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Thursday, 25 August 1983
Page: 348

Mr FISHER(10.26) —Last week Australia's sportsmen and women were subjected to what I can only call the most terrible display of ignorance and disloyalty. Even worse is the fact that the comments came from a member of the Federal Government and one who I would have thought would have had more sense and sensitivity. The outburst of the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Leo McLeay) on Australia's recent performance at the Helsinki Games was, I believe, a disgrace. Not only were his comments wrong; they were tactless and ill timed. Within hours of Robert de Castella winning the world's toughest marathon we had an Australian member of parliament saying that Australia's performance was not good enough and threatening to withdraw funds from the Australian Institute of Sport. The honourable member for Grayndler in his role as Chairman of the Expenditure Committee, which is inquiring into sports funding, is reported in the Age of 17 August as saying:

. . . with only a handful of Australian athletes making it to the finals at Helsinki, it will be necessary to examine whether Commonwealth funds to assist elite athletes are effective.

What a pious comment from someone in a position to know better. Even the honourable member's colleague, the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism ( Mr John Brown), was quick to dissociate himself from those comments. The Minister believes that the Institute is doing a great job, and it is.

The Australian Institute of Sport has been operating for only a few years. When it was first established it was acknowledged that Australian sports men and women had slipped in their world ranking. It was also acknowledged that the road back to the top would not be overnight, that it would take years. The Institute Director, Don Talbot, has been quoted as saying that it would take up to three Olympic Games to produce our best. In fact we have produced the word's best in some sports in much less time than that. The Australian women's netball team has just notched up another world championship, beating New Zealand in the final. It was the influence of the Institute, claimed the New Zealand coach, that made the Australian team so good. The House will also be aware of the Socceroos performance in Mexico and the outstanding performance of our recently returned junior tennis team.

The former Australian Government did a lot for sport, and that was acknowledged by a continuation of its program in the recent Budget. Compared to countries such as Canada and the United States and the Eastern European countries, we are just beginning to correct serious deficiencies. Those countries have been massively supporting their sports men and women for decades. The types of facilities being developed at the AIS are equal to the best in the world, and the facilities for swimming, tennis and gymnastics are the best in the world. However, the number of students able to be offered such assistance here in Australia is still small compared with the situation in Europe. Yet we have an Australian member of parliament spouting off about how poorly our teams did. I am ashamed that a member of this Parliament has made such offensive, inaccurate comments.

In the past week I have received a large number of phone calls and letters from people involved in sports administration in this country. Every one of them has condemned these statements. One letter stated:

It disturbs me greatly that Mr McLeay can chair such an important Review Committee when he, and others like him, pontificate on matters of which they have no knowledge and haven't even bothered to research.

Another person wrote:

As an Institute coach I do not expect handouts or preferential treatment, and I welcome an ongoing dialogue which will aid the development of a national and dynamic national sports programme in which the Institute plays its role to the full. However, such a dialogue must include . . . politicians and public servants who endeavour to understand the workings of sport so that the unnecessary and embarrassing nonsense of the past few days is not repeated.

I imagine that the honourable member for Grayndler will very shortly vote on a Bill which seeks to avoid discrimination against women. He said that the netball team cannot be regarded as being of world standard. Let us hear one comment from that team. A letter from the coach stated in part:

Firstly, it would appear that Chairman of an important Review Committee has displayed a gross ignorance of fact. Secondly, such statements add fuel to the constant struggle for recognition that Women's Sports endure in this country. I therefore trust that being informed of this matter you will ensure that a Women' s Sport which has high credentials on both a national and international scene is not discriminated against.

I challenge the honourable member for Grayndler to apologise publicly in this House to Australian sports men and women.