.

The AFL plays an important role in enabling the sport to thrive. We have had two additional teams join the AFL in the past five years and club memberships across the board are on the rise, with almost 200,000 spectators, often many more, enjoying the game every weekend during the home and away season. This would not have been achieved without good management and hard work. I commend Gil and his team for all that they have achieved. I can see that under his leadership the AFL is going to have an exciting future and will only continue to enjoy greater and greater success.

The recent broadcast rights deal struck by the AFL is a fantastic announcement for football lovers. Greater access to watch our great game is critical to the sport's continued support and importance. In WA the state and federal governments have teamed up to deliver a brand new stadium in 2017 with an increased capacity to allow more Western Australians to watch the game live. Going to a football game is a great Australian experience, and the commitment by the state and federal governments, the West Coast Eagles and the Fremantle Dockers to improve community involvement in the game in WA is a great credit to both clubs.

When I had the privilege of serving our country as defence minister I had immense gratitude to the AFL for the sponsorship of AFL subscriptions that they provided to the Australian Defence Force. This support meant that our fighting men and women serving overseas could still enjoy a game of Aussie Rules whilst recuperating from very hard days in the field. The service of the men and women in our armed forces is often not recognised enough. They give up so much for the defence, security and freedom of our country, and the little things are often what provide the greatest comfort to them whilst on deployment many, many thousands of miles away from home. The ability to offer live streaming of an AFL game has immeasurable value towards bringing a little piece of home to our people in their bases. I thank the AFL very sincerely for this.

It is with a little sadness that I rally behind the finals campaign of my team, the West Coast Eagles. I know that my great friend Don Randall, the former federal member for Canning, is looking down on them urging them on to victory. Don and I often spoke of the great ability football had to bring people together. It is a great game that embodies the Australian spirit. It is not an easy game—it involves four long quarters that require incredible fitness, skill and determination in playing to win.

Finally, for many of us the Western Australian teams are receiving the respect they deserve from the east coast, particularly from those in Victoria, the proud home of Australian Rules football. This is a great achievement for the WA teams, given their travel schedules. The prospect of not one, but two WA preliminary finals at Subiaco in a fortnight's time had, until now, been nothing more or less than a pipedream. I cannot wait to see this repeated at the new Burswood Stadium in Perth in the future. This is also a fantastic send off for Subiaco Oval, which has served Western Australian football for very many years. We all have fond memories of watching, firstly, the WANFL, then the WAFL and now the AFL at Subiaco. In my case, it all began when I was about nine years old in the early sixties.

The Eagles have had a remarkable season this year, ascending from discounted cellar dwellers to premiership favourites. The Eagles have surprised everybody with their ability to deal with and cover serious long-term injuries in defence and have shown they are a champion team, not a team of champions. I am conscious of the fact that the West Coast Eagles is a very professional organisation that prepares for success and has a plan to rise up in the competition. I am not surprised personally, but I understand others might be. I pay tribute to the managerial skill of CEO Trevor Nesbitt and his talented board, to our senior coach Adam Simpson and to former coach John Wosfold. My congratulations to them on laying the foundation stones and for conducting the team in a most magnificent manner. I should also say, of course, that our foreign minister, the Hon. Julie Bishop, the member for Curtin, was formerly on the board, and what a great job she did on the board of this great club.

The club's success has not, on that basis, all been on the field. We have seen players improve across the board. For example, Brad Sheppard has found his niche as an intercept-marking defender. Jeremy McGovern has surprised everyone with his maturity and poise holding down a key position in defence. Elliot Yeo, recruited from Brisbane, and former Hawthorn premiership player Xavier Ellis have been great additions and have added versatility to the side. They are all led by an outstanding captain in Shannon Hurn

The Eagles' membership has grown this year to over 60,000 members at last count. This is a great credit, as I have said, to the club, the coaches, the players and the management and the great work they do in the Western Australian community.

With a week off to rest up, next week will see the team at full strength with the return of Brownlow medallist Matt Priddis, who I had the pleasure of meeting personally earlier this year in parliament. We will also have back our star midfielder Chris Masten. It is a long trip from WA across the Nullarbor to the eastern states. This is a trip both our teams have to make regularly throughout the season. It is not an easy task to regularly cross the country but the WA teams do it week about for 23 weeks of the year. I and all WA footy fans are thrilled with the unprecedented WA finish of first and second with four home finals in Perth. This result is not only great for the national game but also is expected to contribute an additional $30 million to the WA economy. I can only hope that it is regularly repeated! But seriously, it really is a great tribute to the strength of the game in WA.

The power of football is that it is the great equaliser. No matter your background, experience or even athletic ability, anyone can enjoy a kick of the footy with his mates. The AFL is doing a tremendous job in community engagement through programs such as Auskick. The community engagement programs through the individual team clubs is a great credit to Mr McLachlan and his board of commissioners. In my home state of Western Australia, in the electorates of Swan and Canning, Gerard Neesham has done phenomenal work at the Clontarf school working with Indigenous youth and using football to inspire sporting and educational achievement. The success of that program is due to hard work, determination and a love of our national game, all of which Gerard exemplifies.

We have role models like Nic Naitanui. There is nothing but admiration for the success, skill and commitment that that young man demonstrates when playing the game. He is a role model both on and off the field. I commend the Eagles for the club culture that has encouraged their players to fulfil that important role. I would like to acknowledge the support that has been offered to Nic by the club and his fellow players. It is great to see them rallying behind him in this difficult time of loss. Nic has handled the recent loss of his mother with grace, dignity and a great strength for which he should be commended. It is not easy to lose a parent, especially with the added media scrutiny that football brings to him every day because he is such a star. Nic is a real credit to himself and his family for the way he has honoured his mother and the way he plays the game. My club has in recent years had to address a number of challenges. I know I speak on behalf of all of our supporters when I congratulate the club on the professional and determined way it has met those challenges. I conclude by congratulating the West Coast Eagles on a wonderful season so far and wishing them the very best of good luck for the next two crucial and important games.