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Thursday, 7 March 1974
Page: 207

Mr STEWART (Lang) (Minister for Tourism and Recreation) - In her speech to the Parliament last week Her Majesty said:

My Government . . . will continue its support for sporting and youth organisations.

These few words conceal a great deal of activity over the last 15 months and give a clear promise of further action that will embrace many imaginative and even exciting projects in the future. Since December 1972, recreation, sport and youth have received more governmental attention and more public recognition and have seen more action than even an optimist would have had the right to expect.

Operating with a modest budget of just over $6m and the smallest public service arm of any Ministry, I can proudly say that we have achieved some fine results. Not only members of this House but also members of our community in all States of Australia who are on at least nodding terms with recreation, fitness and sport, must admit that amazing, almost revolutionary changes have taken place in these fields in the last year of so. Amateur sporting organisations, for decades forced into a state of submissive stupor by non-caring governments, are coming to life again.

In our first, experimental year, we have been working with a narrow, possibly too cautious sports assistance program. But 1 know already that neither the present policy nor the token sum of Sim will be sufficient after next August to meet even the most urgent needs of Australian sport. I do not mind dropping a broad hint here to my own Cabinet and Caucus colleagues - not to mention the few highbrow critics with bizarre opposition to all forms of physical recreation - that we plan to introduce exciting new features in our program in order to bring Australian sport gradually in line with overseas countries of comparable standard. It took the Canadians over 12 years of trials and tribulations and many million dollars to develop their current successful programs. We should do it in half that time.

Our grants for a large number and variety of recreational facilities have benefited all sectors of the community - sprawling suburbia, farming regions, mining towns, schools and many existing organisations. This again proves the democratic nature of sport. While many issues divide our community, the love of sport brings people together. The ideal of equal opportunity our Government strives for in many fields like education, health, social services and race relations is already inherent in sport. We want to make sure that our policy of catering for the needs of the various associations and organisations and for the recreational needs of the urban and rural areas upholds this democratic principle. Places like Bogan Gate, Minyip, Savage River, Wynnum, Balga, Zeehan and Sorrento, possibly unknown to the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) who is interjecting and to many other members, as well as city and suburban areas in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and all other capital cities have received and are receiving new recreational facilities through our program, at a cost of only $4m.

But we have literally hundreds of requests and applications for other places which we can satisfy only if and when this allocation is increased in tune with the demand. Let me add here that so far we have not even received a submission for one of those really superb stadiums which we so admire in other countries but which just do not exist yet in Australia. Here and there we have already succeeded in meeting the most urgent demands with a recreation complex, perhaps a swimming pool or a playing field. But these demands are not static; they are growing fast, parallel with or even exceeding the population increase and rising affluence of our people. I might add that there was a concealed bonus in all these activities. In most States, with whom we have co-operated extremely success fully, we have triggered off widespread interest and activity in the fields of recreational developments.

It is also a fact that many sporting and recreational organisations as well as local councils and even some of our State governments were caught with their athletic pants down; they were simply not ready to seek, let alone receive, government assistance. Somehow, it seems that they just could not believe that the day would arrive when a government would be prepared to help in their plight. And when the day did arrive many of them stood in stunned silence without knowing what to ask for and how much. Of course, this is changing fast and there is little doubt that these organisations are now wide awake and will flood us with requests for financial assistance. We want to be prepared for that. We want to stay a doing and giving portfolio from which the entire community can benefit and none can suffer.

The problems of our much maligned youth have also been placed under a new microscope, a microscope 'built with professional care and without prejudice. With a massive survey now nearing completion, we have set out to probe into the lives, hopes, desires and needs of young Australians in all walks of life. We are presently awaiting the result of this survey - the first of its kind in Australia - which' will, we hope, enlighten us and then guide us towards finding proper solutions to some of the recreational problems of young people in this country. There are early indications that some of the preconceived ideas and approaches to problems of youth need course corrections, that we might have been on the wrong track for quite some time. This survey will help us get back on the right tack. If we do have any worries and problems at all with young people in our community, if these youngsters genuinely feel that their voice has not been heard, we have provided for them the forum to speak and tell us just how they would prefer to spend their leisure hours, what sort of activities would hold their interest and satisfy their need for community recreation.

I would also like to mention some other projects which, in the past year or so, have germinated from mere ideas into plans or action. Next month we are holding in Canberra the first recreation seminar staged in this country, a 3-day meeting during which eminent Australian and overseas experts will examine recreational problems our communities are bound to face in the years to come. This is not going to be just another palaver or academic hairsplitting on esoteric subjects. It will be a down to earth discussion on the immense task of catering for the recreational needs, of our people, calling for planning and guidance to cope with the increasing leisure time at their disposal.

At this stage we are groping in the dark and second-guessing at best. Many of us are facing riddles and tend to talk in worn cliches like leisure, environment, quality of life and so on, without delving into the true meaning of these words. This seminar and the work that will follow will translate these terms into positive suggestions which all levels of governments can understand and mould into schedules.

In order to co-ordinate the multitude of needs and plans of Australian sporting organisations, the Government will shortly establish a Sports Council. Plans are also being prepared for a detailed study of the possibility of creating Australia's first national sports university, with the multiple aim of education, research and training. Most advanced European countries have found similar universities of tremendous value not only to their sporting elite but to their entire sporting and recreation structure. We intend to find out now whether Australia is ready for this giant leap forward and, if she is, how we should go about it.

