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Monday, 6 December 2004
Page: 137

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (10:37 PM) —Tonight I seek the Senate's indulgence. I want to make a few remarks in support of Perth's bid for the fourth Australian team in the expanded rugby union Super 14 competition. Contrary to WA's reputation and that of some of my fellow senators, we are rarely parochial, but on this occasion I will make an exception and speak from a parochial point of view. I have been so deprived of top-flight rugby in Western Australia that I have been forced to support the ACT Brumbies in recent years, which shows how desperate I have been, although they have given fine entertainment. A Western Australian supporting a Canberra based team is not something that is generally discussed in polite company and it is frowned upon. I have even been forced to cheer the Waratahs and Queensland when they are playing the Kiwis, because that is compulsory. But, quite frankly, it is just not enough. WA needs its own team. We need a franchise in the expanded Super 14 competition.

Flying into Canberra last night on the way to attend parliament this week, I looked around the cabin and I saw why Perth ought to win. I saw Perth's strengths. I looked over and there was Kim Beazley, a former university second row forward, a lock of national standing if ever there was one. Sitting opposite was an old club mate of mine, Stuart Henry, a liberal—sure, that is a disadvantage—but a very fine rugby union player, a very fine state captain and an excellent second rower. Sitting just across the aisle from me was Senator Murray, who is an import from Zimbabwe and a former prop. I thought, `I could join with Senator Murray and we'd make a fairly formidable set of props'. Not pretty but effective—practitioners of the dark arts of the front row only known to former props.

Then of course I had a bit of a problem in selecting this side because Bob Kucera, who is the WA minister for sport and a fellow Welshman, is also an ex prop, so I thought on this occasion I would have to revert to being the hooker between Senator Murray and Mr Kucera. But I must say, with that bipartisan cross party tight five, who needs backs? That will do the job, I think. In comparison to the Victorian contingent, Justin Madden was a very good Aussie Rules player but no rugby player and, although there are some heavyweights among Senators Carr, Conroy, Marshall, McGauran, Ray and Fifield, I just do not think they can offer the sort of rugby pedigree that Western Australia can bring.

It is getting close to decision time. Friday the 10th is when the Australian Rugby Union is expected to make a decision. I think the WA rugby union has made a compelling case. It has received very strong support from the WA government and from the rugby and business communities of Western Australia. Its key feature and the strongest claim on behalf of Western Australia is that the WA bid is about growing the game of rugby, extending it across the country, making rugby union a truly national game at the elite level. As a player of 20 years standing in Perth, I have seen the game grow. The junior development has been phenomenal. New senior clubs have grown up in recent years. There is a very strong grassroots basis for rugby union in Western Australia.

We know that Perth Gold, the Western Australian team, won the Australian Rugby Shield, but, as I say, the growth of rugby has been both in the metropolitan area and in country areas. It has been in the juniors and in the senior level—a very grassroots, widespread development of the game. We have struggled with national representation because of the distance and the lack of recognition of WA rugby union. My main claim to fame as a rugby player was that I coached John Welborn in the under-10s. He went on to be a great second rower for Australia but he had to move to New South Wales to do it. Western Australians should not have to move interstate to play at the elite level. There are many other young stars coming through. One of our youngsters is now with the Brumbies squad, but a number of them have reached national representative honours at junior and colts levels.

The fan base in WA is developing nicely. We managed to get 20,000 people during the Rugby World Cup to turn out to watch Georgia play Samoa. That is quite an achievement. It was a good night but that shows the sort of support WA rugby can engender. There were 43,000 people at the South Africa-England test match—a full house. It was a tremendous game. But I think that shows that WA has got the fan base and can support a quality team from Western Australia.

I also think we have the geographical advantage. Being placed between the eastern states, New Zealand and South Africa, there are time zone issues which favour Perth. It allows us to bridge the gap between South Africa, the eastern seaboard and New Zealand. Climate and lifestyle et cetera are also big advantages for basing the team there. There is a whole range of advantages of television rights from our time zone and geographical positioning.

There is also the case that the WA government and the rugby community have made a big effort to ensure the infrastructure is right. The state government has committed $25 million to upgrade Members Equity Stadium by adding 8,800 seats for a new capacity of 22,000, coaching, referee and corporate boxes, media facilities and function rooms. There has also been corporate sponsorship already organised of over $3 million and the development of a new $4 million base for WA rugby is likely to begin in a few months. This will double as the administrative and training headquarters for the Super 14 team.

So all the building blocks are in place for a very successful bid and for the success of a team if WA gets the nod. I do not want to knock the Victorian or Melbourne bid. They obviously have a number of strengths. But George Gregan and Peter Beattie cannot be wrong. They both back the Western Australian bid because they see Perth's strengths in terms of its player base and the attractiveness as a venue in taking rugby to a national fan base and taking it across the continent to Western Australia.

So I think there are very strong arguments for Western Australia to be successful. I hope that the WA bid is successful. I congratulate the WA Rugby Union and all those involved in supporting the bid. I think that it would be a tremendous boost to Western Australia and a tremendous boost for rugby in WA. The thing that most commends the Western Australian bid is that a Perth based team would eventually make Australian rugby stronger. It would give us a national base and would help build a stronger foundation for rugby union in Australia. We have bipartisan support among the Western Australian Liberals, the Labor Party and the Democrats on this issue and, hopefully, that sort of political support will see WA successful in its bid for the fourth Australian team franchise.