There is not much doubt that in sport and recreation Australia has entered a new, long overdue era, that our Government has, for the first time ever, openly and without bashfulness, decided to accept at least partial responsibility for the physical well-being and the leisure time recreation of its people. But much more needs to be done. As it is becoming fashionable nowadays, I would like to present the case for a pressure group, even if this group, for a change, is the vast majority, the silent majority of our country - the you, the you and the me; the hundreds of thousands of normal, ordinary, decent men, women and youngsters whose only crime' is that for too long they have been taking it on the chin. These people are entitled to a fair deal from us and I am sure our Government will give it to them. Surely we can find money for this majority when large sums are available for extreme, sad or eccentric cases.

I know this is not a Budget debate so I am merely foreshadowing some of the requirements for a larger slice of the budgetary cake.

I sincerely doubt, with due respect to all my colleagues, that there is another Ministry which can provide so much good for so many people with so little money. Every swimming pool, playing field, indoor hall or basketball court we help provide is used by thousands of our people, by the young and the old, the fit and the 'fat, in their leisure time and during their meal hours. What is that mysterious, so-called quality of life' if not the caring for the people's needs after their working hours in their leisure time? Ours is a solid, tangible opportunity to translate this often empty and confusing cliche into action and we can do that with a few million dollars.

I would now like to dwell on tourism for a short while, a subject of considerable controversy and not without some pitfalls. Everybody who has ever visited another town or city fancies himself an expert on tourism; most of us, at heart, are potential tourists. And yet, in recent years, the word 'tourist' appears to have acquired a dubious sound. Tourists are often equated with locusts and other pests, invading defenceless beaches and hamlets or cities, adding to the pollution problem, annoying the locals, crowding the seashores, forests or main streets. Even in places where tourism is an important economic factor for a community, where the livelihood of hundreds or thousands depends on the tourist dollar, the visitor himself is often only tolerated, if not openly resented. Ohe has the feeling that the ideal tourist would be the one who sends his cheque by mail and then stays home. In view of this, somebody could ask whether it is worthwhile to promote tourism. We think it is, even if we are aware of the potential excesses this industry is capable of producing.

The bulk of tourist activities in Australia are of domestic nature - Australians travelling to discover parts of their own country. This is admirable from every viewpoint. Shortly we will launch a campaign to provide new impetus to domestic tourism, to draw attention to the great variety of holidays available in many parts of our country. The Australian Tourist Commission, already an accomplished and efficient organisation in matters of overseas promotion, has been authorised to apply its know-how to domestic tourist problems. Next year, the Australian National Travel Association will mount a giant trade fair in Sydney, in co-operation with dozens of organisations interested in tourism. Both efforts, I am sure, will highlight a new awareness in the tourist potential of this country. Also next year Sydney will be host to the Pacific Area Travel Association Congress, one of the largest annual international gatherings of its kind. This will provide us with a fresh opportunity of attracting worldwide attention for our country.

In the past IS months we have made fair progress in offering Government assistance to the industry. Many grants have been made to Australiana projects - one only today for a historic building near Toowoomba for $70,000 - where the aim is to preserve or develop pioneer settlements, places of historic interest, fauna and flora sanctuaries; places our own people could visit and enjoy. This policy is to continue, possibly in an expanded form in the firm belief that many parts of Australia can offer attractions equal to those in neighbouring countries which are now so much in vogue with our own travelling public and which, I regret to say, keep widening Australia's travel deficit to an irritating, if not alarming degree. I sincerely hope that our Government will increase the present $1.7 5 m now available for these domestic tourism projects and that a larger percentage of the many requests for assistance can be met after the next Budget.

Certain aspects of the travel industry which seem to have a growth retarding effect, are not under my jurisdiction. There is an almost constant outcry about the high international airfares but these are set by the International Air Transport Association according to its own rather complex formula. Australia's remoteness from the main tourist markets could be regarded by some as a geographical catastrophe but not something any Government can rectify without Atlas carrying our country on his shoulders a bit closer to Europe or the United States of America. The repeated devaluation of the United States dollar did not help us either, making Australia a fairly expensive place to visit by Americans, still the world's keenest travellers. So here is an instance where the strength of our economy and Australian dollar has an unfortunate effect on. one particular industry. However, I would like to assure the House, as well as those interested in the welfare of the Australian tourist industry, that these examples may be handicaps but they are not absolute deterrents.

In the present session of Parliament I intend to introduce a Bill which will effectively deal with the old problem of the registration of travel agents. We have an agreement with the various States that once this Bill becomes law, whatever State legislations may exist will be superseded by this Federal law. I very much hope that this will safeguard the interests of the travelling public against all kinds of shady malpractices and also help the industry to rid itself of its parasitic elements which, from time to time, stage spectacular collapses with disastrous results.

I also have high hopes that we will soon strike a firm partnership with our friends and neighbours, New Zealand, in the joint promotion of our region's tourist attractions. During recent talks with the New Zealand Minister for Tourism, Mrs Tirikatene-Sullivan we have agreed in principle on close cooperation. The 2 departments are now working on the details. Let me add here that such a joint venture would be of great benefit to Australia; after all, New Zealand has been solving tourist problems for much longer than we even cared to face them.

Finally, it is our intention to acquire Government equity in suitable tourist projects where we feel the community's needs warrant this step. The first such acquisition will be announced shortly, and let me add here that recent press reports speculating on its nature and whereabouts were pretty wide of the mark.

Mr Speaker,I intended to provide the House with only a brief summary of the state of my portfolio and I hope this will give an inkling of a busy year behind us and an even busier one ahead. I ardently believe in a bright future for both the Australian tourist industry and for Australian sport and recreation. I also know that our Government will want to speed up the action and expand the scope in 1974-75.

Sitting suspended from 6.14 to 8 p.m.

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